The year has not been kind to professional hockey. Television ratings sagged alarmingly. Franchises continued to fold. And half a dozen players faced criminal charges in the courts—the result of a crackdown on wanton violence in the sport. This month, as the NHL begins its fifty-ninth season, and the WHA its fifth, the game incurred yet another slur, a sad commentary on what permissiveness on the ice has wrought. The unlikely critic: Ted Faraday, a 38-year-old camera plate technician at the Ottawa Citizen. Faraday, owner of an orange belt in karate, spent 14 hours a week this summer teaching his martial art to several members of the Ottawa 67’s, a Junior A team in the Ontario Hockey Association. “Our kids were getting pushed off the puck by some of the tough kids,” says Faraday, once a hockey player of no particular distinction and now an avid fan of the 67’s. “They were shy of getting hit. They were shy of going in the corners. They were just shy. Now, if there’s any trouble, they’re not quick to drop their gloves, but they’re not running in the corner and hiding. I took only the shy kids. The guys who need it are not aggressive hockey players: they’re just nice kids who have the ability to play hockey.”
Conceived two years ago, but not begun until this summer, the program to teach pro prospects how to defend themselves “stemmed from the goons in hockey,” admits 67’s coach Brian Kilrea. Under the direction of Faraday and his wife, Beverly, an assistant manager at the Vic Tanny’s Health Spa, half a dozen team members attended the clinics. Star pupils included graduating 67’s Bruce Baker and Peter Lee, both drafted in the first round by the Montreal Canadiens (and since sent down to Les Habs’ NHL-calibre farm team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs), defenseman Bud Clouthier and centre Tom McDonell— both still with the Juniors.
Most players were reluctant to comment for the record. “They don’t want to feel they’re going to have the goons running at them more,” explains Faraday. But Lee, widely acknowledged as one of the best pro prospects ever (he scored 81 goals and 80 assists last season), says his newly learned skills will give him confidence “in case some goon takes a run at me. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go bashing people around. It’s not going to change my style of hockey.”
Among those who don’t necessarily accept the idea of the meek inheriting the ice is New York Islanders all-star defenseman Denis Potvin, a 67’s alumnus. “I’m in total disagreement with it if they’re using it for hockey,” says Potvin. “We’re having enough problems now with people accusing professional hockey players of being violent. This is not going to help at all. Ka* rate is an aggressive form of self-defense, ¿ much more so than jujitsu, or judo. That’s 3 why I say—not knowing all the circum-
stances—my first thought is ‘My God, what a bad move!’ ”
Ottawa’s Kilrea disagrees: “They’re not going to go out and say ‘I’m a black belt’ or ‘I’m a brown belt.’ But they'll be able to defend themselves to the point where they won’t be embarrassed on the ice in a fight.” Potvin, three seasons removed from the 67’s, remains a skeptic. “It might help a 17or 18-year-old, but at that age you have a tendency to look at something like that much less maturely and use it the wrong way. All of a sudden the gloves drop and you’ve got people figuring ‘Hey, I’ve got karate and I can do this and do that.’ What you learn in karate is to block a punch and then counterpunch, and it’s all in one motion. I think, dammit, it’s probably going to inflate a lot of the kids’ heads.”
So far the practice is neither widespread nor unique. Aside from the current 67’s who participated, only the Cornwall Royals have expressed an interest in the program which Faraday insists is by no means all self-defense. “Actually, it’s the conditioning I was more interested in. Right from the time our boys were getting beaten so badly by the Russians in 12. They won with an overtime goal and everybody thought that was great. 1 thought it was disgusting. Our guys just weren’t in shape.” The karate precedent in hockey was probably set by Chicago Black Hawk defenseman Keith Magnuson, who parlayed it into a reputation as one of the NHL’S premier scrappers. Potvin, strangely enough, also studied karate—for three years—before leaving Ottawa, but has not used it on the ice. “I took it because 1 look at it as a challenging kind of sport, and it’s great for conditioning. 1 learned there are vulnerable areas of the body that you go for. It
was good for me to learn because as you become well known it’s not on the ice that your life’s in danger: it’s usually in a bar or some place where people will challenge you.”
In fact, Potvin believes it’s impossible to use karate safely and effectively on the ice. “It's physically impossible. You don’t have the stability on your feet. You don’t have the room to work. If anybody grabs you, they usually just hang on for dear life and there’s not much more you can do.” Potvin’s advice to timid players: “Concentrate on those areas of the game you can improve, so you don’t have to get into fighting. The worst blow to anybody is to put the puck by him and score a goal. And that will never change.”
What may be changing, however, are the recruiting policies of pro hockey scouts. “You can see what’s happening in hockey today,” says Jim Walker, Chicago Black Hawks’ chief western scout. “They’re going away from that Dave Schultz kind of guy. The past few years they were drafting that way. Now they’re looking for the guy who can play the game but who is aggressive at the same time: aggressive so that you know he can take care of himself, and won’t back off.”
And that’s all Kilrea wants from Faraday’s course. “Some teams do have an accomplished fighter, and if you’ve got somebody who’s a little shy you don’t want him to fight their best fighter. At least this way he can defend himself and he has a chance of coming out 50-50 and not getting hurt.”
Kilrea also believes the goon era is ending. “Able players are coming back. You’re going to see them bring up the skills rather than the skills in fighting.” In the meantime, until the laundering process filters down to junior hockey, Kilrea’s juniors will be pleading self-defense, BOB DUNN
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