Nice Guys Do Finish First

It happened in a blink of an eye. It was a regrettable knee jerk reaction we have all experienced. Duncan Keith’s stick snapped through the air at the Staples Center delivering a direct blow to Jeff Carter’s jaw. The bearded King’s forward collapsed to the ice as if he had been shot.

What occurred next was both remarkable and unexpected. Keith hustled toward the fallen Carter—not to deliver another whack—but an apology. In the often brutal world of the NHL it was a sight seldom seen. The referee unfamiliar with Keith’s intention to apologize to Carter shielded the Blackhawk’s defenseman away expecting him to inflict more damage. When Carter later returned to the ice and after the game Keith repeatedly apologized for his mistake.

I have to believe somewhere in Keith’s hometown of Penticton, British Columbia a mother was proud.

In the hockey world there was a collective gasp from old school fans across the country. Apologize? As only Mike Milbury can, he archaically set the record straight between periods proclaiming, “There is no apologizing in hockey.” Apparently it is another of hockey’s secret and conveniently unwritten codes that veteran Duncan Keith had yet to learn.

Perhaps Keith apologized because he knows a little about unexpected dental work, having lost seven teeth from an errant puck during the Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup run. True to form and as only hockey players do, both Keith and Carter returned to finish their games.

I prefer to believe that Keith apologized simply because he is deep down a nice guy that plays in the sometimes wicked world of professional hockey. He did the right thing by apologizing for his misjudgment. It is the response I hope we would all expect from our own children. The kind of action that displays the character we so often attribute to athletics. It was the sort of respect and sportsmanship that hockey so proudly showcases with each series ending handshake line. Hockey gods be damned, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

And now that the Stanley Cup is back in Chicago—the Blackhawks have to apologize for nothing.

Chicago continued its unintended assault on hockey’s unwritten rules, not by finger printing the Clarence C. Campbell Bowl, but by keeping their gloves on for all twenty-three playoff games. According to NHL law, when your star player gets banged around somebody has to pay. Captain Jonathan Toews played with a bull’s-eye on his chest throughout the playoffs. Teams relentlessly chipped, slashed and badgered him into a scoring slump most thought Chicago could not endure. There was no whining from the Hawks captain, not even after Bruins defenseman Jonny Boychuk’s head hunting blow almost ended Toews’ playoff run. His frustration only boiled over once, in game four of the Detroit series when he took three consecutive second period penalties—none of which were for fighting. Hawks tough guy Brandon Bollig only dressed for five games and had a mere two minutes in penalties. Not once did the Hawks drop the gloves to defend their captain. Toews not only survived without the usual NHL boxing card sideshow, but emerged with his second Stanley Cup at the ripe age of twenty-five.

Don Cherry must be speechless.

Not the President’s Cup curse, or hockey’s unwritten rules, nor defending Cup champions could slow down the Blackhawks as they went wire to wire in winning their second Stanley Cup in four years. Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s ultimate nice guy, was right after all.

Nice guys do finish first.

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