the leafs may have bagged the game Tuesday night, but don't expect me to honk my horn or plan a playoff party. The NHL is holding its Stanley Cup tournament, but I'm holding my nose. Slowly but surely over the years, I have found myself developing a hate-on for the national hard-on for hockey.I speak here as a serious sports fan who believes spectator sports are the last bastion of live TV and that there's no greater thrill than watching men play for make-or-break bundles of cash. I speak as well as a hockey-pool addict who's managed -- hallelujah -- to have Doug Gilmour on her list this year. But the graceful sport of lightening-fast moves and spectacular saves is now so completely corrupted by NHL-style brutality and ugliness that it no longer exists.
My current antipathy started when millennial celebrants suggested my feelings for Canada ought to be wrapped up in the image of Paul Henderson scoring his goal during the 1972 Canada-Soviet summit series. It got tweaked when fans wanted to give Rocket Richard a state funeral.
Then it swelled into real disgust when Hamilton homeowner Nadia Chiuriak tried to get those ball-playing hockey kids off her tulips and was demonized for it.
Photographs of the father standing with his arm protectively around his son -- instead of doing some decent parenting by suggesting his offspring move the game a few doors down -- pushed the point that nothing is more important than ensuring that red-blooded Canadian boys get to engage in the national pastime wherever and whenever they want to.
Have worshippers at hockey's holy grail been blissing out on a crisp pass, a stunning wraparound, the elegance of a clean breakaway? Oh no. Current excitement centres on Toronto's Shayne Corson kicking New York's Eric Cairns in the stomach; Boston's Kyle McLaren nailing Montreal's Richard Zednik with a forearm; Leaf Gary Roberts boarding Islander Kenny Jonsson. They're all out for blood, and it's all replayed in luscious slow motion.
Even the Europeans play dirty now. Why did Mats Sundin have a career year during the regular season? Because he became as vicious as the players who've been hooking and spearing him ever since he came into the league.
Pro hockey is the only game that hires players to act as goons -- and none of the above offenders even qualifies for goon status. Why can't hockey nuts remember that during the five-ring circus in Salt Lake City they were held spellbound by games in which not a single punch was thrown?
Have we heard a bleat about changing the NHL's ways in the wake of the Olympic victory? Hell, no. Instead we get to listen to the hand-wringing of hockey lovers who can bemoan American coach Michael Costin's murder at the hands of hockey dad Thomas Junta but defend professional hockey's right to stage its brutal spectacles to appease the fans' bloodlust. And then we're shocked that the violence encouraged on-ice seeps to points outside the rink?
Toronto hockey fans are among the most bizarre, giving the Leafs their blind faith in the days when team founder Conn Smythe and son used the Gardens as their personal brothel and hanging tough throughout the ludicrous tenure of bully blowhard Harold Ballard.
No, I don't care if the Leafs crap out in the next game. There are hundreds and thousands of us fed up with face-punching and crotch-kicking served up as a national identity.