Saturday, January 18, 2014

Football Tough? Try being HOCKEY TOUGH.

Recently I got into a friendly debate with a fellow over how I felt that hockey was a tougher sport than football and that hockey never gets the respect that it deserves. The sports talk shows give 80% of their time, 365 days a year, to football, split about 75/25 between pro and college ball. The remaining 20% is mostly taken up by basketball and baseball, and NASCAR and golf and even soccer. Hockey always gets the short end of the stick. In fact, ESPN radio hosts like Colin Cowherd will talk about anything BUT hockey. I've suffered through a show after the Super Bowl was over and football was done for the year where the topics ran from high school football kids signing with colleges to the best  draft picks to the Hall of Fame to fantasy football crap to the combines to Wonderlic scores and why a defensive tackle doesn't have to be smart like a quarterback but a center does, but not a mention of hockey because he doesn't think hockey is a sport. Well, screw him. ESPN thinks the Scripps Spelling Bee should get air time as a sport, and every July 4th shows people gorging on hot dogs. They used to show poker for piss sakes. People playing cards...

Everyone talks about the non-stop pounding action of football. To which I say, bullshit.

Ostensibly, both games are 60 minutes. A football game is broken up into 15-minute quarters and a hockey game is broken up into three 20-minute periods. Each game is played for one hour in theory, overtime notwithstanding. However in football there are times when the clock is running in between plays, while in hockey the clock stops running once play is stopped. A Wall Street Journal article I saw once said that the average football game has an average of 11 minutes played in each game. Eleven actual minutes of play. That is from whistle-to-whistle actual play. Hockey has 60 minutes of play in each game. Actual play. That, friends, is whistle-to-whistle action.

According to that same article the average football play lasts four seconds, with a maximum of 40 seconds after each play to start a new one. That means 40 seconds of non-play inactivity of guys getting on and off the field, huddling, and getting lined up, often with the clock still running. The Journal of Applied Physics claims that the average amount of continuous play in hockey is about about 40 seconds (39.7 seconds, to be exact). As in both cases, plays can be longer or shorter than those times; that is just an average. In hockey, the clock isn't still running if the puck is not in play.

In football the ball is given to each team, without fail, after every score. In hockey the puck is never given to a team; there's a face-off and each team must battle for every second they have the puck. After an interception in football, a team is guaranteed the ball and therefore an opportunity to score. A turnover in hockey guarantees nothing, and the intercepting team must fight to retain possession.

There are stretches of hockey that can go on and on. Breakaways up and down the ice are often highlighted by intense scoring opportunities or incredible saves by the goaltender. I've seen many runs in hockey where lines have changed three or four times between whistles.

On the opposite end, football is categorized as one 4-second play after another and each pass or run is often followed by the referee announcing another "flag on the play".

For 11 minutes of football, each team receives a maximum of eight time outs, including the stoppage at the two-minute warning. Meanwhile in hockey, each team receives one timeout per game. Most games I've seen, the timeout is never even used.

Let's see football players, or basketball players, or baseball players make a save, on ice, against a frozen rubber missile going a hundred miles an hour, while doing the splits, said no one ever.

Games shouldn't end end in a tie, and both sports have an overtime period in the case of a tie at the end of regulation. After all, you're competing and playing to win, and in a tie no one has won. Both sports' OT's are sudden death, meaning the first team to score wins. In hockey there is a faceoff and each team must earn possession of the puck to score a goal. In football the ball is given to one of the teams, and they can score in the overtime without the other team getting a chance to score, unless they stop their opponents advances or gain possession of the ball via fumble or interception. BUT...The NFL only allows one sudden death overtime period for regular season games. If neither teams scores by the end of that overtime period, it is officially a tie. The postseason is still the only time a game keeps going until there's a winner, even if it takes multiple OTs. In the playoffs, overtime is still sudden death, but the game would continue until one of the teams scored.

In hockey, a tie game after overtime is settled with a shootout, except in the playoffs, where you play in OT periods until someone scores. I've seen playoff games go the equivalent of seven periods.

Both sports have players protected by pads and helmets. Football players have a cage in front of their faces to protect against hitting the grass or being hit with an air-filled leather bag. Hockey players have an optional visor that covers half their face from impacts with hard ice, hard boards, sticks to the face, or being hit with a frozen disc of vulcanized rubber...and in some cases fists.

Yeah, the fights. Fighting is allowed in hockey and despite its reputation as a bloodthirsty gladiatorial duel between teams of toughened beasts, football doesn't allow it. You may see an occasional post-play scrum or shoving match but not a bout of fisticuffs like in hockey. I'm not going to debate the pros and cons of fighting in hockey; that's for another article to be written later. Just accept that it is part of the game.

