Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hockey Enforcers spill blood in PG

I’ve stopped in the city of Prince George enough times to know it’s not all that much different from my hometown. And while people in Kamloops might scoff at that, the idea that their northern neighbours share something in common with them, it’s true, at least in the eyes of this Eastern convert.

In PG, as it’s known back home, the guy next to you at the pub probably has a little dirt on his jeans, on his hands. The mechanical bull in the corner never seems to mind.

Home to 75,000, people for the most part make their living in B.C.’s forestry industry, working at one of the city’s 12 sawmills or three pulp mills. Blue collar — it’s not an insult. It’s a badge of honour.

That’s part of the reason the nonsensically titled ‘Battle of Hockey Enforcers’ was able to find a home in PG. While at first some fuss was made about cancelling the event by city council, in the end, residents of PG shrugged their shoulders and gave organizer Darryl Wolski’s event a venue. ‘Really, how is this any different than a Nickelback concert when it comes to good taste?’ the city seemed to say. ‘If the big-city crowd is going to mock us as being redneck anyway, why not fill our hotels for the night?’

Now, I’ve been to a few of said concerts, and, while you can question the quality of the music, it’s really all in good fun.

Last night in PG, 16 hockey thugs, talented at the game to varying degrees, met to trade punches in front of about 2,000 fans. Those in the stands, not surprisingly, got involved in a little tomfoolery of their own, as police and arena security had to break up at least a half dozen fights (that was the number announced in media reports, although I suspect it was much higher). From watching television reports, it’s clear a number of ‘rowdy’ young men were arrested.

When the on-ice action is only fisticuffs, it seems, the game’s fans don’t have to wait to leave the rink to emulate the goings on. Should future ‘Battles’ be held, my guess is that much of the turnout will be those looking for punch-ups of their own. No different than a Saturday night at the bar for the boys from PG.

Greg Joyce from CP brings us the straight-and-narrow write-through for the event (and later on files a much more interesting recount).

The winner of the event’s $62,000 grand prize? Dean Mayrand, who plays hockey with a stick and puck in the semi-pro senior Quebec league, where he is apparently also more renowned for his fighting abilities than anything else. In six hockey seasons in various low-level leagues, Mayrand has had a total of 12 points in 247 games (he’s a forward). Oh, and 1541 PIMs.

For our part here in Toronto, The Globe and Mail sent veteran reporter Jane Armstrong to PG for the festivities. She offers an entertaining preview of the event in Saturday’s paper, and for Monday has already penned a recount of the night’s shenanigans.

From the preview:

"People don't want to admit it, but hockey is fighting," said Gary Russell, station manager at a Prince George radio station that is sponsoring the event. "What does it say about us? Are we morons? No, we just want to be entertained."
Sports writers have been quick to jump all over the event, calling it everything from barbaric to ridiculous. Others have flat out ignored its existence (a silly thing given how much interest Hockey Gladiators has generated).

Me? I think it reflects the country quite well. Hockey is our game, to be sure, and it's a game of equal parts grace and power. I'm sure I won't have to explain which was on display last night in B.C.

The cries of barbarism from the ‘more-cultured’ citizens of Vancouver or Toronto aren't representative of the salt-of-the-earth nature of Canadians. Because, there I was on Saturday night in T.O., and all my merry crew of 20-something males wanted to do was watch the fights.

If that’s wrong, then so are the rough-and-tumble environs in which I grew up.

After all, everyone loves a good fight.
Some fans said event was a perfect fit for the hockey-mad northern B.C. town, where street brawls are commonplace on a Saturday night, "As soon as there's blood, this crowd will go nuts," said Taki Papadopoulous, 21, a student at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Besides, he added, there's not much else to do on a Saturday night in Prince George.
What’s that you say about Saturday night Nickelback?

UPDATE Perhaps I spoke a day too soon about the lack of media coverage, as the Toronto Star put a story by their Western Bureau reporter, Daniel Girard, on the paper's front page today. The Star's Chris Zelkovich also weighs in on the quality of the PPV broadcast.

UPDATE2 National Post reporter Brian Hutchinson has the most entertaining description of the event here.


At 9:44 p.m., August 29, 2005, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

My big problem is that hockey fights are boring. Two guys grab a hold of each other and throw wild haymakers in the hopes that something connects. Yawn. Fights have none of the wonder provided by the speed and power of the game itself. It's macho posturing that is uninteresting, and also fails to provide the other alleged benefits.

I don't object to the idea of fighting, as I'm a huge boxing fan. If I'm going to spend my time watching fisticuffs, though, I'd much rather be watching the Corrales-Castillo rematch.

Actually, given the size of most hockey enforcers, particularly once you put equipment on them, hockey fights fall under the rubric of the First Law of Boxing: Heavyweights are boring.


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