Friday, May 6, 2016


There's nothing like the NHL playoffs when it comes to making people lose their perspective and overboil with emotion.

And there's nobody like New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano when it comes to a person behaving like a jackass because of that lost perspective and overboiled emotion. Like I said on Facebook, he is making a fool (or should I say walking female body part?) of himself. The epicenter of his hissy fit is the perfectly clean, perfectly legal check that Tampa Bay's Brian Boyle laid on New York's Thomas Hickey on Tuesday night in Game Three.

With puck possession at stake a couple minutes into overtime, Boyle lowered his shoulder and used it to hit Hickey hard in his shoulder near the Islander blue line. Hickey fell to the ice, and Boyle took possession of the puck and carried it into the Islanders' zone to start what would prove to be the game-deciding possession.

Hickey was, shall we say, slow to get to his feet, which left Boyle undefended. Seconds later, Victor Hedman fired a shot that went wide of the net and caromed off the end boards to Boyle. Standing alone beside the crease on the open side of the net, he calmly stopped the lively puck and snapped it in to win the game.

At the time, nobody griped about the hit (because there was nothing to gripe about)... The players skated off the ice without protest (because there was nothing to protest) while Islanders fans sulked and Lightning fans whooped... The TV and radio announcers talked about the goal and mentioned the hit, but did not claim there was anything wrong with it (because there wasn't)... The official who was watching it specifically for illegality did not call a penalty (because there was no penalty).

But soon after, Jack Capuano bellied up to the mike for his post-game press conference and proceeded to make a mockery of the game he supposedly loves.

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It's not only understandable, but acceptable, that The Head Isle would feel driven to stand up for one of his players (and stew about opposing players) while the vapors of an intense loss had not yet had time to dissipate.

But he did way more than that, and to make matters worse, he actually claimed that the words tumbling out of his mouth were formed after repeatedly reviewing replays of the hit.

Capuano's face was heated but very much straight when he told reporters that Boyle delivered "a direct shot to the head" and was "probably going to get suspended a game." And the kicker is that he had the temerity to say, in the very next sentence, that he "watched it numerous times" before coming to his opinion.

Then he doubled down even more: "...I've watched it four or five times, maybe more, and it's just frustrating it had to end in that particular way with a head shot."

And: " was a great hockey game. Unfortunately a blow to the head, a head shot, had to end the game."

And because a New York figure had spoken, many people in the media reacted by parroting the BS like Pavlov's dog salivating at the sound of a bell... Next thing you knew, headlines were popping up online that said the Lightning won on a "controversial" call... And the AP's article recapping the game, published in countless newspapers and other outlets across the US and Canada, dutifully included this falsehood as if it were a fact: "Seconds before the Lightning's rush on their winning goal, Boyle delivered a hard shoulder hit to the head of Thomas Hickey..."

But he didn't!

Inevitably, Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning, and just as inevitably, the NHL declared the hit so obviously legal that it declined to even hold a hearing about it... Yet Head Isle Capuano, despite the ruling and despite having had even more hours to review the video, responded not by admitting he was wrong but by insisting he was the only guy on the planet whose eyes work, quothing: "...I'm going to stand by what I said."

It is worth noting that, now that we are three days after the clean hit, even many in the New York press concede it was clean. Larry Brooks of the New York Post penned a piece in which he said the check did not appear suspension-worthy "at first, second or third glance." He added that without such hits hockey would become "two-hand touch." And the headline to Brooks's article was this: "Brian Boyle Unfairly Cast As Villain For Normal NHL-Playoff Hit."

And yet Capuano still calls the hit dirty and illegal. He was born in Rhode Island but is behaving like an inverted doppelganger of Muhammad Saeed al-Saffaf, that Iraq-born Saddam apologist better known as Baghdad Bob.

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There are a number of ironies here.

One is that early in the second period of the same game, Hickey himself doled out a hit that was much more brutal and dangerous than the one he took from Boyle. It happened when he lowered his shoulder and drilled Tampa Bay's Jonathan Drouin in the head (actually in the head, as confirmed by video) with such velocity that Drouin's noggin and body instantly flipped back in the opposite direction, off his skates, and he crashed flat on his back. It looked like whiplash and he went to the locker room with what everyone thought was a concussion.

And here's the thing: Although Hickey's hit on Drouin was to the head in a harsh kind of way, it too was clean and legal. Hickey lowered his shoulder as he surged to make contact, which makes it clear he was not targeting the head. It just so happened that in the instant before contact, Drouin turned toward him and lowered his head into the path of the hit he didn't see coming. Thus it was Drouin's action that inadvertently turned Hickey's copacetic check into a head shot, and thus the check was clean and legal.

Which brings me to something else, since I'm talking about intent. Brian Boyle is seven inches taller than Hickey. Which means that for him to lead with his shoulder and not hit Hickey in the head, he has to not only be "not targeting" the head but intentionally avoiding it.

Yet another irony is that Hickey, playing in only his fourth NHL season, already has a bit of a reputation for playing dirty, whereas Boyle, now in his ninth NHL season, does not.

As a Lightning fan, I find it more than interesting to see the Isles coach falsely allege that Hickey was the victim of a head shot (and more than that, allege he was the victim of an intentional head shot) when it was Hickey himself who freight-trained his elbow into the head of Victor Hedman on April 4th, causing him to miss the remainder of the regular season. While the Bolts never disclosed what the injury was, 'tis quite obvious it was a concussion.

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Something that really sticks in my craw is that there is ample reason to suspect Hickey took a dive when Boyle hit him.

Boyle hit him in the front of the shoulder, which would usually cause the head to, if anything, nudge a wee bit forward. But Hickey's head, after a fraction-of-a-second delay, snapped backwards like JFK's in the Zapruder film; and then he crumpled to the ice and acted like a dying animal, obviously trying to draw expecting to hear a whistle from the refs that would give his team a power play.

The last time I checked, embellishment is a penalty in the game of hockey, and checking a puck-handler in the shoulder is not.

I do not know if Hickey was exagerrating his pain -- the hit was hard -- but there are rational reasons to think he embellished the hit. What we do know is that it was clean and legal and Boyle scored seconds later.

Wouldn't the irony be delicious if Hickey abandoned his duties by embellishing, with the end result being that Boyle, one of the hardest-working blue collar players in the league, scored the game-winner because of it?

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But what sticks in my craw more than anything else is the slander Capuano is perpetrating.

And yes, it is slander.

Capuano is not making a broad statement like "the Lightning are getting away with a lot of questionable hits" or "the refs are letting a lot of things go out there." Neither of those statements would be true, but at least they would be the normal kind of emotional hyperbole that's not unusual in any sport come playoff time.

But no. What Capuano is doing (and some of his players are following his lead) is to name a specific player and accuse him of doing something he manifestly did not do. And it's not like Capuano is erroneously accusing Boyle of tripping or being offsides. He's deliberately accusing him of cheap, violent head shots that would be worthy of him being suspended by the league.

To put it mildly, Jack Capuano is accusing Brian Boyle of doing something dishonorable.

But from where I sit, it's Jack Capuano who is being dishonorable.

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