The famous phrase applied (by himself or SPORT Magazine writer Robert Ward) to Reginald Martinez Jackson during his first spring training camp as a New York Yankee, aptly describes a couple of NLL stand-outs whose teams’ fortunes mirror their own.
John Tavares missed the first six games of this season, possibly the single longest stretch on the DL during his remarkable MILL / NLL career. His Buffalo Bandits opened the season 0 – 4 and were 1 – 5, dead last in the league standings, when he returned. With JT back in his usual role, including spot duty on the back door (fulfilling his own prophecy from a couple of All-Star games ago when he playfully speculated about extending his NLL career, after several shifts on “D”, with a [gasp!] mesh-strung stick no less, for the East), Buffalo has gone on a 5 – 1 run and moved into 4th place in the East.
Tavares has rung up 14 goals and 15 assists, along with 40 loose balls, and including back-to-back OT game-winners in Toronto and Boston. With three home games, including one against Colorado, and a trip to Disney World left, it is not inconceivable that the Bandits could ‘run out the rack’ and finish 10 – 6 with at least a first-round home play-off date.
I’ve said before on these ‘pages’ that as Tracey Kelusky goes, so go the Calgary Roughnecks. With the NLL West play-off picture all but statistically decided except for match-ups, the ‘Riggers’ face an uncertain future with their captain out with a concussion, or concussion-like symptoms (a fine distinction that is lost on me – too many concussions, perhaps), and not for the first time in his NLL career. While the remainder of their schedule is not exactly grueling – an Easter(n) swing through Toronto and Rochester as I write this on Good Friday, then Colorado-Edmonton-Colorado, the Roughnecks are still seething about the hit that took out their leader.
Which takes me to my next topic — head shots in lacrosse.
The National Hockey League has had to face itself on this issue this season, and has done so with all of the denial and intellectual and emotional contortions of Dennis Rodman on “Celebrity Rehab”. Teams’ and league management, and the players, have settled on a solution of “supplementary discipline” for checks to the head on vulnerable opponents in “blind-side” situations, after a rash of vicious and egregious on-ice assaults. All of this has transpired against a background chorus of laughable hand-wringing about the dangers of “taking hitting out of the game”.
Two weeks ago Tracey Kelusky left the floor in the third quarter of a game in Orlando, after absorbing a head-shot from the Titans’ Rory Smith, and has been sidelined since. I’ve watched the video of the sequence, and here’s what this old (“wooden sticks and leather helmets”) box lacrosse player saw.
After the Titans’ Matt Vinc went down stopping an outside shot by Craig Conn, Kelusky circled the goal and picked up the rebound, continuing around the crease to Vinc’s right. Kelusky took a behind-the-back shot while Vinc was still getting to his feet, but saw it bounce off Titan defender John Orsen’s shoulder as he stood in the crease to aid Vinc. Meanwhile, Smith had left Conn in the high slot, turning to follow Kelusky’s progress around the net, and, as Kelusky shot and then took two steps watching, Smith took three full strides and hit him with a shoulder / forearm shot to the right side and jaw hinge of Kelusky’s head. As he went down, Kelusky’s helmet flew off and he hit the floor with his left shoulder and head.
Blind-side hits rarely convert directly to a strategic advantage for the ‘hitting’ team. They almost invariably lead to a fight or at least a scrum, and a stoppage in play rather than a counterattack. There is no ‘finishing your check’ within the rules, even with the leeway given by officials at the pro / elite level. Nor have I ever seen a satisfactory definition of a “legal” blow to the head, not one that passes any kind of common-sense “sniff test”. As to the bleating by offenders that they never intend to hurt or deliberately injure, what then are they trying to do? Beyond not getting called / penalized / punished, that is?
While the NHL’s new threat of ‘supplementary discipline’ may end this season’s head-hunting (funny how such tactics, and those sent over the boards to carry them out, always seem to vanish when the Stanley Cup play-offs start), the long-term outcomes remain to be seen. The NLL is fond of marketing its first responders and teachers, who “down tools” for winter week-ends of fast-paced, hard-hitting lacrosse. But head hits and concussions don’t just threaten part-time, modestly paid lacrosse careers, but more importantly, ‘real world’ livelihoods. Protecting players’ lives and families is worth taking a little bit of dirty / cowardly / pointless hitting out of the game. It would, frankly, never be missed. And while on the general topic of the egregious, I am pondering this:
After seeing the latest TV commercial from AXE men’s grooming products – the company that gave us the piglet sent out into the mall by a young woman to “find me a dirty boy”, to be gang-shampooed to the apparent eternal benefit of his sex life – to wit, another comely young lady stalking a dude at a party because “I just want to bury my face in your backside”, fortunately for viewers of all ages, the backside of his head,
I am wondering,
Does AXE use the same advertising / marketing company as Warrior Lacrosse?