Gamesmanship is nothing new in the National Hockey League. Players are always finding new ways to ruffle the opponent’s feathers and get a one-up on the competition. However, the latest trend in underhanded deviousness has drawn the attention of everyone, including the Commissioner’s Office. It has to do with water bottles, it must end before it becomes an even bigger distraction for the league as they enter the final stages of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The water bottle “shenanigans” started on May 5, during Game 2 of the Anaheim Ducks-Los Angeles Kings series. Ducks winger Corey Perry, one of the premier goal scorers in the game, proved he can be a bit of a pest as well in a stoppage of play. Perry took a drink of water, then squirted some into Kings forward Jeff Carter’s glove. The deed was done sneakily and harmlessly, nothing else really came of it except for a bit of understandable displeasure on Carter’s part. This wasn’t Perry’s first water incident of the 2013-14 season, however: on opening night in October, when Avalanche coach Patrick Roy and Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau were having a major confrontation between the benches, Perry was right in the middle of it, squirting water at Roy.
Less than a week after the Perry-Carter incident, Bruins winger Shawn Thornton decided to go a step further in the final minute of Saturday’s win over Montreal. As Canadians defenseman and lightning rod P.K. Subban skated up the ice with the puck, Thornton squirted Subban with water from his seat on the Boston bench. At the next stoppage in play, Subban skated over to the refs and let them know what Thornton had done and that it had happened twice in that game. Thornton laughed it off, but he wasn’t laughing when the NHL fined him $2,820.52 after the game for his unsportsmanlike conduct. Two squirts adding up to about three grand begs one crucial question: Was it worth it?
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist may or may not have heard about the Thornton incident; either way, he clearly didn’t learn from it, as evidenced on Sunday night in Game 6 against Pittsburgh. As the whistle blew to end the second period, a scuffle occurred between the two teams. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who will likely be named the winner of the Hart Trophy as league MVP at year’s end, fell to the ice as he was pushed into the scrum. As Lundqvist skated past the pile-up, he made sure to spray Crosby right in the face with his water bottle. Unlike Thornton’s squirts, Lundqvist really let Crosby have it with one big splash to the face. He will certainly face the maximum possible fine of $2,820.52 as well for his actions.
This is one of the silliest issues the NHL has had to face in a long time. Does Gary Bettman have to take away the big, bad hockey player’s water bottles now? Some of the league’s best have shown they cannot be trusted with such equipment, so maybe the trainers will have to handle all hydration tasks. I’m sure the Original Six teams of the 1920’s and 30’s weren’t squirting their opponents with water like kids at a water gun fight. They were too busy focusing on what these players should be focusing on: the Stanley Cup. These guys have to either get their act together or join a backyard pool party.