What is it about the Pittsburgh Penguins that encourages their players to flagrantly attempt to injure others?
Lest you think I’m simply showing an anti-Penguins bias, here’s Exhibit A to the contrary, from tonight’s game in Tampa Bay:
Look, I don’t care what team you support: Is there a doubt in anyone’s mind that Chris Kunitz intentionally hammered his elbow into the head of Simon Gagne? Is there any question this behavior must not be tolerated in the NHL?
In hockey, elbows fly. Sticks jab. Shoulders crush. It’s a brutal game we love, and that’s as it should be. But no one should so blatantly intend to injure their opponents—for while all may be fair in love and war, anyone elevating professional sports to that level is deluded.
I was willing to write off Matt Cooke as an aberration—someone whose violent nature couldn’t be reined in by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma or owner Mario Lemieux (though was there any evidence that they tried?). But this latest instance makes me wonder . . . what is it about the Penguins’ culture that encourages this violence?
Please don’t think my outrage is in any way an indictment of Pittsburgh in general—every time I’ve visited that city I’ve had a wonderful time. I’m just genuinely curious as to why the Penguins seem to have evolved into the cartoonish villains of hockey.
Mind you, this infraction wasn’t Kunitz’s first attempt-to-injure moment; while his rap sheet is nowhere near as embarrassing as Matt Cooke’s, Exhibit B will still resonate, particularly with Capitals fans:
This video captures another moment when some contact with another player, in this case Semyon Varlamov, would have been totally understandable. Yet Kunitz clearly, and intentionally, cross-checks the Caps’ netminder in the head. Penguins’ management mustn’t have disciplined Kunitz, because he still plays that way today.
One might expect this sort of behavior from the Broad Street Bullies of old. To be fair, even the Caps’ beloved Dale Hunter had a meltdown moment when he attacked Pierre Turgeon. Examples of inexcusable hockey behavior abound.
But what is it specifically about the Penguins club that condones (and therefore encourages) this sort of repeated violation of not just the rules of the game, but the boundaries of common decency? When team leadership consistently did nothing to punish Matt Cooke, they silently helped similar behavior flourish. Kunitz is no Cooke, of course; but last night, for a moment, he was.