The first round of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Playoffs has been dominated by a strange fixation with balls, which is unusual because hockey is played with pucks, of course. But we're not talking about the kind of ball you might find on a basketball court. We're talking about the kind of balls found between a male's legs.
This testicular obsession started early in the first round and has grown to an enormous size since. It seems hockey players cannot stop hitting each other in the testicles. Spearing, or "cherry-picking" as it's known on the playground, has become the go-to form of combat for players attempting to distract, or possibly maim, their opponents. Usually spearing would be a last resort action, something that happens when the tension between teams runs so high players are forced to go low. But at some point over course of the last week, the unwritten gentlemanly codes that govern hockey were thrown out of the window and hitting an opponent in the 'nads became the du jour way to get under your opponent's skin.
On Monday night, Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny was given a two-minute penalty for "slashing" Minnesota Wild forward Cody McCormick in front of the Wild net. Statsny drove his stick up into McCormick's private parts, sending the Wild crumpled over in pain on the ice like he'd been shot in the stomach. Whether Statsny will receive supplemental discipline from the NHL remains unclear for now, but if he does, he'll be the third player fined for similar actions this post-season.
The popularity of playoff spearing can possibly be traced back to one of the league's premier pests. On April 19, the NHL fined Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic, a very good player who also happens to be one of the toughest, dirtiest guys in the NHL, $5,000 for spearing Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser during game one of their playoff series, which the Wings eventually lost. But for some reason spearing caught on across the league. On April 26, the NHL fined Dallas Stars forward Ryan Garbutt (heh) $1,474.36 for this on Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry during game five of their series:
The NHL calculated Garbutt's specific fine according to rules in the league's collective bargaining agreement, in case you wondered. Referees ejected Garbutt immediately and the Ducks were awarded a five minute power play, on which they scored a goal. The series had been, up to that point, a rough and tumble affair. A fight broke out after game four ended, and streamers fell from the arena roof, adding a welcome layer of silliness to the fisticuffs. What makes the Garbutt situation stickier is that his actions were a direct response to a Perry spearing Dallas' star player, Jamie Benn, earlier in the series. Perry received a two minute penalty. While Perry's spear was not as violent as Garbutt's spear, does it really matter? Stick-on-balls assault hurts no matter what, no matter the Cup: Stanley, crotch, or otherwise. "There’s been way too much stickwork in this postseason, to be honest," says Yahoo!'s Greg Wyshynski. "And not the puck-handling kind."
But the players are not the only ones in the NHL obsessed with what's between their legs. Coaches, too, are have shown greater attention to their balls. Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville grabbed a pair when he was furious with the officials during game one of their series against the St. Louis Blues. The NHL fined Quenneville $25,000 for "inappropriate conduct." In an attempt to pump up his team, who are fighting off a plucky come-from-behind effort from the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy urged his players to "put [their] balls on the table" for game five. The Avalanche won that game, but lost game six, so the series will be decided Wednesday evening. God knows what he'll say before that game.
What has possessed these players and coaches to shout and grab and poke at their testicles for an entire week? Beats me. Playoff hockey is fast and hard and intense and over way too soon, but normally there's very little ball play.