Mario Lemieux needs a dose of Hanson brothers

Are those the Hanson brothers? The Isles' Travis Hamonic socks the Penguins' Michael Rupp (17) while their teammates tangle.
Are those the Hanson brothers? The Isles' Travis Hamonic socks the Penguins' Michael Rupp (17) while their teammates tangle.
Posted: February 18, 2011

Mario Lemieux has it all wrong. He really ought to lighten up. Or toughen up. One of those.

The former Pittsburgh Penguins star/current Pittsburgh Penguins owner is ruining it for the rest of us, or at least he's ruining it for those of us who like a good brawl (or even a bad one) during a hockey game. No one wants to see an ugly on-ice injury, and it's for the best if the players don't channel Marty McSorley and go around wielding their sticks like they're reenacting a scene from Braveheart.

Barring that, fights can be good fun for those of us not involved. From the schoolyard to the boxing ring, bloodthirsty spectators have long lined up to watch knuckles collide with noses. If that's not your thing, that's fine, but some of us enjoy it. Besides, it's hard enough to swing on land; hockey players do it on a sheet of ice while balancing on thin metal blades. The skill and athleticism required to pull something like that off is astounding. It's also entertaining.

Not everyone is a hard-core puck head. Not everyone will sit and watch a random out-of-town game for the sheer love of a brilliant save or beautiful breakaway goal. When SportsCenter starts in with the hockey highlights, I usually change the channel. You know when I don't? When the Flyers are involved. Or there's a fight. Or the Flyers are invholved in a fight. Those are the best. (Quick aside: Jody Shelley might be the toughest Jody since Jodie Foster. They ought to have a cage fight for Jody/Jodie bragging rights. I'd watch that and pay good money for it.)

But back to Lemieux. After the Islanders and Penguins engaged in one of those big, old-time hockey fights reminiscent of the gang warfare the NHL used to sanction during the 1970s - there were 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors, 20 misconducts, and 346 penalty minutes that night - Lemieux popped off about how unseemly the whole affair had been. He came off like a disappointed father who caught his kid eating paste during a dinner party.

"Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be," the Hall of Famer said in a statement released by the team. "But what happened 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."

So what if the game had a few - or more than a few - fights? It was the most sustained attention the NHL has gotten since its all-star weekend in Raleigh, N.C., that beautiful international destination and vacation paradise.

Sideshow? Hardly. The sideshow didn't come until the following morning when the Penguins boarded a bus and headed off for an outdoor practice in Central Park. They didn't make it. The bus crashed into a car. That forced the players - wearing their sweaters and helmets and pads and carrying sticks - to get out and hail cabs, one after the other. ESPN showed the footage. I laughed so hard it hurt the way I imagine a Dan Carcillo right cross does.

"It was quite a sight," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think the gentleman involved with the accident backed off a little bit when he saw a whole hockey team get out with sticks and gloves in their hands. If he had known anything about last night, maybe that's why he backed off."

The whole hilarious scene looked like an Onion SportsDome gag - maybe because, a few days before it happened in real life, SportsDome did a skit that was pretty much the exact same thing. Talk about trippy clairvoyance.

In the SportsDome bit, the cash-strapped Chicago Blackhawks took a UHaul to Phoenix to save money. Along the way, the moving van got into an accident, which prompted the league to issue a warning about traveling on a budget.

"The NHL has just released a statement requiring all teams to walk from city to city in large groups if they are unable to secure safe transport," the SportsDome anchor said. "The statement did encourage teams to find more creative means of transit, suggesting that players should ship themselves in boxes, but only after securing themselves in bubble wrap or packing foam."

For some reason, when I watched the fully dressed Penguins trying to hail cabs, I couldn't get that skit out of my head. Probably just a coincidence.

If Lemieux is worried about the league's image, he might want to start with his team's transportation and go from there. Fighting should be the least of the league's concerns. So what if, now and then, one team or another gets all Charlestown Chiefs on us? Slap Shot was an excellent movie, and if you put it on television tonight opposite a random NHL game, it would probably get better ratings.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gonzophilly.

 

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