Nov 052010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

They called it “the Gauntlet.”

I had first heard about it in my final days of Atom hockey in Ontario. It was whispered about in hushed, nervous tones, like people standing in the room with Mike Tyson during the ’80s.

Next year was the start of Peewee hockey (ages 11-12).

To play Peewee hockey meant running the Gauntlet.

What was the Gauntlet?

Near the start of the season a team would line up, single file, from the blueline to the goal-line, about six feet from the boards.

One player would start outside the blueline and skate down along the boards.

This player would get body-checked by every other player on the team.

Naturally, teammates at the time invariably included:

  • the grizzled 12-year old vets who hit puberty early, were already working on goatees and were easily a foot taller than the rest of us;
  • the crazy, fat kid who couldn’t handle the puck but now had a weight-advantage he could really use;
  • the bullies who saw this as an opportunity to take a seven-step skate and leap at a teammate.

This was my introduction to body-checking.

Thankfully I survived, and actually enjoyed the experience, although there were a few of my teammates who did get hurt, and others who’s interest in playing the game never quite recovered.

I often think about the Gauntlet when I hear the usual suspects’ debate concussions and hits to the head.

The term “debate” is used loosely here, since most of the influential voices in Canada (TSN, Sportsnet, NHL Network and Hockey Night in Canada personalities) are concerned mostly with the NHL, which, in the grand scheme of things, is the end-of-the-road for player development. These are generally conservative voices that want to primarily protect the status quo, for a variety of reasons (including business ones).

How nice would it be if one of these influential voices shifted the debate to how hitting and being hit is taught at the grassroots, and whether the culture of intimidation, nurtured from grassroots hockey into the NHL, is a good thing.

It’s these topics, at levels as early as Peewee hockey, which are the cause for what we’re seeing in the NHL.

Any solution applied at the NHL level is simply a band-aid – a short-term one until these other topics are fully explored.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY:

  • Mike Richards is the captain, and Chris Pronger has the reputation, but Claude Giroux’s leadership skills are earning raves from the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Speaking of the Flyers, there’s a bit of a love affair starting between goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and fans, who chant Bob after saves at home games. Could it be shades of Pelle Lindbergh?
  • Ethan Moreau’s broken hand has opened the door for Columbus Derek Dorsett, who’s playing an inspired, gritty game for the Blue Jackets. It will be interesting to see what happens when Moreau returns to action, and if his role is reduced. His reaction to a reduced role was one of the things that poisoned the Oiler dressing room.
  • What’s more upsetting – that the average ticket price Leaf fans pay is almost twice the average ticket price of anywhere else in the league, or that fans in Tampa, Buffalo, St. Louis and Pittsburgh only pay $5 for beer?
  • Damien Cox argues that the Ilya Kovalchuk story in New Jersey all started with an “no off-wing” systems approach by Assistant Coach Adam Oates. I’m pretty sure other teams in the league believe in the same system, including the Edmonton Oilers.
  • It may be part of Guy Boucher’s infamous system, but it’s still a bit odd to see a team play so much with one defenseman back, pretty much playing “safety.”
  • If this is Lindy Ruff’s last year in Buffalo, and the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, look for Ruff’s name to be at the top of the list to replace Ron Wilson as coach.
  • Dear Kelly Hrudey: Thanks for going on the Team 1040 and reminding us that there is an element of NHL hockey that is not only completely out-of-touch with fans, but quite frankly couldn’t care less about us. I look forward to booing you at every future opportunity.
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