November 29, 2010

Stewart Sacrifices His Body, a Lot of Brain Cells for Avalanche

"This is indeed as good as it gets for me."
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in the fight on Saturday when the Colorado Avalanche’s Chris Stewart broke his hand on the Minnesota Wild’s Kyle Brodziak’s face, because, well, there are a lot of moments from which to choose. He really did do a number on Brodziak to the point that the latter may actually be considered good-looking now, but the fact remains as much aggression as Stewart was able to let out he’s still probably hitting himself right now in one way or another.

Stewart has yet to be confused for one of the game’s elite-level players, but the way his career was progressing there was a definite case to be made that eventually some ignorant, maybe half-racist hockey fan seeing him holding an equipment bag outside the Saddledome after an away game would mistake him for Jarome Iginla (for the record, Stewart is half-Jamaican and Iginla half-Nigerian). He’s actually following in Iginla’s footsteps more than anyone would care to admit considering Iginla is somewhat famous for his tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier during the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals.

Stewart’s bout represents just the latest time this year that stars have opted to drop the gloves (although, all the offense in the world to him, Brodziak wouldn’t know what to do with such a label if it was handed to him, printed-out, laminated, with a safety pin already attached and step-by-step instructions how to stick it onto his shirt; he would probably just prick himself and pass out due to the blood loss).

Anyway, earlier this season, Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby fought Dallas Star Matt NIskanen, and before that Detroit Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk fought Anaheim Duck Corey Perry. New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk also dropped the gloves, against Washington Capital Mike Green, but that hardly counts seeing as Kovy just mistook Green for his oversized paycheque that was trying to get away.

I’ve never really subscribed to staged fights and the need some players may feel to give fans a show. I don’t see how fighting, a legitimate way to unleash some built-up fury on an opponent taking cheap shots on your or a teammate, has been perverted to the point that some players are able to make a living based solely on how well they risk their bodies in order to try to shift momentum in a game as well as their ability to goad more valuable players into taking five-minute penalties.

As such, to see Stewart square off against a lesser player, when his team was leading no less, doesn’t really speak to his leadership abilities, but more so to his lack of intelligence. While Stewart may have had this injury coming to him, Colorado fans definitely do not deserve to see their team’s leading goal-scorer go down with an easily preventable injury. Stewart makes his living with his hands and the risks in such a situation definitely outweigh the one potential benefit: proving he was better than his opponent. Newfslash: Everyone already knew it. Now, after the fact, we’re not so sure, but, heading in, definitely. In fact, unless you’re any one of the other some 700 players in the league not on Brodziak’s team of plugs, chances are good that you’re better than him. So says studies done on the subject, anyway.

Hopefully Stewart’s hand heals correctly, all that will be lost will be a month or two of playing time, and he learns his lesson: not necessarily that he’s paid to score, but that fighting just for the sake of fighting is a pointless exercise best left to the guys whose jobs actually depend on it. If he continues down this road, he may just end up in that latter group.

"Damn. Missed the helmet."

Stewart has actually been in 15 regular-season fights, so he’s not new to the experience of sacrificing his body for his teammates, the feel of fist on the flesh of a Kyle Brodziak... hell, he may even like it, but, if he has his sights on continuing to be the star he’s been this year and last, he’ll find that true sacrifice comes in the form of holding back for his team and sticking to what he does best. He fights well, but he’s a better player. Last time I checked, few people use the word “player” to describe enforcer/tough-guy/monster Derek Boogaard... Fewer still to describe Brodziak, but that’s admittedly maybe because so few actually know who he is.

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