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Hockey violence worries veterans
Some believe recent episodes stem from a lack of respect for their fellow players.
By Damian Cristodero
Published March 15, 2007
TORONTO - Sometimes, Rob DiMaio said, he doesn't know what has become of the National Hockey League.
The game always has been prone to spasms of violence. But the Lightning right wing said respect among players is at an all-time low.
"I absolutely believe that," DiMaio said Wednesday. "Guys are more willing to do things that seem to be outrageous."
Such as the Islanders' Chris Simon cracking his stick across the face of the Rangers' Ryan Hollweg. And New Jersey's Cam Janssen giving Toronto's Tomas Kaberle a concussion by ramming his shoulder into his head.
DiMaio is sidelined by a preseason concussion sustained when Montreal's Guillaume Latendresse bounced his head off the glass.
DiMaio doesn't get the change.
Perhaps players do not fear retaliation because the instigator rule harshly penalizes those who want an eye for an eye. But DiMaio, in his 18th season, also senses a shift in manner, especially among young players.
"Maybe it's what they're told in the minors or college," he said. "You used to really respect the guys ahead of you. Now it seems easier to just say, 'I'm the guy. I don't have to earn it.' "
"It all boils down to respect," Lightning defenseman Nolan Pratt said. "You want to get a hit and make a guy feel it. But at the same time, you should go about it in the right way."
Janssen, 22, did it wrong with an extra step toward Kaberle to increase the blow that the NHL said came two seconds after Kaberle released the puck, plenty of time for Janssen to hold up.
DiMaio said the hit was worse than Simon's action because Janssen "thought about it."
Simon clearly reacted to a from-behind hit into the glass, and that brings us to the instigator rule, which dishes out an additional 12 minutes in penalties to players who start retaliatory fights.
Adopted in 1992 to stop gratuitous violence, many believe it prohibits players from policing the ice.
"I'm not saying Hollweg deserved it," Tampa Bay's Luke Richardson said, "but there are guys like that who are smaller, annoying types of guys who don't fear something like that really happening to them. Sometimes, that escalates to the point guys get frustrated because there are people who would normally not be doing that to them are doing that because they feel safe out there.
"I'm not saying you should feel unsafe," the defenseman added, "but you should have a little fear there is going to be consequences to how you play."
Richardson, who has played 19 rugged seasons and as a Maple Leafs rookie was clubbed over the head by a stick-swinging Dino Ciccarelli, said Simon likely tried to send an old-school message.
"If you look at the game the way it was, there might have been more fighting and a couple five-on-five brawls. But I guarantee you there were less incidents like this," Richardson said.
"I don't condone the old ways of brutality. But when I came into the league, you wouldn't even think of trying that crap. Chris was angry, but I'm sure he didn't want to take the guy's head off and hurt him. He wanted to warn him or give it back to him; not decapitate him."
Some situations don't have such an intricate backstory.
As Maple Leafs defenseman Pavel Kubina said, "The game is so intense. It's close to the playoffs, and everybody is fighting for their lives and emotions are so high. Sometimes, you just do stupid things."
"Guys also are trying to make a name for themselves," DiMaio said of Latendresse, a rookie who stuck with the Canadiens out of camp. "It's a shame because it seems to benefit them as far as their popularity. It's just a different attitude."
Kubina said he favors bigger fines and longer suspensions to quell unnecessary violence. He also said the Players' Association shouldn't be afraid to talk about how members treat each other.
"Ultimately, players have to decide," Pratt said. "There are things you do and don't do on the ice."
And that, everyone agreed, starts with respect.
- Damian Cristodero can be reached at (727) 893-8622.