When is a hockey stick an instrument and when is it a weapon? I’ve been thinking about that question a lot during these Stanley Cup playoffs. There are times when both options can be demonstrated by a player in just a few seconds.
When it’s used as an instrument, we marvel at the skill of a player who can control the puck while under pressure in heavy traffic on the ice.
When it’s used as a weapon, we shudder at the damage that can be done to an opponent in the heat of the moment. The heat of the moment in a time of great parity in the NHL means that players will take liberties with the rule book if it can lead to any kind of an advantage.
It’s easy to say that officials should be strict in their enforcement of the rules when it comes to the use of the stick. Personally, I’m in favour of that. But, I don’t think anyone wants to see a game composed primarily of special teams’ play. Owners certainly don’t. They want full buildings of raucous fans who applaud the speed and beauty of a fast game that is well-played.
But I think we all have to remember that the game of hockey is not immune to the laws of the land. What is tolerated on the ice would never be allowed off the ice, as we have seen in a few examples over the years. It only takes one zealous prosecutor to decide that he, or she, is going to make an example of what happens in a hockey game to give the sport a black eye.
In these times of video replay from multiple angles, there aren’t many secrets on the ice.
I think the players hold the key to keeping the use of the stick under control. They are the ones who endure the bags of ice, the soreness of backs, arms, and legs, and worse.
By this time of the season, no one is immune. Since they are the ones who inflict the pain as well as endure it, they are going to have to decide if they want to clean it up. In the heat of the moment, acts of aggression will take place automatically, without much thought.
This summer though, I hope some thought will be given to what can be done to make hockey safer for all who play it. It all starts with the stick.