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What happens in the penalty box?

Besides waiting, there's someone to talk to, and sometimes there's candy!

By Brian Hedger

For RedEye

4:20 PM CDT, March 10, 2013

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It's one of the most quoted lines from the classic 1977 movie "Slapshot."

After using a stick to demonstrate slashing and other punishable offenses on the reporter's body, goalie Denis Lemieux (Yvon Barrette)—in a heavy French accent—says: "You do that, you go to the box, you know? … And … you feel shame, you know? And then, you get free."

Ah, freedom.

Every penalized player yearns for it the second the door inside hockey's "timeout" room slams shut. RedEye asked Blackhawks Bryan Bickell, Brandon Bollig and Andrew Shaw all about the "sin bin."

 

What's going through your mind when you're in the penalty box?

Bryan Bickell: Usually just, "Don't score, don't score, don't score, don't score," pretty much. It depends. If you take a bad penalty, like a hooking call in the offensive zone, then you're in the box, and if there's a shot coming up on the other team's power play you're just clenching your teeth. If it's a penalty that denied them a good opportunity to score, I don't think you feel as bad—but you still don't want them to score.

Brandon Bollig: It just depends on what you're in there for. If you have a nice, long, spirited fight and it gets the crowd and your team all pumped up … then you're obviously hoping that, if your team scores, it will at least help create some momentum off what you've done. If you're in there for a penalty, especially a bad one that you could have avoided, the whole time you're just kind of praying they don't score.

Andrew Shaw: What’s going through my mind is, "I hope to heck they don’t score." It'd be scary taking a penalty, they score and then coming back to the bench and the guys are upset or the coaches are upset with you. But, you know, the [off-ice official] who's in there is always pretty nice.

 

Do you chat with the guy who works in the penalty box?

Bickell: Oh yeah, the guy in there … I don't know his name [at the United Center], actually, but he's been here for years. I should know his name. I've been in there a couple times. But we talk about the game or I'll say, "Oh, what did you think about that penalty?"

Bollig: Sometimes they're a little too chatty and sometimes they don't say a word. You also have different fans around you and you just hope if you're in there for five minutes, you get that whistle right away [after the penalty expires], so you can get out.

Andrew Shaw: If it's coincidental and I take a guy with me, I'm in a decent mood. But if I take a stupid penalty, I'm always upset with myself and I usually just shut ’er down. They're pretty nice, though. They're always talkative and especially here, you get to know them pretty good … well, hopefully not as good as you want, but they all seem like great guys. They're always asking if you want water or need a towel or ice for the knuckles if you just got into a scrap or something.

 

What's it like with the fans when you're in the box?

Bickell: Some fans start yelling in the cracks of the glass or, like, in Vancouver they have those Green Men. I was in the box once in Vancouver and they were pumping the weights [pretends to flex biceps in exaggerated fashion]. I try to not look at ’em. I can see them in the peripheral vision doing stuff over there, but I don't want to encourage ’em. Plus they've got the Jumbotron on the Green Men, and if I start looking at them I might start laughing, and I just want to stay focused on the game.

Bollig: That's just part of playing on the road and I think it makes it more fun when fans get involved … but only to a certain extent. It's usually pretty funny, though. I probably can't repeat it for the newspaper, but some of the stuff they come up with is pretty funny.

Shaw: Thank God I haven't been in the "sin bin" in Vancouver. I've seen some of the stuff on TV. I think it's pretty hysterical they do it for every game. I'd probably just look at ’em and smile.

 

Any other funny stories about the penalty box?

Shaw: Actually, I do have a funny one that happened around the bench when I was still in Junior [Ontario Hockey League]. We were playing in Barrie [Ontario], I was with Niagara, and this one fan would just chirp us and chirp us all the time. We knew exactly where he sat, so before he got there one game, we went up and took two water bottles and soaked his entire seat. It was padded, so it kind of soaked up the water. We come out for the game and he’s sitting there and his pants are soaked and he’s got a plastic bag over his seat. We just started chirping him back, asking him how his seat was. He didn’t chirp us much after that.

I’ve also got a funny penalty-box story. When I played for Erie in the OHL [Ontario Hockey League], there was candy in the box. It was Starburst. One of my buddies got a penalty and he was in there, so his penalty was going to expire and there were only like 10 seconds left in the period. He stuffed his glove full of Starburst, but then he ended up getting out of the box and getting a breakaway. You could see the candy falling out of his glove while he was on the breakaway and it was pretty funny. That's the kind of stuff that happens in junior. You can't do that kind of stuff here.

 

So, were your parents "timeout" disciplinarians or paddlers?

Bollig: Uh, I was actually an angel when I was a little kid. I never had to deal with any of that stuff. We’ll keep it at that.

Shaw: I don’t think [Bollig] was an angel. I think he's lying there.

As for me, I was a belt guy. It was scary when Dad had it, but when Mom had it we just kind of laughed. Sometimes she'd say, "Go to your room," but me and my two brothers would just mess around in there. It never worked.

Does it work in the NHL?

Shaw: Oh, for sure. It's kind of scary looking over the bench seeing [Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville], especially if they score. You don't want to go back to the bench ... head down and whatnot. It's intimidating to get a penalty here. Even though we've got an amazing penalty kill, we've still got to stay out of the box.

Brian Hedger is a RedEye special contributor. @brianhedger

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