Tough ice hockey culture stirs Chin

Lee Chin, the Wexford hurler, has bemoaned the lack of physicality in the game, particularly in light of an eye-opening spell with the Vancouver Canucks, a professional ice hockey side.

The Wexford hurler spent a week at the Canadian club as part of “The Toughest Trade”, a documentary that airs on RTE 2 this evening, and admitted he was blown away by the culture that he stumbled upon.

If a guy is acting the maggot on the ice with another guy, then he has to pay for what he has done — and they police that rule

The 24-year-old befriended Erik Gudbranson, a player with the Canucks who earns $3.5 million a year, though noted how the highly-paid professionals still routinely drank alcohol in the run up to games and, during the contests, thought little of getting involved in fist fights.

Chin said that, at first, he thought exchanging blows was “barbaric” though quickly came to respect it and actually suggested it’s something hurling could learn from.

“If a guy is acting the maggot on the ice with another guy then he has to pay for what he’s done and that’s the way they look at it,” Chin said.

“Basically they police that rule and they feel that if the rule went out of the game and there was no more fighting, the game would get so much dirtier.

“The game I went to watch was between the Canucks and San Jose and there were two fights.

“There was actually a dose of the mumps going over there and seven or eight of the Canucks team were on lockdown and they had to bring in some younger guys and they wanted to prove themselves and try to earn the love of the fans, and one or two of them had to throw off the gloves to do that. That’s the way it is there.

“It was pretty much sin-bin, two minutes in the sin-bin, and then get back in and play. So it was basically go ahead and fight, get your two minutes rest and come back.

“I know that rule was never in hurling but the fighting, you know, I found it really interesting. To me, it was such a player power thing, that they controlled it. That meant something to me.

“You used to see a lot of brawls in hurling and stuff like that. Lads used to just get with it and go back into position and hurl again. If that happens now you’re left with 11-a-side, like a soccer game. Lads would be getting sent off everywhere.

“I think our game is not as physical anymore but I think the players and the fans all love the physical side of our game.”

Chin will line out for Wexford on Sunday when they travel to Tullamore to play Offaly. A win guarantees his side promotion to Division 1A and the forward said that, unlike the ice hockey players he encountered, there is no question that he will drink alcohol in advance of the game.

“I had lunch there with them all and Erik Gudbranson was sitting across from me with one of his teammates and I had a guy here beside me that trained me during the week,” Chin said.

“Erik was injured but the other guys, the two of them ordered two pints of Heineken or something. I had a glass of water in front of me. I was thinking, ‘These lads are playing tomorrow, could the two of them be injured?’

“I had to ask what’s the story? I just asked, ‘Are you playing tomorrow?’ He says, ‘I am, yeah’. He looked at me as if, you know, ‘Yeah, of course’.

Fighting remains a strong part of the action in the NHL

“I was like, ‘And you’re having a pint, yeah?’ He said, ‘Yeah’, looked at me as if, ‘What’s the big deal? what’s the problem?’ Managers, coaches and everyone was sitting around and I was thinking, ‘I wouldn’t do this with Davy Fitzgerald, I’ll tell you that!’

“This is the culture and this is what they believe in and they believe they have got to be able to let off that steam.”

Fitzgerald, the new Wexford manager, was in charge of Clare last year when they won the league title outright though they then suffered a poor Championship campaign and parted company with the manager soon after.

“There’s always that question of a team peaking too early and I suppose you might look at us and say ‘Is that what’s happening here?’” said Chin. “We are just doing what we are asked to do and we are happy that we are in a position where we can get promotion in the league, that would be massive for us.

“If a league quarter-final comes around then, hopefully we can continue with a bit of momentum into those stages.

“Regarding the summer, I don’t know, because you can only tell at that stage but we feel that right now we are still learning, that we still have a lot of work to do and if we get that done it will only benefit us in the summer even more than it is benefiting us at the moment.”