Icing the Thugs

First things first. I get that hockey is a rough sport.

I mean, it’s not exactly a secret, is it? My sisters and I first started watching the NHL because of the fights. I think many fans started the same way. To this day, I describe the sport to people as “soccer with weapons, armor and bad terrain.”

So yeah. Nobody’s mistaking this for a tiddlywink arena.

But even so, there’s rough and there’s wrong. And this time around, the Minnesota Wild are on the wrong side.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, welcome back to Colorado and I hope your vacation was nice. Because if you were anywhere within shouting distance — and I use the phrase deliberately — of the Front Range this week, you already know far more about the laming of the Colorado Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie than you ever wanted to know.

The uproar was huge when the Wild’s Matt Cooke slammed his knee into Barrie’s, taking Barrie out of the playoffs with a ligament injury. It was only slightly less muted when the league agreed that, yes, the hit had been improper, and announced Cooke’s punishment.

Seven games.

Yes, seven.

Mind you, that’s better than nothing at all. And there’s a good chance those games will be served next season, because, honestly, the Wild looked like they were already on their way out of the playoffs before they turned the Avs into the Big Red Rage Machine. But still — seven games?

That’s … what’s the word I want? Oh, yes. Pitiful.

Now, my friends from New England may think I’m throwing stones in a glass house here. After all, the Broncos reached the Super Bowl after a “pick play” wound up knocking Patriot defender Aqib Talib out of the game. But I do think there’s a distinction, and not just because we paid our penance by being nationally embarrassed and then signing the player we injured.

I believed then and I believe now that the injury on that play was accidental. (Not least because a receiver like Wes Welker isn’t built for the bully-boy game.) If I thought otherwise, I’d want Welker out on his ear. Leave the bounty hunting to Boba Fett and “Dog” Chapman and let everyone else play football.

Coming back to the ice, most folks agree that Cooke’s shot was no accident. Cooke has a record as a thug. Sure, he’s renounced that past, but that’s taken about as seriously as weather forecasts, political promises and guarantees that this year, the Cubs will win it all. If you saw someone weaving on the road who had seven previous DUIs, your first conclusion would not be that the car’s frame has a bad alignment.

How do you get a hardcase to take this seriously? By upping the ante. One fan on Facebook had the ideal answer: suspend him for as long as the injury lasts.

Four weeks to heal? Four week suspension.

Six weeks on the disabled list? Six weeks on the you-know-what list.

Never able to return? Have fun asking if you want fries with that.

Granted, you have to be able to show intent. But that’s already the case anyway. And unless the disparity in talent is huge, most teams have little to gain from “milking” the injury to keep another player off the ice. After all, you’ll only play that opponent a handful of times a year, but losing your own player affects your team every day.

There’s plenty of room for rough. There’s no room for foul.

Think about it, NHL.

This isn’t just a want. It’s a kneed.

Game Face

Lexi Peters is a 14-year-old who really has her head in the game.

The video game, that is.

Peters’ face is now the default model for female hockey players in the new NHL video game by EA Games. It’s the first time in the series that the company has ever put virtual women on the virtual ice.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience for anybody,” series producer David Littman told the Tonawanda News after Peters’ letter to the company hit paydirt. A school hockey player herself, she had been frustrated that her brother could put a digital version of himself in the game, but she and her friends couldn’t.

“We wanted girls,” she said.

Now, I know some purists may be a little less than happy. (For the record, there has been one woman in hockey, goalie Manon Rheaume, who played for Tampa Bay in the preseason.) But let’s get serious.

Video game hockey needs no separate locker rooms.

Video game hockey players draw no sexual harassment lawsuits.

Video game hockey is, in fact, a creation of the imagination. A grown-up “Let’s Pretend” where someone can say: “If I were the coach/ If I were the star/ If I could be Matt Duchene for just one game….”

In fact, I’ll go a step further. Professional sports in general is an imaginary passion.

Most of us will never suit up for the Broncos or the Avalanche or the Rockies. In 99.99 percent of cases, our lives will go on the same as ever whether the Nuggets make the playoffs or camp out in the cellar. It’s a game, here today, gone tomorrow – just like many of the players these days.

And for a fan, everything I’ve just said is heresy.

Imagination and passion make every contest a milestone, every controversy a crisis. I suspect there’s more people out there who care about Tim Tebow versus Kyle Orton than did about Michael Bennett and Ken Buck a little while back. I mean, Bennett may be a U.S. Senator, but can he get 13 yards for the first down out of the shotgun?

They’re our players, despite every piece of evidence to the contrary. Through them, we are a piece of some of the best players in the world, somehow belonging even if we can’t do a single sit-up.

Given all that … and given the growing number of girls’ and womens’ teams out there, right down to that fantastic Olympic team … is it any wonder that women want to be part of it, too?

If a video game, a work of imagination depicting a work of imagination, can satisfy that, what’s the harm? Sure, there aren’t any women in the NHL now. But if you’re going to stick to strict realism, you might as well throw out player-created characters all together, throw out trades, throw out any game record that gives the Avalanche more than 30 wins.

Throw out the “game” part of the game, in other words. At that point, you might as well buy a DVD.

And who knows? One day, real hockey may again catch up to its mirror image. It might even be Peters who does it.

After all, she’s already won one faceoff.