"I scored a couple of tickets to the Flyers game on Friday. I wanted to know if you'd like to go with me."
"Why would you think I'd want to go to a hockey game?"
"Well it's cold, there's a lot of blood...it's right up your alley."
The episode of Body of Proof acting as background noise immediately caught my attention. The hockey mention wasn't important, but the description (and I do understand why those descriptions were used) really irritated me. As someone who invests many hours a week into the sport, seeing "violent" words tagged with hockey in an attempt to portray what the sport is about, makes me squirm.
It's a copout. A lazy, outdated image that hardly scratches the surface of hockey's true essence. I mean, "a lot of blood"? There aren't that many high-sticking double minors or skate slashing incidents on a regular basis. Of course, fighting, not accidents on the ice, is what was being referenced. Unfortunately, the image of toothless hoodlums throwing right hooks reigns supreme when hockey is mentioned in a show or movie. Those none the wiser take Hollywood's word as scripture, and from there, a stereotype is born.
It's like possessing a $1200 Canon DSLR and only using it on the "automatic" setting. By neglecting to showcase all of hockey's nuances, you miss out on something really special. I'm over Hollywood's version of hockey and wish it would portray the sport the way it deserves.
Fighting has long been a part of the game, arguably an important part of it. To have the courage to step up to an aggravator and absorb some knuckles for the team is a great unifier. Sometimes, it's even a game-changer, as we all know.
The Broad Street Bullies embraced this identity in the 70s, one that was much loved by the fans and forever hallowed in Philadelphia sports history. It's no surprise the classic Slap Shot was filmed and released around that time. Decades later, fighting still has a place in hockey, but the game has evolved dramatically and now draws on the speed and agility of its players, not boxing ring skills. Game sequences seen in Slap Shot are now a rarity, not the norm.
In fact, Jonathan Willis drew an interesting statistic to our attention last week:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Wasn't clear in previous tweet: Major penalties are down league-wide ~20% from 2005-06 on compared to 1997-98 thru 2003-04.</p>— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) <a href="https://twitter.com/JonathanWillis/status/324268010850361344">April 16, 2013</a></blockquote>
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(Willis previously noted that the major penalties mostly covered fighting majors.)
So why is it that the fisticuffs stereotype somehow lives on in movies, TV shows, commercials, even conversations like it's 1974?
The reason is simple: Hollywood and the media haven't evolved their perception of hockey and continue feeding that toothless fighter hockey image that is long gone. The way hockey fans understand hockey and the way it's portrayed on screen is incredibly different. I saw Goon a few weeks back and was rolling my eyes all 90 minutes. Let me say I respect that it's an adaptation of the biography of boxer-turned-hockey-player Doug Smith and won't argue with those who found it entertaining. At the same time, I'm hungry for hockey movies that bare hockey's soul, not focus on a sequence that lasts less than a minute in a regular game.
I want to see more movies like The Rocket: The Legend of Rocket Richard, one of the best hockey movies ever made (seriously, go see it if you haven't). I want to see historic hockey moments captured like Miracle so effortlessly does. They don't have to be based on true stories like aforementioned; I just want to see movies that show hockey is more than just a game and certainly more than bleeding fists and bruised cheek bones. Hockey is an endless portal of interweaving story lines just like any other sport.
I don't think Hollywood and the media have a personal vendetta against hockey. In fact, I think it's an attempt to showcase a unique side of a not-so-popular sport. A controlled environment to fight is non-existent in other major team sports. Logistics can also become an issue because I can't imagine there being a surplus of actors who can film a realistic hockey game scene.
But when Hollywood commits to a good hockey story, it's a homerun. They're the few, the proud hockey movies that attract more than just hockey fans to theatres. Is it a coincidence enrollment into hockey programs increased after the debut of the wildly popular Mighty Ducks trilogy? Good sports movies ultimately act as recruiters.
However, it wouldn't be fair to only point the finger at Hollywood. While not be as noticeable, hardcore fans are guilty of embracing the stereotype as well. How many of us saw this picture of Deryk Engelland and said, "Wow, Engo really looks like a hockey player"? Or when Sidney Crosby was initially hit in the face with the puck before we realized the full extent of the damage. How many of us said, "Sid's gonna have a hockey player's smile now"? Like fighting, the "hockey player smile" has become less and less popular, but we still reference it like the gape-y grin is a common sight.
As many of us have noticed, hockey players don't look like the brutes of the past. Missing teeth no longer implies toughness.
Just an observation.
Hockey isn't what it used to be and it's time we all embrace the new look that has come with the new playing style. I'm done with seeing hockey get the short end of the stick when it comes to its representation. Let hockey be itself; the stories are there, waiting to be told.