Just how much of Lee Chin’s “Change Up” story can we believe?

Irish hurler astonished by fighting and drinking culture of hockey.

Pass it to Bulis

Canucks Twitter is abuzz about a hurler, which is a weird sentence to write.

Irish hurler Lee Chin traded sports with former Canuck goaltender Alex Auld for an Irish television series called The Toughest Trade. Auld got the opportunity to try hurling, while Chin trained with the Vancouver Giants and spent time with current Canucks and Canucks Alumni. He even made a brief appearance on Hockey Night in Canada, where he had to endure the indignity of having his name misspoken by Scott Oake.

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The skating seemed to be the part that came hardest to the 24-year-old Chin, who was given the number 17 on his Canucks jersey, because it’s not like anyone important ever wore that number.

But the reason Canucks fans are talking about Chin is because of comments he made upon returning to Ireland. Chin spoke at a press conference today and marveled at two aspects of hockey culture that caught him off guard: fighting and drinking.

"The whole ruling around being able to throw off the gloves and fight. I didn’t understand it at first and at first I thought it was so barbaric that it was allowed go on in a sport because it’s crazy," Chin explained.

"But when I asked the players what the story was the were able to tell me and it intrigued me. Literally the players police that ruling over there.

"And there’s nothing in the rule book to say you can’t do it. So it’s there for the players to protect themselves. If a guy is acting the maggot on the ice with another guy he has to pay for what he’s done and that’s the way they look at it.

"Basically they police that rule and they feel if the rule went out of the game and there was no more fighting, the game would get so much dirtier. That’s why the rule is there. If a guy is acting the maggot he has to pay for his actions. That’s what they believe in."

I would just like to pause and appreciate the phrase, “If a guy is acting the maggot he has to pay for his actions.” I would like to propose that we stop calling agitating players “rats” and “weasels” and start calling them “maggots”: "Brad Marchand is acting the maggot out there and someone’s going to make him pay."

Their attitude to alcohol also caught him off guard. And he insisted that sometimes players are encouraged to go out to blow off steam in order to help improve his game.

​"The drinking culture that they had there, I couldn't believe it! They were lowering pints the day before a game, I couldn't believe it.

"I had lunch there with them all and Erik Gudbranson was sitting across from me with one of his team-mates and I had a guy here beside me that trained me during the week. 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, will the two of them be injured?'

"I was thinking 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, 'yeah, of course'. I was like, 'And you're having a pint, yeah?'

He was '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, I'll tell you that!' I wouldn't actually do it at home on my own anyway, never mind if it was in front of Davy.

"They just believe in it. Like, they have this thing called a 'change-up', if a player is not on form or not scoring, either the manager or the other players will just call a 'change-up' and basically that lad has to go out and ruin himself for the night and come back the next day and play the game, to play with the attitude that you just don't care, that kind of thing.

"They just send him out, go out and drink 20 pints, go off with a couple of women, do what you want and come back to me the next day! That's pretty much the way they live."

"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. I don't know if they look at the side of the scientifics behind it but I know we do (in Wexford)."

The drinking the day before a game isn’t the scandalous part of this, except for perhaps that they were drinking Heineken. Come on, guys. There is an argument to be made that elite athletes should avoid alcohol as it impacts training and can make you more injury-prone, but no one’s getting up in arms about a beer with lunch.

The part that people are paying attention to is the “change-up,” and that’s where this story gets sticky. Are the Canucks, whether coaches or players, encouraging players to go on a bender to bust a slump?

There are parts of this story that are clearly exaggerated. No one drinks 20 pints in a night unless they want to die of alcohol poisoning. And best of luck “going off” with a couple of women if you’ve had that much to drink.

But let's be clear: this story came from somewhere. This doesn't seem like something he would just make up on the spot. Perhaps the Canucks players exaggerated their drinking exploits in hopes of impressing their new Irish friend, buying into the stereotype or Irish drinking. And since Chin spent time with Canucks alumni, it’s possible that he was told stories of the “old days” that he misunderstood as applying to now. Perhaps a “change-up” was a tradition in NHL locker rooms decades ago, who knows?

At the same time, it’s hard to dismiss this entirely. Hockey culture doesn’t exactly discourage drinking and there’s a long history of substance abuse problems plaguing NHL players. It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that a slumping player would be told by his teammates to have a night on the town to loosen up and stop worrying about his struggles on the ice. It gets more troubling if it's a coach or "manager," as Chin says, ordering the "change-up."

With that said, Dan Murphy threw some water on the fire, saying he’s never heard about a “change-up” in his many years with the Canucks.

So what do we believe? No matter where the truth lies in this story, the Canucks now have a serious PR problem to deal with. While some fans and media will scoff at the story and dismiss it entirely, there will be others who suspect a kernel of truth within, and others who believe it wholeheartedly. Someone’s going to start asking awkward questions. If the Canucks are smart, they’ll get out ahead of it in a hurry.

At the very least, we have a new addition to the Canucks lexicon: “change-up.”
 

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