It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Life has been busy and I didn’t feel I could do the world’s greatest game justice with my limited writing time. The life of a graduate student…. But sometimes, something happens in this league that is so important, so upsetting, that you just have to make the time to write about it. Unfortunately, this is the situation I find myself in now.
It is no secret that I am a HUGE Rangers fan. What you might not know is that Ryan McDonagh (a.k.a. Mac, MacTruck, Trucker) is my favorite player. The effort he puts into his game day in and day out, the dedication he has to the Rangers, and his leadership are all truly admirable, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to call him my Captain, and to get to watch him play for us at Madison Square Garden so frequently.
So imagine the horror I felt when I went to Philadelphia a mere 13 days ago to see my beloved team play, and Wayne Simmonds hit Trucker in the face. This was so scary. As soon as I heard the words, “will not return,” I knew he had a concussion. How could he not, from such a savage hit? Unbelievable.
Surely Simmonds would get suspended, right? No, of course not. For a league that claims to be cracking down on player safety and so concerned with protecting its players, it’s truly amazing just how many players are getting away with plays like this. I was floored. He didn’t even have a hearing. He played the next day! But Mac? No. Mac missed the next 4 games, over a period of 8 days. Where’s the justice, you might ask? There is none.
I was so excited on Wednesday when the Rangers announced that Mac would return in the game against the Blackhawks. Of course, I was a little nervous – you hope he won’t get hurt again right away. But I figured at least this isn’t the most dangerous team to come back against. They’re a skill team, not overly-physical. They play hockey, the right way. And Mac was fine.
Next up, Toronto. Whenever we play Toronto, I worry about Dion Phaneuf. I always remember in 2011, when Phaneuf gave Michael Sauer what ended up being a career-ending concussion. I worry that Phaneuf might hurt another one of my guys. But this time, I thought, I don’t have to worry so much! You see, Phaneuf was recently traded to the Ottawa Senators, as part of a 9-player trade. This should make the game safer. Hopefully, it should be okay.
For me, one of the best things about hockey is that while you can make predictions about games, you really can’t know exactly what to expect on any given night. Unfortunately, while this is one of the game’s greatest assets, it is also one of the worst parts of the game. You never know when someone is going to get hurt. You can never tell when someone who has never injured a player will viciously attack a player you love. Even one who returned the night before from a concussion that he sustained less than 2 weeks ago.
Leo Komarov. A player I never would have thought I’d have to worry about. A player whose name I don’t even think of when I think about Toronto – which I’ll admit, doesn’t happen too often. But Leo Komarov made himself quite evident to the hockey world last night. Not by scoring, not by helping his team, but by hitting an unsuspecting Ryan McDonagh savagely in the jaw. Illegal check to the head. Match Penalty. Out.
This is truly the worst part of hockey -the injuries. I generally believe there are different ways you can categorize fans. There are those there for the violence, those who love the game in general, those who live and die by a particular team’s status, and those who follow not only the standings, but also the players as people. This is not to say that you can’t fall into more than one category, of course.
I am a die-hard Rangers fan and a true adorer of the game itself. I have been for 10 years, and I always will be. Nights like last night make me wonder if I should stop supporting something that hurts so many people I care about. But the thing is, once you care this much, you can’t just stop. You really can’t. You can’t stop caring about the wins, but more importantly, you can’t stop caring about the players. This morning, when I woke up, the first thing I thought about last night’s game was, “Oh no, McDonagh.” It wasn’t until almost an hour after I woke up that I remembered we won the game. What a lot of people forget when they watch hockey, when they cheer for the savage hits, the fights, the penalties, is that these guys are not just hockey players. These are not fictional characters skating around on tv. These are people. People with families. Ryan McDonagh is someone’s son. Someone’s husband. Someone’s father. He’s not just the Captain of the New York Rangers. To so many people, he is someone. You would hope that the other players would understand that more than anyone. But they don’t. They just don’t.
I understand that Komarov has a hearing today, and that he’ll (maybe, and this is a big maybe) actually get punished. That’s great. Maybe he’ll learn something. But you know what? That doesn’t help McDonagh. That won’t help him physically heal, if he is injured. We don’t know what McDonagh’s status is today – hopefully he’s fine and he’ll be traveling back with the team today like normal. But these repeated checks to the head cause real damage – physically and emotionally. It’s really becoming hard to watch.
So today I sit, writing, feeling more deeply about the game than I have in awhile. I’m furious at Komarov for his actions in yesterday’s game. I’m still angry at the league for not punishing Simmonds for his affront to our Captain (and for their failure to suspend Gudas for his offenses, but that’s another story for another post). But most of all, I am sad. Sad that McDonagh might be hurt again. Sad that McDonagh, a player who doesn’t look for trouble, who works so hard, who sticks to his game, who shows such devotion to hockey and to the Rangers, was so unjustly targeted. Sad about the stress that he and his family must be feeling today. And finally, sad that this is considered, “part of the game.”