Thursday, July 19, 2007

Yep, It's a Crock.

Sorry no conversion experiences here...

The Code: The Unwritten Rules Of Fighting And Retaliation In The NHL
By: Ross Bernstein
Publisher: Triumph Books (November 2006)
ISBN-10: 1572437561

I have a general rule when it comes to reading a book for recreational purposes and that is if the book insults my intelligence three times or bores me to tears; I drop it and don't bother finishing it. The last book to run afoul of this rule for me was The Drudge Manifesto (BORING...) though Bill O'Reilly (insulting) came very close. Ross Bernstein's book however would have tripped this rule had I not pledged to write a review. I felt that I had to read the whole thing to do a review despite it continually insulting my intelligence.

The book starts out inauspiciously when Bernstein spends the first two chapters attempting to equivocate Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorely for their infamous transgressions. While Bernstein takes great pains to stress that these players violated "The Crock..er...Code," he lays out a case that Steve Moore and Donald Brashear had what happened to them coming to them under "The Crock..er...Code."

In fairness, more time is spent rehabilitating McSorely than Bertuzzi and this is largely due to the fact that direct quotes from Marty McSorely comprise about 50% of the book in the first place. As a matter of fact, about 75% of the book is directly quoted material in the form of long block quotes and other quotes from various fighters and other hockey personalities placed in insets throughout the book. It is these numerous inset quotes that make the 240 page book a chore to read.

Though the inset quote on page 153 from former player and referee Paul Stewart recalling attacking Bob Schmautz on a golf course over an on-ice incident years before and challenging him to fight is very, very classy and drives home the point that these guys off the ice are totally different from their on-ice personalities. I also like when Rob Ray channels Charles Barkely and effectively says "we're not role models" on page 206. (Yeah, no kidding...)

When Bernstein actually writes something himself, he is very repetitive about the "toughness" and "courage" and other worn-out hockey cliches that any serious hockey fan already knows a lot about. He talks about the days of the Original Six and how players would play hurt and that it was a badge of honor and of course, an offshoot of "The Crock..er...Code." While I don't doubt the toughness and honor aspects, players knew in those days that jobs in the NHL were very limited and that giving up their roster spot due to injury could very well mean the end of their careers. Every serious sports fan knows the name Wally Pip.

Bernstein's biggest gaffe comes on page 86 when he refers to the Calgary-Edmonton rivalry as the "Battle of Ontario." (To his credit he gets it right on page 158 and properly calls it the "Battle of Alberta".) However, on page 145 he declares that the instigator rule was born in 1992 (try 1986), I was ready to give up on the book at that point because the three strikes rule had been more than violated. If I wasn't trying to do a serious review, I wouldn't have read another word of the book.

A big problem that I have with the book is that it is not as much an explanation as to why fighting still exists in the NHL but a full throat defense of it. The cause of removing fighting from the game is given seriously short shrift as only half a chapter out of 22 is devoted to the anti-fighting cause (he of course makes little if any attempt to refute the arguments). Of course, when the vast majority of the book are quotes from various fighters romanticizing their trade; this should come as no surprise to the reader. Furthermore, the seamy side of fighting gets a passing notice but the plight of former Caps John Kordic and Paul Mulvey get glossed over as well. Although Mulvey does get his name in the book and a thumbnail rundown of what happened to him; Bernstein attempts to use Mulvey's story to evoke sympathy for the fighters and comes up short for me.

However, the largest defect is that Bernstein and the rest of the fighters leave an important question hanging in the air. We're given a rundown of all the reasons why a fight occurs and most the often one you hear about is "it cleans up the game." Yet it is never explained just why when fighting exists do the cheap shots still occur? It is impressed upon us over and over again that "The Crock..er...Code" is first learned in Canadian Juniors and passed on up to the NHL. By the time a player gets to the NHL, he should already know that he's going to be called into account should he issue a cheapshot, but the cheapshots still come on almost a nightly basis in the NHL, even before the instigator rule was implemented. Clearly, this aspect of "The Crock..er...Code" has serious flaws. Also the old "Broad Street Bullies" aren't taken to task for taking fighting from a "policing action" and into an accepted tactic for playing the game. Bernstein himself at the end of the book says that fighting shouldn't be used as a tactic. I too fail to see the "honor" in starting fight for those reasons. We're repeatedly told that "The Crock..er...Code" is meant to prevent bullies from taking over on the ice but that's exactly what the Flyers of the 1970's did; and they're worshipped for it.

If you're an Ultimate Fighting on Ice fan (and can read above a fifth grade level) you'll love this book. If you're like me and despise the circus sideshow; this is nothing more than opposition research but considering the glaring errors in the book, there isn't much value as I was already aware of 99.9% of what was presented in the book. If you're not a hockey fan at all and you read this book, you'll come away with the impression that hockey is some barbaric sport and hockey players are barbarians more worthy of the Colosseum in Rome instead of modern day society.

Up next, thanks to Brenna's suggestion, The Boys of Winter is on tap.

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