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Sports in general is supposed to teach people—children especially growing up—about the idea of fair play. And we are assured, as children, that if we play a nice clean game, no matter what, the adults in charge who are acting as referee's shall make sure if someone fouls us up, the person fouling us up will pay the price through a penalty of some sort. It was an idealistic view that the referees, or "zebras" as some of us call them, would make the playing area a safe place to be. Because after all, sport is supposed to be about fun, and not about maiming a fellow human being.
Unfortunately, this was not happening at ALL during the NHL playoffs, and it seems to be getting worse. One can only hope that, given all of the horribly questionable calls that were not made where people were left severely injured, the officials who were supposed to be calling a fair and just game will have their "calls," or lack thereof, put under a microscope by their bosses.
There are so many calls that sickened me during the playoffs, and especially in the fourth game of the Western Conference Final. Mark Scheifele was crushed back first onto the ice, with the Golden Knight's Brayden McNabb on top of him. Just to add an injury to the very violent insult, McNabb delivered a very hard two handed blow with the shaft of his hockey stick to Scheifele's face while knocking him down, drawing blood.
And understandably, when Scheifele got up, he did retaliate and whacked McNabb in the back of the shins with his stick.
With McNabb's stick still firmly looped under Scheifele's right armpit, the ref blew the whistle and gave Scheifele the penalty for slashing.
Now, let's break this down:
The whole thing took place in front of the referee in the Vegas zone. He saw how McNabb flattened and cross checked Scheifele in the face. He could SEE THE BLOOD on Scheifele's face, coming from the cut on his face produced by McNabb's stick making contact with his face.
Anyone could also see that Scheifele's helmet was not sitting on his head correctly AFTER receiving this blow. Also, it is logical and understandable why someone would retaliate after getting what one could only imagine was a very hard hit from someone over 200 lbs straight into their face.
This all happened in front of the referee. Yet only Scheifele, the man with his face cut open from a very illegal hit, was the one sent to the penalty box for slashing?
One would think the story would end there, but unfortunately for Washington's Brooks Orpik, there was basically another non-call, or useless call, made against the Golden Knights' Erik Haula during game two of the Stanley Cup final. Orpik is seen as one of the Capital's team leaders, and according to defensemen John Carlson, "(Orpik's) the heart and soul of the team." Losing the Capitol's team leader who had just put their team up by one could have been a potential disaster and a blow to the team's morale for the rest of the series.
In the dying seconds of the game, Haula delivered a vicious slash to Orpik's hand, which reports initially indicated needed upwards of 15 stitches. With this much news about the injury coming out, surely there should have been some kind of suspension handed to Haula.
Naturally, there was no suspension handed out.
So much for justice....
The Capitals wound up really being tenacious in their final three games after this happened. Orpik still played in the remaining three games. The Capitals had won game number two, tying the series at 1-1, but they played the rest of the series with what some would refer to as "a fire in the belly." One would almost think that something had infuriated them so much that they were on a mission to win the Stanley Cup, for reasons far beyond what anyone could see on the surface. In fact, the Capitals won four straight games, and were lifting the cup high on June 7th in Vegas.
After all the stardust had settled, some unsettling news broke.
The news came out on June 10th that, in spite of Orpik continuing to play for the Capitals, his finger was in far worse shape than he had let on.
In fact, his poor finger is falling off.
Now, let that sink in for a moment.
A Very Sad Sight to See
Unjust calls and non-calls were made throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Just from the examples mentioned, one man (one of the team leaders for the Jets) had his face smashed and slashed up (with blood pouring down the right side of the bridge of his nose, yet the culprit who did this didn't even so much as get a scolding from the ref) while the other (a team leader for the Capitals) had one of his index fingers partially amputated by a hockey stick (with no suspension handed out with such unsportsmanlike behaviour displayed at the end of a game).
Is it any wonder why so many people were cheering to see the Capitals win the Stanley Cup? Like the Winnipeg Jets, the Caps played a fair game. They had players who were being fouled up through actions by the Golden Knights, which for the most part, were not called as penalties.
Nobody likes to see a group of bullies win. It was especially satisfying to see such a group being crushed in the final round of the playoffs. Chances are very high that many, if not all, of Orpik's teammates had a good idea of how serious his injury was. In fact, a quite from Shakespeare's Macbeth may best sum up the Capital's four game sweep victory:
"Let this anger sharpen your sword. Transform your grief into anger. Don’t block the feelings in your heart; let them loose as rage."
Congrats to the Capitals, and to Mr. Orpik, I hope you are able to find a way to re-attach your finger.
Let us all hope that, for the sake of fair play, that the referees who made these horrendous non-calls are dealt with so they remember what fair play is supposed to look like.
It was satisfying, when all was said and done, to see the bullies crushed.