Well, as those of us in “Countrystan” are well aware, it’s playoff time. The first round is wrapping up as I type this (a couple of game 7’s in the Eastern Conference to be precise) and we sure have seen some crazy stuff so far. Good and bad.
The Canucks-Blackhawks series that ended last night was pretty lengendary. On the one side, you had Vancouver, the team that steamrolled through the regular season, easily taking 1st overall in the standings. On the other, you have the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Er… half of them anyway. This was not the team that won last year. Even with the same leadership in place, Chicago lacked the sheer talent of the league’s top teams and just barely squeaked into the playoffs in 8th place, with the Dallas Stars failing to win the final game of the season or else the Hawks would have been knocked out of contention entirely.
This series should have been a breeze for Vancouver. I have been a huge Blackhawks fan for the last few years, and even I was going to be surprised if the series saw games 5 or 6. On paper the Canucks were the clear favorites and they got off to a great start, winning the first 3 games of the best-of-seven series. And then the playoff heroes started to regain their old form. Chicago wins the next two games by a combined score of 12-2, and force game 7 with some overtime heroics by a seasoned veteran and a rookie with a total of 13 NHL games (7 of them playoff games) under his belt. As we all kept hearing, this would have been the biggest upset in NHL playoff history. Only three teams have ever come back from 3-0 deficit in the playoffs…
The final game was just as intense. Plenty of chances for both teams, with another rookie in Corey Crawford playing out of his goddamn mind to keep Chicago within striking distance. With under two minutes to go, with his team down a goal and short-handed, Captain Jonathan Toews showed us once again why he was named the Best Forward during the Olympics and Stanley Cup MVP the previous year. What a fantastic effort, tying the game 1-1. The Blackhawks went on to lose the game in OT, but they sure as hell made it a memorable series.
And to me, the most remarkable part of it all — even more than the result — was the way Chicago played the game. They played hard and they were extremely competitive, but they didn’t sacrifice their integrity to win games. They didn’t whine about the refs when they lost, like Vancouver GM Mike Gillis did, nor did they resort to cheapshots against skilled players to shut them down. The Swedish Wonder Twins were shut down in games 4-7 through hard work, not concussions. Personally, I’ve never in my life been as proud of a losing team as I am of the Blackhawks for what they did this season.
I know for a fact that we could all stand to learn something from this. Obviously we aren’t superstar athletes, and we won’t be playing for the right to drink champagne from Lord Stanley’s mug any time soon (unless you count playing NHL’11 on Xbox), but we are all gamers here. We all enjoy winning, but I think we can all agree that there is far more to our hobby than just a win/loss record. Sportsmanship is still a huge part of what we do.
When we play our games we have the option of taking the high road and playing the game the way it’s meant to be played, like Chicago did, or playing like dirty, rat-bastard scumbags like Boston.
For every moment of heroism in this year’s playoffs, we seem to be treated to a moment like this one. Milan Lucic, being the classy guy that he is, decides to drive a helpless Jaro Spacek face-first into the glass from behind during game 6. There is such a lack of respect for the opponents’ wellbeing, it’s actually disgusting to watch at times. And people wonder why I can’t cheer for the Bruins…
And it’s not just the Bruins, either. There were plenty of dirty hits and suspensions in the playoffs this year. The infuriating part is that many of these plays were ignored by the referees. Vancouver sure engaged in some shady headshot shenanigans of their own, and against guys like Dave Bolland who literally just came back from concussion midway through the series.
The world we live in is getting worse all the time for this kind of stuff. Look at online gaming, where vicious insults, racism and homophobic slurs are an accepted standard of behavior. As gamers we’re not all fuckwads, to borrow a term from the greatest Penny Arcade strip of all-time, but you can definitely see the similarities between these guys and the trolls that infest BoLS and Warseer. Our games, whether it’s hockey, Halo, or Warhammer, are all being played by a certain number of jackasses who have zero respect for their opponent.
Once again, I show my age by reminiscing about the good old days, but when I started playing Warhammer and 40k back in the late 90’s, people could play competitive games (and win!) without being giant dicks about it. Just like Chicago in this year’s playoffs, they won (and lost) by playing the game and not just by having a more stacked roster, being a cheapshot artist or rules lawyer.
I can still remember playing against Andrew Till (I think that’s his name, it’s been 8 years…) in the 2003 Calgary Grand Tournament. He had the prettiest army at the event, he was the nicest guy there and on top of it all, he won a majority of his games. The guy was an all-around excellent gamer, and the fact that some of us still talk about him all these years after we last saw him should tell you something about how rare and valuable that combination is. Matt Lau is one of the only guys I can think of who routinely ranks first in multiple categories at almost every event. It must be a pretty cool feeling when a Tournament Organizer approaches you and asks which of the trophies you would like to win most, because you qualify for them all and you only get to take one home.
As gamers and (for some of us) as tournament organizers, we need to keep this whole issue in mind when we do our thing. We should maintain a healthy respect for our opponents’ right to enjoy the game when we play (do you really need to take two HPA’s, the Doomwheel, the Furnace, and the Warp Banner in every single game, Steve? Lol…) and we need to make sure people have a decent shot of enjoying their games in the events that we run.
This is why we have more than just a Best General trophy. This is why we fret over composition, painting and sportsmanship. When someone comes along and truly deserves their Best Overall trophy, it can leave a lasting impression on everybody who’s there. To all the Jonathan Toewses, Andrew Tills and Matt Laus out there, cheers for being worthy champions and showing us what makes our respective games so great. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the second half of game 7 in the Penguins-Lightning series to watch on my PVR…