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Hartnett: NHL Authorities Must Save Hockey's Damaged Soul

By Sean Hartnett
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As a eight-year old, I fell in love with the wonderful game of hockey. At that point of my life, I hadn't laced up a pair of skates or made my first visit to an NHL arena, but that didn't matter. I was fully hooked on hockey.

The year was 1993. I was immediately drawn to artists on the ice such as Wayne Gretzky, Teemu Selanne, Mike Modano, Mario Lemieux and Pavel Bure. I equally enjoyed watching respectable tough guys like Cam Neely, Jeff Beukeboom, Randy McKay and Keith Primeau.

Back then, there was honor and order in the game hockey. The stars did their business of entertaining while the enforcers did the job of protecting them. When a star was confronted by a goon, another tough guy would step in and two enforcers would scrap.

Today, that balance is completely out of whack. We've seen countless incidents where players have taken the law into their own hands and we're only midway through the opening round of the 2012 NHL playoffs. There isn't any deterrent forcing them to stop. A goon can go and rush across the ice at any time to attack a fellow player without much consequence in the modern NHL.

Goons are 'a dime and dozen' these days. Example: A coach sends out his goon to injure an opponent. What happens next? A teammate of the victim naturally rushes in to aid his fallen comrade and is thrown out of the game immediately because of Rule 46.16 in the Official NHL Rulebook, otherwise known as 'The Third Man In' rule.

The goon already did his job by injuring or attempting to injure his targeted opponent and in most cases, probably got a better player than himself tossed from the game. He probably got a quiet pat on the back from his head coach. This goon gets a game misconduct and a short suspension but his coach can just go and plug another goon into his lineup for the next game.

We recently saw this happen when Matt Carkner (goon) assaulted Brian Boyle (skilled player) and the third man in, Brandon Dubinsky (another talented player) got tossed from the game along with Carkner.

Last night, we watched Marian Hossa, a player who brings genuine artistry and entertainment to the game get taken off the ice on a stretcher.

Worse off, an ugly incident like this could have been avoided if the powers in charge of the NHL had taken a stronger stance against blows to the head and examples of players leaving their feet to complete checks.

Blackhawks' captain Jonathan Toews spoke to reporters following the game.  "It wouldn't surprise me if (Torres) tries to do something like that again."

Raffi Torres leaped off the ice and drove his shoulder into Hossa's jaw. The Slovakian's body laid motionless on the ice and he was later buckled into a stretcher. When Hossa was placed into an ambulance, on-lookers described him as 'out-cold.' Thankfully, Hossa was released from the hospital last night although it is unclear when he will return to hockey activities.

We're all hoping that Shanahan will 'throw the book' at Torres, a frequent offender and someone I would describe as a 'head-shot specialist.' Torres was banned two games this season after a similar incident where he chose to ring the bell of Nate Prosser of the Wild.

Torres received a four-game suspension in April 2011 for this hit on Jordan Eberle of the Oilers:

Raffi Torres Destroys Seabrook - Canucks at Hawks - R1G3 2011 Playoffs - 04.17.11 - HD by CanucksHD on YouTube

If Shanahan doesn't assign Torres an adequate ban,  it's unlikely that NHL commissioner Gary Betman will step in and overrule.  Bettman attended last night's Blackhawks-Coyotes game and spoke to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.

"You're asking me to prejudge something,'' Bettman responded. "I'm certain it was observed by hockey operations and in particular player safety and to the extent it requires review or action, they will do it. But let's not jump the gun.''

"I don't fault that opinion, except the rest of the world won't view it that way. You have to put it in the hands of the experts. I tell (Shanahan) as long as you do what you think is right, the process will be fine," Bettman explained.

All you have to do is tune into a game between the Penguins are Flyers to see honor has largely left the game and vigilante justice reigns.

Head-shots, cross-checking, hair-pulling and yes, even the league's biggest superstar in Sidney Crosby was provoking and engaging in nonsense rather than carrying the torch for the league.  I don't know what to call it, but it's certainly not hockey.

3rd period brawl. Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers 4/15/12 NHL Hockey by Fred Murtz on YouTube

David Perron of the Blues recently tweeted: "Love the hard (legal) hits and emotions, but how can anyone like the head shots and other stuff?"

These days, I cling to players who play the game with respect and honor like the Blackhawks' Toews and Red Wings' immortal Nicklas Lidstrom.  The New York area is fortunate to have two players equally gentlemanly as they are talented in Ryan Callahan and Zach Parise. They all portray all that is right about hockey.

Unfortunately, great men like these are shrinking in number.  The game today isn't anywhere near like the one I fell in love with as a kid.  It's time for those in charge to clean up hockey before an innocent player in a vulnerable position similar to Hossa isn't as lucky.

Is Torres deserving of a lengthy ban?  Can hockey be saved?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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