Hard hits? In football, bodies collide often running full speed. I accept that. However, in hockey there are open-ice hits body to body (some amazingly brutal) but the majority of hits involve a player being crashed against wooden boards and plexiglass. In football you don't run the risk of being hit with a stick or sliced by a razor-sharp skate. We're talking hard hitting, blazing speed, and the ultimate in agility...all while on ice skates. Sure, most people can run, jump, sprint, and dash along a field, but the rare few who can skate and do it as well as a hockey player are few and far between. The ability to fake out defenders and fly past the opposition is a highlight in any sport, but when it's done on two thin blades, the feat becomes magical. Simply, the ability to skate and move and shoot and hit and fight along a sheet of ice with comfortable ease makes hockey an athletically superior sport before considering any other aspect of the game. Add in the physicality of those hard hits and once again, hockey wins. Even ESPN has said that hockey hits are 17% harder than football hits.

Numbers don't lie.

Tough? Try Clint Malarchuk.  On March 22, 1989, Steve Tuttle of the St.Louis Blues collided with Buffalo’s Uwe Krupp in front of the goal net, and Tuttle’s skate caught Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk on the neck, severing his right external jugular vein. With a huge pool of blood collecting on the ice, Malarchuk somehow left the ice under his own power with the assistance of his team's athletic trainer, Jim Pizzutelli. Many spectators were physically sickened by the sight, with nine fainting and two suffering heart attacks, while three teammates vomited on the ice. Malarchuk was getting himself off the ice but he later revealed he had no intention of reaching the team doctor.
Clint Malarchuk's nasty famous moment

Malarchuk claimed that he was only trying to get off the ice and away from the TV cameras as quickly as possible because he knew that his mother was watching the game on TV, and he didn’t want her to see him die. He was so convinced he was about to die he told an equipment manager to call his mother and tell her that he loved her, and then asked for a priest. Instead of a priest, Malarchuk got quick-working medical staff, who were able to halt the bleeding and stabilize him for transport to a local hospital. Malarchuk's life was saved by Pizzutelli, a former army medic who had served in Vietnam. He reached into Malarchuk's neck and pinched off the bleeding, not letting go until doctors arrived to begin suturing the wound. Three-hundred stitches later, the wound was closed, and Malarchuk had survived, though quite narrowly. Had the cut occurred 1/8 of an inch higher on his carotid, doctors estimate he would have been dead in minutes. Also, had the accident happened in the second period, with Malarchuk at the opposite end of the ice from the medical room, he probably would not have made it.

While Malarchuk’s toughness surely played a role in his survival, real credit belongs to the trainers and medical staff who acted quickly to save his life. His toughness, though, came into play a surprisingly short time later. A mere four days after nearly dying on the ice, Malarchuk reported back to the Sabres for practice. A week after that, he was back between the pipes for a game against the Quebec Nordiques. “Doctors told me to take the rest of the year off,” he said. “But there’s no way…I play for keeps.”

The dude had his throat slit on national TV and was back in action in less than two weeks.

Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers suffered a similar injury in early 2008 when his carotid artery was sliced open by the skate blade of his team mate Olli Jokinen in a freak accident during a game ironically against the Buffalo Sabres. Zednik was circling the net behind the play and skating into the corner when Jokinen was upended by Sabres forward Clarke MacArthur. Jokinen fell headfirst to the ice, and his right leg and skate flew up and struck Zednik directly on the side of the neck. Doctors said the skate blade just missed cutting the jugular vein. Zednik lost five units of blood (almost a third of the body’s total volume) and required over an hour of emergency surgery to close the wound. Zednik played another full season with Florida and two more seasons in Europe before retiring.

Richard Zednik's injury and subsequent scar.

Minor league goalie Dustin Tokarski took a skate to the throat and needed "just" 26 stitches to be back in action a couple years back. Winnipeg Jets defenseman Zach Redmond took a skate to the thigh during a practice last season. Just a couple weeks ago Brayden Schenn of the Philadelphia Flyers to a skate to the abdomen after colliding with Dainius Zubrus of the New Jersey Devils, and not only continued to play, he scored the game winner in overtime.
Tokarski's neck wound

Redmond's thigh

Schenn gets his cut from Zubrus

It's not always skate cuts. Paul Kariya, whom I went to University of Maine at the same time with,  took a nasty hit from Scott Stevens during Game 6 of the 2003 Stanley Cup finals between the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the New Jersey Devils. During the second period, Stevens caught Kariya watching his pass in the neutral zone and put the biggest hit of the series on the Mighty Duck’s star forward, laying him out flat on his back. As the whistles blew and the referees maintained order, Kariya laid motionless on the ice. After several seconds, Kariya’s eyes popped open and his face shield fogged over as he suddenly gasped and regained consciousness. Eventually, he was helped off the ice and into the locker room, and there was little doubt that the Ducks would have to continue without their captain. Because of Kariya’s past troubles with concussions, and because of the severity of the hit, many feared he would be out for the remainder of the series if it went to a seventh game. Not so.

