For the most part, hockey fans worship at the altar of violence.
There’s something about a fight, or a big hit, that’s easily digestible for the casual observer. A skilled play may hurt the opposing team, but a physical play actually hurts them.
The physicality that once dotted the National Hockey League is fading, however. With the long term effects of repeated head trauma now in the limelight, it’s become harder for fans to root for pugilism with a clean conscience.
Thanks to that rise in awareness, today’s game is a cleaner one than it was even five years ago. Enforcers are effectively extinct, with blatant head-shots not too far behind.
Even so, there remains a place for the combative physicality of the game. It’s simply the nature of throwing padded grown men into a boarded ice rink.
Within reasonable boundaries, the rough stuff can be great for the game.
Players won’t hesitate to mention how a fight or big body-check can swing the momentum of a game. As much as analysts may scoff, this stuff still matters quite a bit to these guys.
In that sense, Josh Manson is pretty close to being a perfect hockey player.
He fights with passion. He hits with ardor. Oh, and he’s a damn good skater with a crisp first pass. He’s even been working on his scoring touch as of late.
Manson has a little something for everyone. The bone-crunching open-ice hits will get even someone who’s never seen a hockey game out of their seats, while his gaudy possession numbers have the analytically-minded blushing.
Yet there’s a side to him that’s been growing for a while now — one that may have crystallized before our very eyes on Tuesday night.
Crossing The Threshold
Catastrophe struck for Anaheim in the third period against the Calgary Flames — Cam Fowler, who plays nearly 25 minutes a night, went down in a heap after a gruesome knee-on-knee collision with Mark Giordano.
Fowler couldn’t leave the ice under his own willpower, which evidently infuriated the Anaheim bench.
Within minutes, it wasn’t a token fourth liner that challenged Giordano to answer for his crime — it was the 25-year old Manson.
To his credit, the veteran Giordano didn’t back down. That was as far as his courage went, however. What was presumably meant to be a fight quickly turned into a beating.
The Calgary defenseman never stood a chance.
The game quickly devolved into a series of skirmishes between whistles, but Anaheim clearly had a new energy about them. Honda Center — mostly quiet up to that point — turned into a rapturous symphony.
The Ducks came away with the win, and although Fowler’s injury may have lasting effects, they hadn’t looked like more of a united front all season long than they did that night.
In his post-game interview with Julie Stewart-Binks in front of the assembled faithful, Manson was quick to credit Giordano for stepping up to the plate.
He talked about the galvanizing effect it had on their group. And, as so many players seem to forget to do, he gave a nod to the crowd’s energy.
There was an aura about him, one that gave off both a supreme confidence and a sensitivity to the multiple hats a professional athlete has to wear.
In that moment, he seemed comfortable speaking like a leader of his team. Somewhere down the road in his career, it feels inevitable that he’ll have a letter stitched over his heart to reflect that.