Neil Was in the Wrong

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By now, most folks have seen last night’s fight between Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil and Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Dorsett that saw Dorsett go after Neil after the combatants were separated by the linesmen. The backdrop for the fight: With Vancouver leading the game 2-0 early in the second period, Neil challenged Dorsett who eventually obliged him.

For those who may not have seen the fight, here is the video:

The reason why Dorsett was so upset with Neil was because Neil got in an extra shot while Dorsett was in a linesman’s grasp and going to the ice while Neil was still able to throw. Neil then did the “Rocky statue” victory pose with his arms raised in triumph, prompting an enraged Dorsett to go after Neil.

Frankly, I don’t blame Dorsett for being peeved. I would have been, too.

What Neil did at the end of the fight was garbage. Dorsett also said after the game that the reason he initially declined to fight Neil was that he had a bad hand and told the Ottawa player as much.

Dorsett doesn’t always have a sparking reputation himself. He’s known in some circles for being an embellisher and a bit of an opportunist in his own right. However, Dorsett was not doing anything out of line in this game.

My opinion of the events would change things a bit if Dorsett was running around at Ottawa players and then begging off from a fight by citing an injured hand. Rich Pilon once lost some reputation points for doing just that. This falls along the hockey lines of writing a check you can’t cash. If you are a tough guy is who isn’t well enough to fight, you aren’t well enough to do things that trigger fights. Can’t have it both ways.

In this case, Dorsett was just playing the game and Neil was looking to go with someone to inject some emotion into his team. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of that sort of stuff, especially players “needing permission” from their coach to fight, which was not part of the game when I was playing or during my active officiating career.

Never once did I — or any of my peers — need a coach to tell me to go ahead and fight or that he was afraid a fight would spark the other team. It’s all part of the watering down of the hockey culture and it’s bogus.

As a former enforcer, I only WISH that I could have so much influence over a game that the simple act of dropping the gloves with my team trailing by a couple guys meant the difference in my team ultimately winning the game. A genuine fight can raise emotions but a staged one can’t create emotion out of thin air.

Neil wanted a staged fight, and then basically provoked a genuine conflict out of it. I’m not going to applaud how he went about it, because I didn’t like it. The sucker punches at the end and the grandstanding were pretty weak stuff after what had been a pretty unremarkable fight.

Some folks have said Neil turned the game around for the Sens, who went on to win in overtime, 4-3. If that was the case, though, the Sens had a funny way of showing it. They gave up another goal less than a minute after the Neil-Dorsett fight to fall behind, 3-0.

It wasn’t until about five minutes later that a David Legwand power play goal started the comeback for Ottawa. Therein lay the real turning point and genuine spark. The team then went on to score twice more to tie the game by the end of the second period.

As for the Neil-Dorsett fight, I know the Code really doesn’t exist anymore. This type of stuff goes on too often, followed by the combatants flapping their gums to the media about it afterwards. During my career, a player who stepped as far out of line as Neil did would often have a rematch under the stands or in the parking lot after the game with no fans around to strike poses for afterwards. You can’t do that kind of stuff anymore, which is neither inherently good or bad as far as I am concerned.

What IS bad is the lack of respect that pervades today’s game among many players.

********* Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.