Expert analysis and unwritten codes
Posted by Dean Holden at June 16th, 2014
by Jack Blatherwick, 4 June 2014
I found a new TV channel. Or was I online? Well, maybe I was just dreaming. Wayne Gretzky was doing the color commentary on a channel that wasn’t listed, and I compared his thoughts side-by-side to the ‘expert analysis’ on NBC/NBCSN (which I will now call NBCxx).
After the first offensive rush it was obvious the same play was seen from different perspectives.
On NBCxx, Eddie Olczyk was doing what he does best – second-guessing after the fact. Eddie is truly an expert – a great forward, transformed into a cautious, by-the-book coach, so he has experienced both sides of the second-guessing game. When a Ranger forward tried a creative pass on a 2-on-1, Olczyk said, “No. No. No. Don’t get cute. Shoot the puck. It’s never a bad play (no matter how bad the angle).”
Over on the Gretzky channel, the Great One said, “Wow. What a brilliant idea. The deceptive pass didn’t work that time, but if he tries it again, I’m betting it will be a highlight goal.”
Then, in the next minute, a forward fakes the shot, makes the pass and it turns into a goal. “Beautiful pass,” according to Olczyk.
Gretzky smiles. He was probably reminded of the four different seasons he scored 200 points.
Then, another forward shoots from a bad angle, but Olczyk spots an open man (on replay) the forward didn’t see in real time. “He missed an opportunity there. His linemate was wide open.”
The commentary between periods on NBCxx was just as enlightening. LA is down by three, and Mike Milbury tells us they need more hits.
Gretzky comes up with the preposterous idea that they need more goals. Maybe that happens when you score 1,072 in your career. He adds, “If they stick with their speed and skill, they’ll have success.”
Pierre McGuire thinks the speed of the game will kill them. They need to slow the game down.
Then the puck is dumped, and a forward runs the defenseman into the boards after he has made the breakout pass. “That’s the way they have to play,” according to Olcyzk. “Finish checks.”
Of course, Gretzky is wondering out loud why someone is hitting a D without the puck when he could be anticipating the next play – possibly sneaking around the back of the net the way No. 99 did for 500 of his goals. But what’s 500 goals? Oh yeah, we need three in the next period.
Some goon is pushing, shoving and trash talking after the whistle, and Pierre tells us, ‘That’s what he should be doing to get his team going.” I get it, Pierre. Watching a teammate make a fool of himself after the whistle gets the adrenalin going big-time.
Gretzky thinks out loud, “Better to use your aggression before the whistle blows.”
The officials finally call a penalty after the next wrestling match, but they send only one player to the box. “He has to use his head,” says Pierre. “You can’t take penalties.” McGuire is also a former coach, so the habit of second-guessing comes naturally. But Pierre, we thought this would get the team going.
Gretzky says nothing; just shakes his head. Second-guessing is apparently why NBCxx hires coaches, not players who hold every scoring record in hockey. What could we learn from Gretzky?
Remarkably, there’s some double-speak embedded in the minds of players after a lifetime of being second-guessed and encouraged to “get the team going.” Take Milan Lucic. Gretzky tells him to use his speed and strength to create goals. Milbury wants him to use his assets to intimidate the other team. So, Milan skates up behind an opponent when the puck is 100 feet away and spears the guy in the crotch. “I’ve only done it three times,” Lucic explains, by way of defending himself. And that’s good enough for Milbury and the NHL decision-makers.
After losing the series, Lucic skates through the handshake line and threatens an opponent’s life and limbs for the next season, making a mockery of the whole sportsmanship charade. Then when another player has the temerity to talk publicly about Lucic and his thuggery, Milan tells the press, “He violated the code.”
“What?” I ask myself, “What’s with this code?” It’s confusing to someone who’s been watching for six decades, so I wonder what a PeeWee hockey player thinks about unwritten codes and expert analysis. When his team is behind by three goals, does he need to score goals or spear an opponent from behind? Does he get his team going by cross-checking and trash talking or by making brilliant plays? Should he think ahead and skate to loose pucks or go hit someone who already passed it?
Better turn on the Gretzky channel if you want to be a player. Listen to the NBCxx boys if you want to be an expert.