Being a hockey fan, or a fan of any other sport, is like being party to a contract. We give our time, our money and our energy to support people with enormous athletic talent, all in the name of “representing” our home city (cue Seinfeld’s “rooting for laundry” bit). In exchange for all those things, we get the pleasure of watching highly-tuned athletes testing the limits of what the human body can do, and we get highly-tuned athletes crashing into each other at speeds the average person can’t even fathom. One of the big “draws” of hockey has always been its physicality. People love the big hits, and they love the fights, as they do in all contact sports.
Which brings me to the Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty incident.
Honestly, I can’t look at the tape and see that Chara did anything “wrong,” other than being late on finishing his check. From all the angles I’ve seen, it looks as if it’s an unfortunate piece of timing. Z hit the guy a couple seconds too late in the wrong place, and Pacioretty hit the one place on the ice you don’t want to hit. That doesn't excuse him from culpability, however.
I have to admit that I’ve been struggling with a lot of this, especially in terms of what it all means. Incidents like this make me feel like I’ve sold my soul to become a hockey fan. I look at what happened to Pacioretty, and I look at what just happened to Bob Probert, and I feel shaken. But I feel like as much as I WANT to see hits and fights, I want more to live in this fantasy world where every time a guy gets blown up, he gets right back up to his feet as if nothing happened, and everything’s okay. And that’s not always the case. Every player is not going to get back to his feet. Every retired player is not going to have normal brain activity and die old and full of years instead of in the middle of his forties. As much as I abhor violence personally, I actively encourage it by buying into the concept of organized sports. This is something I continually have to reconcile with myself.
I hate that this happened in the game I’ve grown to love. I hate that it stains the game, and most of all, I hate the fact that Max Pacioretty is a 22-year-old kid who may never play a game of hockey again. No matter what discipline you exercise on Chara (and he’s getting none), you can’t take back that moment. It’s all a part of the contract we’ve all tacitly agreed to as fans and athletes, and that’s something with which we all have to live.