Read between the lines of Washington Capital Alexander Ovechkin's apology issued following the announcement of his two-game suspension for his recent hit from behind on Chicago Blackhawk Brian Campbell. Yes, read between the lines and discover that it seems as though the player currently suspended for the second time this season isn't really sorry at all.
"I am very sorry that Brian was injured," the written text starts off. From the get-go Ovechkin doesn't even apologize for hitting him, just that he got hurt, as if to say not only was it not Ovechkin's fault, but it was all Campbell's.
"NHL hockey is a physical game," it continues, Ovechkin continuing to make excuses.
The apology ends with him saying that "I will continue to do what I have done since I was taught to play. I will play hard, play with a passion and play with respect for my teammates, opponents and fans…"
Say what? Sounds to me like a bit of a contradiction in that last little part, because Ovechkin's recent style of play (slew-footing Atlanta Thrasher Rich Peverley, kneeing Carolina Hurricane Tim Gleason, hitting Buffalo Sabre Patrick Kaleta from behind, all this year, mind you) hasn't exactly lent itself much to respecting opponents.
My personal favorite part of the apology is the part where he says: "…I did not intend to injure Brian."
Now, you may recognize this bit as a rehash of every single non-apology to take place before following every other suspendable offense in the National Hockey League. Every time someone gets injured following a shot to the head, a hit from behind, what have you, the party line from the guilty party is always, ALWAYS: "I didn't mean to hurt anyone."
Well, for what seems like the first time ever, I call b.s. on every single one of those players, including Ovechkin. Hockey is a physical game, NHL hockey more so (it's right in Ovechkin's apology, in case you don't believe it from me), and every time a player goes to check somebody else, legally or illegally, they are trying to hurt them. Injure them? Probably not, but hurt? Most definitely. A check sends a message, or at least an effective one should, telling them that if you want to carry the puck you need to pay the price to get a chance to score. That's how the game is played. Arguing otherwise is like saying: "Yeah, I punched the guy, but I didn't mean to hit him." I mean checks are referred to as "hits" for a reason.
Now, I won't delude myself into thinking that Ovechkin wrote the apology himself. I'd like to think, though, that he was at least present during its drafting by Washington's public-relations department. In any case, the words contained therein are being passed off as his own, and, as such, he should take responsibility for the fact that he doesn't seem at all sorry for his actions.
I wouldn't call Ovechkin a dirty player… just a thoughtless one. He doesn't think before he acts (or at least that's what his perpetual parade to the sin bin would tell us), and when the NHL passes up an opportunity to send a message to its players, prove that there is no double standard present, it goes and drops the ball (or puck, if you want to be cute; actually, I don't think that would work considering that "dropping the puck" has become synonymous with starting a play, but I digress).
As recently as just after the Olympic break, Montreal Canadien Maxim Lapierre got suspended for pushing San Jose Shark Scott Nichol into the end-boards from behind. He got four games for the offense. If you look at Ovechkin's hit, it's nearly identical to Lapierre's. People can say that Ovechkin was finishing his check and Lapierre was just being stupid, but the fact is the hits look to be mirror images of one another, during which the victims of each are dangerously close to the end-boards, and, through no fault of their own, get pushed in nearly head first. The only difference? Lapierre gets four games and Ovechkin two. Oh, wait… my bad. Lapierre wasn't a repeat offender, Ovechkin was. Even if you argue that Ovechkin's hit wasn't as dirty as Lapierre's, you still have to contend with the fact that Ovechkin had been suspended before and that Lapierre hadn't. That alone should have merited Ovechkin another two games to make the suspensions equal and at least give the illusion that the NHL is unbiased when it comes to matters such as these.
Clearly, the NHL isn't. Clearly, they have no credibility. Clearly, they give preferential treatment to star players over third and fourth-liners. Clearly, there is a problem that needs to be rectified. I understand that the league needs Ovechkin on the ice, but you would think that they need all 689 other players more than just one superstar. Without them, all you would have is Ovechkin hitting the boards from behind and kneeing an unsuspecting goal post before making a highlight-reel play around a non-existent defenseman and scoring on an empty net. Entertaining? Hardly.
It really is sickening when there is such clear-cut favoritism going on right under our noses, as if the league expects us not to see it, as if they don't care if we do. Continue down this road Mr. Colin Campbell and Mr. Gary Bettman, and you risk alienating the fans who actually understand the game, the ones who actually fill the buildings of their hometown teams, and who actually help the league to survive.
How can we as fans expect players to take legitimate responsibility for their actions when the league won't let them? I think it's time the NHL issues an apology of its own. I wouldn't hold my breath, though, on a real or a fake one.