#360USA: NHL burns red-hot on the ice

Steve Brenner 01:04 27/04/2015
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Feisty: Canucks vs. Flames.

There were huge sporting clashes exploding all over the world this week.

Champions League quarter-final drama in Madrid was intertwined by the NBA playoffs getting into full swing. Cristiano Ronaldo and company are on the march as are LeBron James and Stephen Curry who both put on stellar shows.

– #360win: Front row seats for Mayweather vs Pacquiao
– Chelsea players dominate PFA Team of the Year
– On the Radar, April 27-May 2: EAFL, and EGC Ladies Open

Intense, passionate sporting affairs of the highest order, even if many Real stars spent as much time on the floor as off it.

Yet, for those after pure blood, sweat, and tears must look no further than the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, a series so bitter and twisted that the sin bin’s revolving door is in danger of flying off its hinges.

Saturday night’s clincher was nothing but dramatic, the Flames falling three behind early on before roaring back to win 7-4. That sealed the series 4-2 and set up a meeting with the Anaheim Ducks in a best-of-seven Western Conference semi-final.

The sight of seeing huge hockey players tearing lumps out of each other while the officials helplessly look on with no intention of breaking anything up never fails to enthrall newcomers to the game.

The bust-ups and bruises have arrived with predictable regularity and frequency during this Canadian tussle. It’s well worth Googling the fight which exploded at the end of Game 2 and wondering if any other sport – boxing and martial arts aside – would welcome such abhorrent violence.

In a sporting market still reeling from the effects of concussions in the NFL, it’s a scene North American sports could well do without.

There is a split among the modern-day NHL fan when watching a product which has evolved to the point where the protagonists are faster, stronger and more athletic than ever before.

Back in the day, a roster would be full of enforcers who would be sent out to ruffle feathers when the chips were down. Weight, height and scariness were their finest attributes. The ‘Goons’ are still put onto the ice – a craftily induced ruck can change momentum – yet, places in the 20-man squads are at a premium these days. The skillset is higher than ever.

Why have a plodding bruiser when some serious quality could provide the spark?

Washington star Alex Ovechkin, for example, embodies the modern NHL player – gifted with the stick in his hand while owning the kind of physical attributes once reserved for the exclusive members of ice hockey’s fight club.

The old-school NHL fan will lap up a massive brawl. In one of the most physical sports on the planet, scrapping was part of the game. Many of today’s supporters, however, would much prefer to see action involving pucks than fists.

Commissioner Gary Bettman is forever championing the skills and sweet finesse of his shining lights and the introduction of video replays in recent years has ensured increased disciplinary action. You simply can’t get away with what you used to.

Not that the Flames or the Canucks care. These two have history – and it’s seeping out of every pore. In January of last year, an NHL regular season clash started quite incredibly. The Calgary starters were a real Goon squad. 

They wanted a fight. And, a whole two seconds elapsed before chaos reigned. Both players contesting the face-off thought it was better to hit each other than the puck.

As brawls erupted around the ice, the benches got so heated there was a fear the ice would soon start melting. All five starters from both teams were sin-binned. There was a lengthy stoppage while all the blood was wiped up.

That set the tone for what has transpired over the last few weeks.

“The rivalry between the two cities, the previous playoff history – there are lots of things that go into that,” said Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. “If you battle each other hard, you’re not always going to be happy with what happens. There’s going to be feelings coming out both ways.”

There’s a contender for understatement of the year. The dynamic of ice hockey has changed dramatically since those brutish days of the 70’s yet the NHL, just like their friends in the MLB, know keeping the fans happy remains paramount.

It’s a difficult, dangerous mix to contend with. After all, one serious injury could change everything.

MLB

What was that about boring baseball needing a shot in the arm this season? Well, the pitchers seem to have taken the future of the game firmly in their own hands – and the batters are paying the price.

Last Tuesday, 18 batters were whacked, which was a lot considering the Marlins were smacked just 35 times all of last season. Travis d’Arnaud of the New York Mets and Royals’ Alex Rios have broken bones.

So do the bosses come down hard? Small fines and bans have followed. The paucity of the repercussions means it won’t stop the batters getting battered.

NCAA

Hear the one about Jameis Winston and the shoplifted crab legs?

Well, the whole world knows about it now and the revelations could have put another blot on a copybook which is becoming increasingly hard to read. The Flordia State quarterback is set to be one of the top draft picks even if his off-the-field behavior is hardly that of a high level professional athlete.

Having already been embroiled in a yet to be resolved sexual assault case, he insisted on ESPN’s Draft Academy show this week that through a friend who worked in a supermarket, he was able to get his hands on $32 worth of crab legs in April of last year.

That claim, which has been disputed by the supermarket in question’s PR, would have broken NCAA rules about its players receiving free merchanside from others.

He completed 20 hours of community service and was suspended briefly from the baseball team. He said he forgot to pay for the items in “a moment of youthful ignorance.” The NFL will be hoping he learns from all these mistakes swiftly.

Boxing

Forget the $400 million payday for Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao and instead concentrate on the finer details.

It was revealed this week that Mayweather brushes his teeth for 10 minutes every day, has a weekly manicure and pedicure while at training camp and, fascinatingly, when eating out he always orders a glass of hot water to let his silverware soak in the glass before using them.

Pacquiao meanwhile will only drink hot or room temperature water and eats steamed white rice and chicken or beef broth at almost every meal. 

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