Mario Lemieux is biting his lip no more. Lemeiux is so incensed over the NHL’s handling of the crazy Penguins-Islanders brawl Friday night, he’s questioning whether he wants to be part of the league anymore.
First up, that’s hardly a threat. I really don’t care if Mario Lemieux is an NHL owner or not. I would have cared if he were 29 years old, still ripping it up as a player, and threatening to leave then. Now? I don’t care if an organ grinder and his monkey own the Penguins.
However, when a legend talks, people listen. And that's good, particularly in this case.
Just as I admired Boston’s Andrew Ference for stepping up and calling out a teammate for an ugly hit, I think it’s important and awesome that key people in the game, like Mario, start calling this his stuff what it is. Unacceptable.
Lemieux didn’t just rip the league in the heat of the moment. He issued a well thought out press release. "Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be," said Lemieux, the Penguins co-owner. "But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that.
"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed. We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players," the Hockey Hall of Famer said in his statement. "We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.
"If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it."
I know I’ve said on the air recently that I’m tired of taking the “something’s gotta be done" stance. I was just getting tired of complaining about what appeared to be a low priority issue for the league. The players allow their PA brothers to maim them and stay silent. They don’t seem to care. So why should we? Maim away, right? It’s their life.
Well, when one of my oldest friends heard my take, he tuned me up with the following email. His son plays elite level bantam hockey in Michigan.
I am outraged by the mentality of the NHL over head shots, from the very top all the way down to fringe players like Tom Kostopolous. It sickens me. The “hits to the head” issue became personal to me in November when I watched Rowan being hooked up to an EKG, minutes before being wheeled into another room for a CT scan, after being hit from behind into the boards. Maybe your take is the best, if I look at NHL players as merely pawns in a game, I won’t get so upset when I watch.
But last night, (my 14 year old son) had a game against the best team in the US. One of their big defensemen nailed one of our forwards in the head with a vicious, predatory open ice elbow. Their player was escorted to the penalty box to serve a two minute minor penalty while our player struggled to try to stand. He was unable to. He was eventually helped off the ice and rushed to the hospital for a CT scan.
Thankfully, no damage was detected, however this morning he has a horrible headache and will likely miss weeks of hockey. Time will tell how long he will be forced to sit out, and time will tell how much long term damage he will sustain to his brain. We've now had 4 of our 17 players, or about 25% of our roster, miss time due to illegal hits to the head. These kids are 14 years old. It is unacceptable, it is an epidemic, and it is effecting these players’ young brains. It has to stop, and it begins with the NHL. It is reprehensible that the league isn’t coming down harder on these predatory hits.
Touche. THAT’S the biggest reason we should care. Most NHL players shouldn't be role models but the reality is they are. And it's monkey, see monkey do. If NHL players don't give a crap about the life/health of the person across from them then neither will some of our kids.