By Savannah Malnar
Toughness has always been an important attribute to any athlete no matter the sport. In hockey, this trait is so imbedded into the sport that it actually can dictate penalties. The NHL has always made calls against embellishment, but this season they decided they weren’t doing enough about it and instructed the officials to “crack down” on players who embellish or dive during a game under NHL Rule 64, which states that “any player who blatantly dives” or “embellishes a fall or a reaction” will get a 2 minute penalty.
What this rule is showing is basically the NHL saying, “Yeah, we understand you got hit, but because you’re being a wimp about it you’re going to get 2 minutes in the box too.”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the NHL’s senior executive vice president, Colin Campbell, did say, “Embellishment in the game is a real problem today. We understand players are trying to draw penalties. We feel it’s out of control.”
Last season, the term “diving” was used for these calls; this season the term has changed to embellishment. The NHL saw this as a more fitting word as only three of the 52 diving penalties in the entirety of last season were for faking getting high sticked/tripped/illegally checked/etc. The referees have already started to call out embellishment early in the season, as of October 30th there were already 17 embellishment penalties called.
The hockey media may be a large part of the NHL deciding to encourage these penalties. As I referenced earlier, toughness is a large aspect of the sport. The media tends to portray hockey as a violent sport, littered with big hits and fights; but they don’t portray it as a bad thing. It’s easy to find articles online featuring the best hits of the week.
The media and fans practically worship players who get injured and continue playing. An example from last season would be Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn taking a skate to the stomach, getting a few repairs on the bench, and then continuing to play in the game and eventually scoring the game winning goal. Words like “impressive” and “amazing” were used to describe it.
Because of this culture, players who incorporate acting skills to draw penalties are not appreciated. But at the same time, referees cannot see everything. Fans and media call for consistent and accurate calls, but forget that the referees have an extremely different angle than those watching the game on television or from the stands. The players understand this, and may defend their embellishment as simply a way to aid the referees in catching penalties that may not be caught if the player was “tough” and didn’t react to a high-stick to the face.
Embellishment is a tricky penalty to be called but the NHL is right to tighten up on not allowing it. Whether it is right or not, hockey is known for the toughness of the sport and eliminating embellishment will help to keep it that way.