Mike Rupp has a beautiful family.
Rupp is a left-winger for the New York Rangers, having played for the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. As luck would have it, Rupp’s two teams have been featured during the past two years on HBO’s stunning documentary 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic, which follows two NHL teams closely during the month’s lead-up to the league’s annual outdoor game.
During the 2010-2011 series, the audience are introduced to Rupp’s family celebrating Christmas. His lovely wife strolls up to him casually, genuinely surprising him with a beautifully aimed snowball; his kids are excited to have him around; and his gorgeous daughter can’t stop smiling as she rides her new pink scooter.
During the 2011-2012 series, he’s seen teaching his son how to skate on the Winter Classic rink in Philadelphia, and taking photos of the two of them together on the ice. The site of Rupp’s son in his Dad’s jersey only serves to solidify one’s feelings towards what appears to be a genuinely loving and awesome family.
On the opening faceoff of an average regular season game between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden in March, there were three simultaneous, orchestrated fights between players. The two traditional rivals sent some of their toughest players onto the ice to start the game – the Rangers even had a defenseman take the face-off – in an attempt to try to settle some scores from earlier matches and set the tone for the night.
The event – resplendent with blood being swept off the ice – was the only moment of the NHL season that was broadcast (with great excitement, no less) on Australian evening newscasts. Mind you, the Rangers and Devils came in for some fairly widespread condemnation from casual fans of the sport, many of whom were unable to avoid thinking of the recent fate of Derek Boogard and other NHL brawlers.
One of the three fighters for the Rangers was Mike Rupp.
Brian Boyle has a huge family – he has 12 siblings, whom gathered for a massive family Christmas celebration last year. During Road to the Winter Classic, Boyle introduced a bunch of them to the camera, displaying a beautifully warm and endearingly different relationship with each of them and even hilariously forgetting their birth order for a moment.
His teammates also seem to have quite genuine fondness for Boyle, the clown who showed up to the team Christmas do in a ridiculous elf costume.
In the first round of the 2012 NHL Playoffs, the Ottawa Senators are facing the New York Rangers in a best-of-seven series. In Game 2, Matt Carkner of the Senators was introduced into the lineup to, according to commentator Keith Jones, “inflict pain on Brian Boyle.”
The Senators felt that Boyle had targeted and roughed-up one of their star players during Game 1, so Carkner ran Boyle during Game 2, connecting with a couple of sucker punches and continuing on with the job once Boyle was lying on the ice despite Boyle not even having had time to remove his gloves to fight back.
In a video discussing Carkner’s actions, Senior Vice President of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and Operations Brendan Shanahan stated that Carkner was the “aggressor in an altercation with an unwilling combatant.” He goes on to say that “while we understand any player’s desire to protect a teammate…Carkner is excessive in his approach.” And interestingly, “it is important to note that Carkner has acted similarly in the past.”
As such, the NHL suspended Carkner.
For one game.
When casual fans – or the viewers of Australian newscasts – tune in to hockey games and see seemingly anonymous men under helmets fighting each other, they can find the spectacle bizarrely, fascinatingly exciting.
When those same casual fans have been introduced to the players as engaging, genuine family-men with loving partners, siblings and children waiting for them at home, their response is likely to be completely different.
If the NHL wants casual fans to watch a sport where six men can start a relatively unimportant regular season game with a brawl, perhaps it’s best for the viewers not to be thinking of the potentially permanent damage that’s being done to the father of that beautiful young boy in the number 71 jersey with ‘Daddy’ written on the back.
And if the NHL wants casual fans to watch a sport in which a guy sucker-punching a defenceless opponent both before and after he falls to the ice only receives a miniscule suspension for such an act, then perhaps it’s best for the viewers not to be thinking of how all of the members of the victim’s endearing, loving family are feeling while they watch it happen.