The latest chapter of the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks has taken on a life of its own. It took a while to get going, but when it got there, it was out in full force. Kris Russell’s last-minute game winner was stunning, but hardly the pinnacle of headlines.
That belongs to the fighting. And the goonery. And the hatred so strong it comes in waves off the ice and transmits through screens, not to mention the miles-long boxscores thanks to penalty minutes.
No saints, but no suspensions, either. Deryk Engelland was spared, as was Alex Burrows. Michael Ferland is not facing harsher punishments for his physicality, and neither is Dan Hamhuis. I can’t think of a third Flame to mention here, so maybe my bias is showing, but hey, even Kevin Bieksa, who took his feelings of irrelevance and charged them into an outright ambush, is getting away with it.
The league has essentially said two things:
- Cut it out, guys.
- But there aren’t really any consequences for your actions.
Of course, that second part will probably be cleaned up, now that each team has had their freebie (Bob Hartley’s wallet aside, but he’s the only one who entered this nonsense with a very recent history of similar behaviour). Although if you read Kent’s article earlier today, that might be hoping for a little too much.
Game 1 was a pretty calm affair, and if I’m honest, it didn’t feel so much like playoff hockey as an extension of the regular season. A very welcome extension, and it was definitely still surreal and nerve wracking to start, but the Flames and Canucks have had more intense games in the preceding months. Season opener? Fighting to end lengthy losing streaks? A rookie goaltender holding on to a 1-0 lead? Game 1 wasn’t quite that.
The only penalties that happened were minor affairs, mostly courtesy of the Flames’ overzealous kids (who were the ones taking a fair number of penalties in the season closer, actually). A high stick? An easy goading? Puck over the glass? Tripping? Hardly enough to start a scrum.
But Ferland wouldn’t stop hitting, and Johnny Gaudreau kept getting targeted, and the Flames were down quick in Game 2. They stopped the bleeding, but focusing on their own wounds took too much time, and they were unable to initiate a counter.
Charge the net, scrum a little. Game’s still in reach, whatever.
Calgary’s down 3-0. Then 4-1. They’ve lost. Seek blood.
That was their moment. Forget the physicality of before; all right to complain was officially lost the second Matt Stajan threw his gloves off. Brad Richardson continuing to hit him down on the ice was disgusting, yes. There was no good excuse for Engelland to have been fighting two guys at once, no. But he started it, and he got back in it, and it was cathartic.
It felt good. When you can’t win anymore, but you’re going to have to face the very same opponent again in a matter of hours, you might as well go down swinging. You have something to gain from that. It makes sense in the near future. And it makes you feel better in the immediate, like you weren’t totally defeated by them.
Lessons for the opponent to take.
Winnipeg’s whiteout led to a discussion on colour psychology, and honestly: red is a scary colour. It just is. Confronted by it in large amounts, it can be very off-putting. It’s intense, passionate, and aggressive. Its strength allows it to bring out some of its worst aspects, including anger and agitation.
While blue is stabilizing, red is wild.
And the Saddledome is very, very red.
That’s to say nothing of the actual context within the fiery enclosure. Quick goals for both sides, but a lead and punishing attack already kept the Canucks on their heels. Things were chippy, to be sure, but once again, things didn’t get out of hand until the game was firmly out of reach.
Calgary had already used its gimme; this time, it was Vancouver’s turn, and they took full advantage of it. Infuriated by a hard hitting rookie, frustrated by the creativity of smaller and tenacity of younger ones, the Canucks completely forfeited any high ground they may have had prior to the Game 3 by resorting to sneaky, dirty tactics as time ran out.
Jonas Hiller dove? Tough, you still don’t get to touch the goalie like that, and nobody even pushed Yannick Weber into him. You don’t get to hit people in the head. And if you continue going after one member of the team, the rest are going to step up. Alex Burrows was the aggressor, and Russell the defender. And Bieksa was the one who snapped against a player a decade his junior after days of pretending to not even know who he was.
Sports bloodlust is fun and all, but it’s also exhausting, and after two straight brawl-filled games – the fault of both teams – that’s probably enough. Game 1 didn’t have the same level of emotions, but a game winner with just 30 seconds to go is still some pretty exciting hockey.
It also allows for a more welcoming environment. And honestly, beyond three hour breaks every 48 hours or so, we all still have lives to lead, and things we want to enjoy. At some point, getting worked up over a lack of calls, or suspensions, or what idiots are saying online or the over-sensitive moodiness in real life has to stop.
A week from now at the most, it’ll be done, anyway. Lingering feelings will probably remain, but they’re never as strong as they are in the immediate.
The last time I got this angry over sports was Sept. 13, 2014, long before any of us thought this playoff series was a possibility. The Calgary Stampeders were down 29-10 to the Toronto Argonauts at the half, and while I had full faith the Stamps would still be able to make a game of it, losing four starters over the course of the game – culminating with Bo Levi Mitchell – was bad. The frustration of so many good players getting hurt, combined with the desperate and all-consuming comeback, kind of completely took over; and when they got it but the Stamps were still missing four, I was drained.
Football and hockey are very different, but the nasty levels of behaviour both the Flames and Canucks have poured on brings about similar emotions. I’d still rather nobody get hurt; I’d still rather nobody get suspended.
We’ve all had our fun, now it’s time to breathe. The games will still be good. It’s the playoffs, so of course they will. Just hopefully now with a little more hockey and a little less psychosis.