The Good, the Bad, and the Blue Line: Leverage Does a Hockey Con, I Criticize

This past Sunday’s Leverage revolved around a hockey enforcer. As it turns out, his team’s owner (hello, Treat Williams) had taken out a bounty on his head to knock him out. Nice guy.

The role of the enforcer, and the high cost of the job requirements, is obviously a sensitive topic in the NHL and in the greater hockey community. As much as I enjoy watching Leverage as one of those laid-back, don’t-need-to-think-too-much summer shows, I take fictional representations of my favorite sport seriously, so naturally I need to address the good (and the bad) from this episode.

Disclaimer: Yeah, I know, Leverage has never really been known for its realistic cons. And hockey needs to be over-dramatized for those that don’t watch, apparently. That doesn’t mean I can’t pick this one apart.

Image courtesy of AVClub.com

So, a quick synopsis of the episode: Teenager approaches the team asking them to help his dad. His father is an enforcer for a non-NHL team, the “Oregon Otters”, which involves a heck of a lot of hits to the head. Teenage son is concerned because his dad is showing concussion symptoms, but the team doctors always give him a clean bill of health. Fast forward, turns out the team owner is skimming from the team, has put out a bounty on said enforcer so that his bonus won’t have to be paid, and he’s just an overall smarmy guy (as most Leverage “villains” tend to be). Nate & the Gang work out a plan that involves Elliot joining the team, and Sophie brings in a Russian hockey player friend to help con the smarmy owner into selling the team to the fictional “World Hockey League”. Of course, there is a happy ending (I won’t spoil it too much).

The Good:

  • The way that the show tackled the issue of hockey enforcer health was well-done at the beginning. Aforementioned teenage son lists a few symptoms and is concerned that his father is going to become far more seriously injured if the fights keep occurring. In the team’s rundown of the con, they show the player’s MRIs and X-Rays, emphasizing the possible brain damage without making it too highly dramatized. Thankfully, mentions of possible suicide attempts were left off of the list of possible effects.
  • As the team was doing their round-table talk about the situation, they had a pretty firm grasp on the role of the enforcer on a hockey team, professional or not. One character called the guy a “goon”, and was quickly corrected. Enforcers aren’t senseless buffoons, they have a role to play on the ice that involves a mix of intimidation, skill, and self-control. They briefly discussed how enforcers fit into the big picture, playing alongside “key” players (“like Gretzky and Crosby”). Enforcers don’t just need to know how to skate and drop their gloves, they need to understand fundamentals and display some skill too.
  • Apparently Sophie (the grifter, for those that don’t watch the show) stole the Stanley Cup. She goes on to say that her engraver made a poor replica but no one noticed, and she can’t remember where she left the original one. I liked this because it isn’t the most implausible, and in fact, it’s probably the easiest championship trophy to steal. It passes through so many hands over the course of the year, and it has a lot more freedom than the Lombardi or Commissioner’s trophies that end up behind glass.
  • A throwaway mention about Guy LaFleur, pronounced correctly.

And now, for The Bad:

  • Our enforcer dad was a member of the fictional “Otters”, and according to the team’s background research, this team seems to solely exist for fights. The owner tripled revenue because he stopped caring about scoring goals and focused instead on making sure that there was a big brawl at least once a game (if not more frequently). Allegedly, that was the only reason people came to games: they “only care about the blood on the ice”. Gosh darnit, Leverage, way to give hockey fans a bad name. I doubt there is a team in existence that puts out mediocre performances and isn’t called out on it because they have “good fights”. That’s not why fans watch hockey. Is a little pugilism exciting? Sure, but that’s not why we go.
  • Fundamental hockey rules state that when a goal is scored, the game clock stops (it’s Rule 34.1 in the Official NHL Rules, if you care to know). If a game is tied and one team goes ahead with five seconds left, you can sure as hell bet that the opposing team will want those five seconds to be able to have one last face-off. Not so in Leverage-ville. With about five seconds to play, a goal was scored, and the clock ran out without the whistle blowing or any game stoppage. That’s against the basic rules of the game, folks.
  • Before the end of the game, Mr. Enforcer wanted one last fight (it’s a complicated situation, his bonus depended on it). However, the players on the opposing team refused to fight him, so he just should in the middle of the ice with the clock still going, egging them on and demanding that they drop their gloves. No one did. I don’t care what level you’re playing at, if a guy on the ice is insisting someone should fight him and no one bites, it’s a delay of game penalty. Take that son of a gun off the ice, and move on. That particular scene was painful to watch, and overdone.

It was a fun episode, flaws and all, but perpetuating the “hockey = nothing but fights” misconception does a disservice to the sport. And there’s your long-winded hockey soapbox moment.

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