You often hear that word parroted in sports. In January 2014, Drew Magary of Deadspin wrote an excellent piece on the silliness of considering things "distractions" in football. We would be completely naive to think that hockey is immune from this phenomenon
Recently, Alex Galchenyuk of the Montreal Canadiens was the victim of domestic abuse for which his girlfriend was arrested. In a world where common sense prevails, one would assume that the Canadiens, as Galchenyuk’s employer, would ensure his well-being and that support and resources are there for him should they be necessary. That is simply what any sensible person does in these situations.
The problem with that is it assumes hockey culture is the least bit sensible, and if you’re reading this, you probably know there is a better chance of Habs fans finding an officiating call they don’t think is a vast conspiracy against them.
In fact, the Canadiens did quite the opposite with this situation.
Coach Michel Therrien sat down with Galchenyuk and teammate Devante Smith-Pelly (who was present for the incident) to ensure that he wouldn’t put himself in the position of apparently being domestically abused again, or something. Therrien’s statement to the media was that "he’ll learn." Learn what? Learn to keep something this serious quiet so he doesn’t have to endure one of these awkward finger-wagging conversations about "inappropriate conduct" completely out of his control?
So what comes next should not surprise you in the least: an apologetic statement from Galchenyuk for being a- you guessed it- distraction!
Distraction is a common word in hockey lexicon used to define "literally anything and everything that does not occur on the ice." Tyler Seguin was too much of a "distraction" while with the Boston Bruins amidst rumours of his partying. Zack Kassian was a "distraction" for being the victim of a car crash that may or may not have been tied to his substance abuse problems. The Colorado Avalanche referred to goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s arrest on domestic abuse charges to be a "distraction." Patrick Kane, amidst rape allegations in the offseason, showed up to training camp apologizing for the "distraction."
This is the bubble in which hockey lives. We view hockey players as perfect automatons whose lives ought to consist of hockey and only hockey. What happens over *there*, in the real world, simply distracts from that noble pursuity. Anything that could harm your contribution to the team’s place in the standings is simply a nasty distraction from that goal.
The prototypical hockey player, our culture demands, is focused only on the sport to the exclusion of all other things. The quintessential player is like Sidney Crosby, who we envision sleeps deep in some cryogenic layer, only to be thawed out to either work out or practice, consume his generic sandwich of off-brand mayonnaise, and be returned to his chamber after the game.
Hockey players must be devoted solely to their sport, lest they seem dispassionate. But they can't seem too passionate either. You don’t dare outwardly show a hint of personality, or be too individualistic or bombastic in the manner of an Alex Ovechkin or Nail Yakupov goal celebration. That would break some years-old code about pretending not to be happy about something you’re happy about.
Your responsibility to the collective goal of hockey demands that you show no personality beyond the canned media soundbites, referring only to "we," rather than I. The envisioned landscape of hockey is so bland and collectivist that one would expect it to be an Orwellian dystopia.
You have to play the game the right way. You have to be a "team player," sacrifice your individuality, personality, passions, and pursuits. But above all else, give up those pesky "distractions," because they will hurt the team. You will hurt the team. Hockey is no place for the vast world outside of the rink that we fondly know as "reality"!
That’s how people view hockey.
The problem with this, though, as Magary alluded to in his piece about football, is that hockey is a distraction. For everyone not directly involved in the game, it’s an escape from the stresses and obligations of the real world. Any piece you read on this site- including this one- is a distraction. We all do this because we enjoy doing it and squeeze it in between the banality of everyday life. We do it because, dammit, we want to be distracted!
The world beyond that sheet of ice is real life. Very real and serious things happen there, with very real consequences. Whether the victim of abuse, someone who committed or is alleged to have committed a crime, or someone dealing with substance abuse issues, these are very serious matters. People get hurt. People hurt others. People hurt themselves. Sometimes, these happen to be hockey players. To brush these situations aside in those instances as a "distraction" because of the off-chance it might detract from a point or two in the standings only serves to trivialize the importance of these things.
It’s about time we embrace distractions, because we all enjoy a pretty great distraction nine months of the year.