Blue-liner red flags red line

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

PRAGUE -- Every time the National Hockey League contemplates rule changes, the concept of removing the red line as a factor in off-side calls is on the list.

In some ways, it seems like a good idea. Great long passers like Chris Pronger can stand behind the net and fire bombs up the middle to create breakaways.

It's a nice theory, but its implementation is another matter.

"There was no red line in Sweden," Team Canada defenceman Dan Boyle said yesterday, "but the teams are so far back you don't see the breakaways that often.

"I don't agree with taking it out any more. A couple of years ago, if you'd asked me, I would have been in favour, but now, absolutely not. I wouldn't get rid of the red line."

Boyle has first-hand experience in the matter, having spent the winter playing for Djurgardens IF in Sweden.

Like most of the other NHL players who went to Europe, he didn't do it for the money.

In his case, his house was being rebuilt after being badly damaged by fire during the Tampa Bay Lightning's Stanley Cup run.

The work still isn't done, but it should be by the time the world championship is over.

Furthermore as an emerging star just starting to earn recognition in the NHL, he wanted to stay on top of his game and perhaps play in the world championship.

In some ways, he enjoyed the experience. In some ways, he didn't.

"I went there thinking I wanted to be ready if the season started," he said. "I was told that it was pretty amazing and sure enough it was. Once I went there I found the guys were great and the city was indeed amazing."

But the longer he stayed, the less he liked the hockey.

"Offensively, it definitely suited me," he said. "But there was a lot more grabbing, holding and clutching than I expected. Because of the big ice, there's a lot of man-on-man play.

"In the playoffs, they were just draped all over me and nothing got called. They let everything go. I remember forwards looking at me and not even looking at the play, with their stick between my legs. It seemed like a shadow almost.

"You'd think that with the big ice, you could get away, but there was a lot of clutching and grabbing. It was frustrating.

"Toward the end of the season, once they start knowing who you are and what you do, they start to react to that. When I first got there, it was a little bit more wide open because they didn't really know who I was."

In North America, we sometimes tend to covet aspects of the European game with its larger ice surface and its freewheeling players. But it seems that coaches everywhere are determined to impose their defence-first systems and make the game almost unwatchable.

So even though the potential exists for the European game to be better, it isn't, and people like Boyle have no difficulty making their choice.

"I prefer the NHL style of hockey," he said. "You always think European hockey is going to be more wide open and with more scoring and that sort of stuff, but it's almost the opposite. There is less scoring.

"You see a lot of stationary breakouts where the D goes behind the net and a wave of five comes. A lot of teams don't forecheck. I know our forecheck was just a guy at the top of the circle, two guys at the blue and two guys at the red."

But now, Boyle is looking forward to taking a different approach. Team Canada has no intention of playing a passive style during the world championship.

"The ice is bigger, but we want to play the Team Canada game," Boyle said. "We don't want to start pulling out or playing a European style of hockey even though it is a bigger surface.

"We're going to have two guys go in and be aggressive. We want to get in on top of the puck."

Win or lose, that makes a better game to watch. And with Canada's skill, it's more likely to be win than lose.


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