There have been some thrilling battles and surprising results thus far in the quest for the Stanley Cup, but unfortunately, the NHL playoffs have been marred by a slew of illegal hits and suspensions, once again shifting the spotlight on player safety and the violence inherently linked to the game of hockey. Wayne Gretzky joined Tony Bruno and Harry Mayes on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia to discuss the brutality that has riddled the playoffs, resulting in nine suspensions thus far. He also looked at why Sidney Crosby has been one of the focal points of the intensity.
On all the illegal hits thus far in the Stanley Cup playoffs:
“It’s a little bit risqué right now, there’s no question. Emotions are high in every aspect. And if you look at every series right now each and every team is playing with a little bit of a bite, and yeah it’s a little bit surprising. They talk about the Flyers back in the ‘70s –guys like Bobby Kelly, Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz — but you never really saw those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil Esposito. It was just sort of honest, hard, rough-nosed hockey, and it’s changed — there’s no question — the players are bigger and faster and stronger today than they were when we played, and obviously there’s a lot at stake playing for a Stanley Cup, and emotions are definitely really high and subsequently you’re going to have issues. I think the league is trying to do their best to curtail all the unnecessary stuff in between whistles and things that are going on behind the play. And you know what? The bottom line is you got to win the hockey game. That’s where it hurts the most, not cross-checking the guy in the face. It’s winning the hockey game that hurts players the most.”
On Sidney Crosby’s behavior:
“No, you know what? Sidney wants to win. He’s the face of the game for a reason — he’s the best player in the game today. I just think it’s more a question of the fact that the Flyers are doing everything they can to throw him off his game. Whether it was Wayne Gretzky going into Philadelphia or Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby, you’re going to be public enemy number one and the players are going to do whatever they can to throw you off your game. So he’s just an emotional young man that wants to win. He’s a tough kid that plays the game hard and emotions run high. And I’m not surprised — he just wants to be a winner and he wants to put his name back on the Stanley Cup, so emotions do run high.”
On if he received a similar reception to the one Crosby has in Philadelphia:
“The Flyer fans are great fans, as are Pittsburgh fans. They’re wonderful hockey fans and sports fans. For me it was probably a little bit different. I was probably more on the basis of not being loved and liked in the city of Calgary, because that was Edmonton’s big rivalry. And so when you have a rivalry, it’s not just the individual player but it’s the teams themselves and obviously the Flyer fans don’t like the Penguin players and obviously the Penguins fans don’t like the Flyer players. But that’s pro sports. I was watching a baseball game the other night and Reggie Jackson said it best: ‘They don’t boo you if you’re a nobody. They boo you if you’re a somebody.’ And obviously Sidney’s a great player.”