There’s a rot that exists inside the culture of hockey that is a top-down type of disease. This malady can be easily understood as the Thug Mentality. It starts with the likes of Don Cherry, currently a prominent NHL analyst and commentator and former head coach of the Boston Bruins. Eventually it trickles down into the leagues of the little ones because the veins of the hockey culture are clogged with this viscous disease.
Don Cherry espouses a notion that to be a true hockey player one must “toughen up” and play hockey according to norms handed down from the Gordie Howe era of hockey. In fact, Don Cherry once claimed that a real hockey player plays without using a visor. He even went as far as to praise the Chicago Blackhawks as the last organization that every single player on the team skated without a visor. Gordie Howe was notorious for going into the boards towards his opponents with his elbows up. He was probably the NHL first enforcer. An enforcer being a vigilante type of player that enforces both written and unwritten rules that either get missed or ignored by the on-ice officials. It is this mode of thinking that infects the hockey culture with the Thug mentality.
The vigilante and Thug Mentality cause multiple problems from the obvious to the moral. On the surface, vigilante justice can seem necessary and fair. After all, if the on-ice officials won’t do their job properly then teams need to enforce the rules themselves. This notion skates treacherously on a slippery slope. Who decides which rules are egregious enough to demand vigilante enforcement? Who is going to police the enforcer? What happens not only to the individual but to the culture of hockey at large when an enforcement goes awry? Is this type of justice warranted or necessary?
This mentality infects not just the players and teams but also the drunken and passionate fans that are along for the ride. As evidence, consider “The Kronwall Effect.” Niklas Kronwall is a defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings. Not as much of late, but there was a time when Kronwall just seemed incapable of staying on his skates when he would deliver a check to an opposing player. In fact, there is a picture of Kronwall leaving his feet, i.e., jumping into a check, and laying a devastating blow to the Chicago Blackhawks forward Martin Havlat. The caption of that picture is “Kronwalled.” Detroit Red Wings fans infected with the Thug Mentality actually cheered and shamelessly took pride from one of their players delivering such a hit.
The absolute worse manifestation of the Thug Mentality is when it leads to a serious and life changing injury. Such an incident happened during a NHL game in Vancouver Canada in 2004 and is known as the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident. Bertuzzi, who later claimed his was told to execute this form of vigilante justice by his then head coach Marc Crawford, chased down Moore, engaged him from behind and drove Moore into the ice head first, resulting in 3 broken vertebraes in Moore’s neck, a concussion and other injuries that ended Steve Moore NHL career. The Thug Mentality that infected Bertuzzi, Crawford and fellow Vancouver Cunuck Brad May, who put a price on Moore’s head after an incident a few games before between Steve Moore and Vancouver’s Markus Naslund, and caused someone to get seriously hurt. The infection even inflicted the Vancouver crowd who cheered after Bertuzzi delivered the devastating hit until they realized the Moore was seriously hurt and then the crowd went silent. Leaving other observers to wonder, if the crowd felt remorse for their actions or were they like a Roman crowd cheering for the death of a gladiator.
The Thug Mentality has no place in any sport, let alone ice hockey. This is not a lofty and unattainable ideal. Do you seek proof? Look to the women’s hockey league, from local leagues all the way up to the Olympics, where no checking is allowed. Are there any women vigilante enforcers in ice hockey? Are they even necessary there?