Alex Burrows is either the ballsiest player out there, or the dumbest. Under further consideration, maybe it's some combination of the two. Only time will tell what the repercussions will be for his post-game comments, following Monday night's 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators, but, good or bad, those very same comments (see excerpt) have forever changed the way a die-hard hockey fan views the oftentimes considered beautiful game.
First, let me just say that I know the term "The Beautiful Game" does not reference hockey, but there's no reason why it shouldn't. One look at a highlight reel of any one night's action will leave even the most skeptical sports fan shaking their head, asking "How did that dude with the stick do that with that small rubber thing?"
The way the players skate, or at least the skilled ones, seamlessly from one end of the ice to the other, the way a top-shelf shot seems to perfectly hit the netting once a goal is scored, the way a drop pass actually looks like its being passed backwards instead of just being left there for a teammate… it all lends itself to a certain appreciation of the sport that is admittedly acquired through exposure, but stays with a fan the length of their life. But I digress…
…Burrows will never win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the National Hockey League's most sportsmanlike player, but his quasi-rant Monday night seems to confirm what every fan always liked to think following a hard loss by their favorite team, but never really wanted to believe: That referees are not always the objective third parties trusted to see over the game that they are supposed to be.
Videotape evidence confirms that Stephane Auger had a conversation with Burrows during the pre-game skate, just as Burrows claimed following the game. Burrows was eventually called for three minor penalties in the third period, two of which came in the final five minutes. The game-winning goal by Nashville defenseman Shea Weber was scored on of those resulting power plays. You can either choose to believe Burrows with regards to what was said in that conversation, or you can hope that he's lying.
The gut reaction is to recall that, despite his recent scoring prowess (eight goals in the last four games), Burrows has a bad reputation as being a pest and an overall disliked player in the league. However, once one gets a few seconds to think it over, it becomes readily apparent that Burrows may very well be telling the truth, because he has no reason to lie.
If you get TSN and have seen Sportscentre since the incident, you would know that the backlash around the league has already started. True, the backlash consists of sound bytes from players in only Canadian teams' locker rooms having been harassed by probably overzealous TSN reporters hoping to get quick, albeit coerced reaction to the incident, but the clips do represent backlash nonetheless. In the piece, the Calgary Flames's Craig Conroy said on record that to him the incident sounded like sour grapes on the part of Burrows. Defenseman Adam Pardy took offense to the insinuation that Burrows was the only player to get bad calls made against him and his team. The Toronto Maple Leafs's Jamal Mayers said that he had never heard of a specific incident such as the one described by Burrows. Take all these things into account, and you have the makings of what two days ago was a career on the rise suddenly tail spinning.
Burrows was never well-respected in the league, and this incident would not help matters, largely because, in a lot of ways, it's a cry-wolf situation. Of course, a lot of the players quoted by TSN may just be saying what they're saying for the sake of not getting fined. The fact remains, though, that hockey players are known for being tough and a player, especially one of Burrows's type, who has resorted to "crybaby" tactics here will likely not be all that much tolerated from here on out, especially seeing as this is the first time (at least in my memory) that a player has failed to keep his mouth shut after such an incident (if such incidents have occurred before). Post-game complaints towards a ref are not rare, but outright accusing him of prejudice, saying that said ref told him ahead of time that he was going to get what was coming to him? Never.
If what Burrows says is true, and we may never hear the exact truth if it isn't, he could have likely remedied the situation from the get-go, calling Auger on his supposed bs and telling him something to the effect of: "How about you call this game down the middle as you should and I won't tell the media about this little conversation after the game?" In theory, such a tactic should have worked and would have given Auger a chance to rethink his attempt at revenge, but I'm not a hockey player and I've never been in a situation even a tenth similar, so, really, there's no telling what would have happened as a result. In the end, we all know what happened, so contemplating what should have happened is a moot point.
Again operating under the premise that Burrows is telling the truth, he is not the only stupid party involved. If Auger did purposely make bad calls on him, he too should have kept his mouth shut, because… well, the reason is obvious. Referees clearly make bad calls and they're not perfect. But they are supposed to be professional. Whether it be Burrows by lying through his teeth, or Auger through Burrows telling the truth, that "ignorance is bliss" mentality that hockey fans had is now gone, and every missed call from here on out will be second-guessed, every ref mercilessly booed and taunted, and every past game's result put under a microscope.
Of course, all this can only be classified as hearsay right now. That and perhaps the saddest comedy of errors the NHL has ever been a part of (the 2004-2005 lockout notwithstanding). Hockey has now been forcibly shrouded in a veil of corruption. Here's hoping it once again gets to be beautiful.