As it turned out, Kariya would not miss Game 7. In fact, he only ended up missing 11 minutes of Game 6. To the shock of everyone, including Stevens, Kariya returned to the ice to continue play only 11 minutes after being knocked out cold. But he wasn’t done there. With the crowd roaring, Kariya took the puck into the offensive zone and fired a shot from the faceoff circle past Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur to help the Mighty Ducks to victory and force a Game 7.
Kariya out cold.
They complain that the football season is too long, too many games, guys can get hurt,  boo hoo hoo.... suck it up, buttercup. An NHL season and an NFL season are vastly different. An NHL season is comprised of 82 games from October through April, roughly 26 weeks (28 weeks if it is an Olympic year like this one is), not including the average of 8 preseason games in 16 days  (Toronto had nine in 12 days). An NFL season contains a four games over four weeks preseason and each team playing once a week for 16 games beginning in August and ending in January for a total of 17 weeks because each team has a staggered bye week where they don't play. That means an NFL team plays one game per week, while an NHL team averages a little over three games a week. In numbers: NFL team has 11 minutes of actual playing per week and an NHL team has three hours of actual play a week.

If you want to win the Stanley Cup in hockey you must win four seven-game series. That means you must play a minimum of 16 games, assuming you don't lose once throughout the entire playoffs (a feat that is extremely rare and unlikely). Football also uses the four-round system, though each round consists of one game.

That means to win the Super Bowl and football's Vince Lombardi Trophy a team must play and win four games. That is 25 percent of the minimum amount of games a hockey team must win to be crowned champions. Numerically that breaks down as follows (from the averages listed above: To win the Superbowl a team must be the better team through 44 minutes of play. To win the Stanley Cup a team must be the better team through a minimum of 16 hours of play. Numbers don't lie. A team can win the Super Bowl playing as few as 19 meaningful games.

Bruins fans will remember that Nathan Horton battled through the 2011 playoffs with a seriously separated shoulder before he was knocked out of the Stanley Cup Final with a concussion. As much as I dislike him, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby played the final two weeks of the 06-07 season and and entire playoff run until elimination with a broken foot. Crosby also came back last season from a broken jaw. In last year's Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals, Boston Bruins center Gregory Campbell laid out to block a slap shot from Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin in the second period of Game 3 during a penalty kill. Campbell broke his right fibula, and still finished his shift, skating for almost a further minute before leaving the ice.

In the 2000 Stanley Cup finals, Game 6 had two more toughness lessons. Darryl Sydor of the Dallas Stars missed a hit on Scott Gomez of the Devils and crashed into the boards, badly injuring his leg.  He attempted to get up, but quickly collapsed to the ice, unable to put any weight on his leg. But Sydor wasn’t about to be stopped. While play continued around him, Sydor determined he was useless lying off to the side, so he used his arms and his one good leg to drag his body through other players towards the front of the net in an attempt to block shots.

Now, you would expect most players hurt in such a way would try their best to stay out of harm’s way and protect themselves until the whistle finally blew. But this was the Stanley Cup finals, and Sydor’s team was facing elimination. So, to the amazement of those watching, Sydor ignored the pain, dismissed the risk of further injury, and purposefully dragged himself into the most dangerous part of the ice, solely in the hopes that he might get in the way of a 100 mph slap-shot and help his team. The game, and subsequently the series, however was decided  by an overtime goal in Game 6 by New Jersey’s Jason Arnott, who just two games earlier had suffered a concussion and had four teeth knocked out of his jaw.

Hockey Tough. Yeah, I went there.

Deryk Engelland played for my local ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays, as a rookie. Another former Stingray, Nate "Big Nasty" Kiser, is currently an MMA fighter.

And don't give me any song and dance about football toughness and playing in the cold and snow. Half the NHL teams play in pretty domes where it's 75 degrees and no weather, or in cities with minimal winter weather at all. Even though an ice rink for the NHL is inside, it's still cold enough to support ice. You do realize hockey is played on a sheet of ice, right? That the puck is frozen rubber, right? That most kids learn to play on outdoor rinks, right? That the NHL regularly plays a few outdoor games every year, right? And when they do, they sell out football stadiums to do it. And baseball stadiums. Tough athletes, tough fans.

And lastly...I don't see the NCAA or any pro football leagues with female players. The pundits will say that's because it's too tough but the truth is that it's too sexist. Hockey, however, has tough chicks who play college hockey and Olympic hockey. And while the first female athlete tried out for the NFL last year and had her bid cut short by injury, more than 20 years ago the NHL gave a woman a chance to play, a goalie named Manon Rheaume.  In 1992 she tried out for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and was signed as a free agent. This was the first time a woman tried out for an NHL team or signed a pro-level hockey league contract. She played one period in an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues, allowing two goals and stopping seven of nine shots faced, and played in another exhibition game against the Boston Bruins in 1993.

1 comment:

jay son said...

schenn was not cut but rather scraped. bad spot however, and he was lucky. there definitely is room for fighting in hockey, and without enforcers like PROBIE and KOCUR, the BRUISE BROTHERS, guys like STEVIE Y would have got killed.

FEDEROV borrowed Barry Sanders "flak jacket" during a finals so he could play with broken ribs.

hockey players the toughest athletes? bet your teeth on it.