I just finished playing an extremely dirty recreational playoff game. It was the kind of game that makes me dislike hockey. The hockey I play is as recreational as recreational gets. No one is going to get a college scholarship. No one will play for the Olympics. No one is even going to make a provincial team. Now, I get it. Teams who don’t have speed have to hack and slash to survive. My team on the other hand is built upon a ‘first to the puck’ mentality. We have no one on our roster good enough to dominate a game; therefore, as it should be, we win and lose as a team. This particular team we played tonight we also played a week ago in the final game of the regular season; we won 8-2. We just so happened to draw them for the first two games of the playoffs. Our team expected a hacky game but what we ended up participating in was absolute lawlessness and a perfect example of why The Code doesn’t work.
It all started with a cross-check in the corner on our defenceman. Face-to-face race for the puck and their player took two hands to her chest. The ref was standing right by our bench so I asked, “Is that not a cross-check?” Of course he ignores me. Our team then retaliated with a cross-check to the back of the original offender. No call. And so it continued. A cross-check from their team to the back of my line mate straight into the boards. It’s the type of hit that would start a fight in the NHL. I was in close range and took exception to the dirty hit to my teammate and friend. The offender had tumbled after her cross-check so all I could do was slash her in the pants. Retaliation is far from part of my game but, I think like many hockey players, a little switch goes off in your head when you see someone take liberties with your teammate. I’m not proud of retaliating and I expected a penalty for an obvious non-hockey play but no whistle came for either play. Late in the third period when we were up 5-1 they took out the skates on our player with a blatant trip. On the ensuing power play #77, responsible for a number of dirty plays, cross-checks one of the smallest players on our team into the boards. Our biggest player then goes over and pounds on her a bit. Both benches are up in arms. With a player in each box and 23 seconds left to play I was hoping they would just run the clock so the madness could stop but no, one more face-off which led to one more cross-check. Needless to say the hand shake line-up at the end of the game was one of the more disingenuous versions.
Welcome to women’s recreational hockey!
After the game, our ‘goon’ said to our goalie “I know you didn’t want me to take a penalty but I had to send a message after that hit.” And there it was, a manifestation of The Code in the furthest realm of hockey from the NHL. I realize that all of the retaliative plays were The Code in action but it was that phrase “send a message” that really brought the sociologist forward. Sadly, I think Don Cherry would have been proud. I think he would have thought it was hockey players just working it out on the ice. But what I saw and experienced was lazy referreeing and lawlessness that detracted from the game that I love to play.
I suppose one could argue, well if there were really a goon on either team no one would be taking runs at players but if that is the purpose of the goon/enforcer then what is the purpose of the referee? If the purpose of referees in the recreational game is to drop the puck and get in the way of good clearing attempts up the boards then thanks but no thanks. In the NHL, they don’t even drop the puck so they serve even less of a purpose if the game is supposed to police itself.
What was particularly interesting is how, through my research, it has been argued that The Code is learned through junior hockey in the Canadian system. Yet, none of these women have played junior hockey and The Code is entrenched within our understanding of the game. No one has to tell us to stand up for our teammates, we just do. No one has to tell us that one cross-check deserves another. We could argue that this is learned behaviour from watching NHL hockey but I think it is more than just re-enacting what we see on Hockey Night in Canada. As I said before, a switch went off in my head and sensibility didn’t matter in that moment. It was visceral. The problem with such a method of ‘control’ is that there is no control, it is merely chaos until the clock runs out.
As much as we would like to believe that players can govern themselves they cannot. Just as civil society is, unfortunately, unable to govern itself there needs to be some rule of law on the ice. I can only imagine what our game looked like to those watching. Not hockey I’m assuming. Just like a bench brawl in baseball, although amusing, these aberrations do not define baseball. But for hockey retaliatory plays are the norm and they are very much part of hockey culture. It is also the worst part of hockey culture. It does not enhance the game, it makes the game a mockery.