TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for January 4, 2007

Jan. 4, 2007 — (Ice) hockey infamy

Twenty years ago today, in a town in Czechoslovakia named Piestany, one of the most infamous occurrences in the history of sport took place.

A slash on a Canadian hockey player at the World Junior Championships by a Soviet player turned into a fight and then a bench-clearing brawl that saw both teams disqualified from the competition entirely.

For the Canadians, contesting for perhaps the second most important annual competition in world ice hockey circles behind the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the incident was a shocking, shameful episode which made the entire country reflect upon the history of violence tolerated in the sport.

It’s been fortunate that field hockey — absent the occasional verbal dustup in a men’s club match in India or at last month’s Asian Games — has been free of the kind of thuggery that used to happen every NHL game until the lockout.

Of course, it’s not a perfectly pristine sport when it comes to physical confrontation. I remember seeing a tape of 1992 Olympic highlights where one player speared another in the groin. The umpire’s action was to send the offender off the pitch.

Why hasn’t field hockey turned into the kind of controlled mayhem that ice hockey, hurling, and lacrosse have become? It helps that the rules of field hockey don’t allow for full contact, and any kind of stick-swinging — even the mere threat of same — can yield swift sanction.

In the roughly 600 field hockey matches I have witnessed since my first reporting experience in 1989, I think I’ve only seen four red cards. One came from a push into the scorer’s table at an indoor game, another was from a verbal confrontation in a club match, another was the third pushing foul on the same player in a state tournament game, and the fourth was an unsportmanlike conduct call.

This, naturally, is not representative of the country as a whole; you look at the electronic scoresheets many universities print on their websites, and the umpires have been active with their bookings. But the contexts — often a straight red without a coincidental foul — suggest to me that the fouls were of a non-contact nature rather than serious foul play with hands or sticks.

Now, a member of this website’s network of journalists reported on a fistfight near the end of a match in the mid-1990s, and your Founder did witness one player lose control of herself in a high-school game about the same time, but no punches were actually thrown.

I guess there has been good karma, good coaching, and good umpiring that has kept a lid on the temptation to use the sport’s heavy, hard sticks as antipersonnel weapons.

If that ever starts becoming a trend, I’d hate to think what the National Federation of State High School Associations might do to regulate the sport.