By Geoff Kirbyson
Aside from the odd player on the opposition bench and a few on the home side, Gabe Langlois is the best-known person at every Winnipeg Jets home game. Known simply as ‘Dancing Gabe,’ the 51-year-old has ingrained himself in Winnipeg’s sporting culture over the past quarter century for his unparalleled fandom and his unmatched dancing skills.
Whether it’s the Jets, the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes or high school sporting events around town, Langlois is there, showing off a soft sneaker whenever the music plays.
You want popularity? Cults would kill to have the following he has. Consider the fans who gathered at the intersection of Portage and Main in Winnipeg to celebrate the return of the NHL in May 2011. When Langlois joined the throng, the chants of “Go, Jets, Go!” were quickly replaced by “Gabe, Gabe, Gabe!” and he was mobbed for pictures and high fives. Read more
It was late March and Chicago was in Pittsburgh to face the Penguins. Jason Comyn arrived at the arena early to watch his beloved Blackhawks warm up, just as he’d done every game he’d gone to since October. Patrick Sharp was gliding toward him with his stick on his knees and saw Comyn talking with an attractive woman in the stands.
Sharp had first noticed the travelling Hawks superfan back in October when Comyn was just beginning his epic road trip. Since then, Comyn would usually rap on the glass during the warmup, and Sharp would respond with a head nod. When Comyn saw Sharp coming toward him in Pittsburgh, he flashed him a sly look from the stands, and Sharp responded in kind, which caught the woman’s attention. “Did he just wink at you?” she said.
Indeed he did. That’s the kind of connection a fan can make with a player after following his favorite team around for a season. Read more
Chris Falcone, a then-36-year-old Philly fan, got his 15 minutes of fame in March 2001 when he tumbled into the penalty box during a Maple Leafs-Flyers game in Philadelphia, trying to get at Toronto’s Tie Domi. Fans behind the box were throwing beer and other projectiles at Domi, something not unheard of in Philly. So Domi returned fire. Armed with a water bottle, he squirted it over the low glass. Falcone lunged at Domi from two rows back, but he lurched too far. The glass gave way, gravity took over, and he spilled head first to the floor. The two went at each other, but linesman Kevin Collins jumped in before things got worse.
The wild scene was replayed on sportscasts all over North America and has since been viewed a couple million times on YouTube. And it’s still good for big grins. Hockey culture, after all, freely mixes rough stuff with laughs. But it’s also a cautionary tale about the real boundaries for spectators and fans. Read more
By Rudy Mezzetta
When the Predators partnered with the city of Nashville to build a new community rink – the twin-pad Ford Ice Center, which opened this fall – the goal wasn’t merely to extend the team’s brand. It was to convert new people to true hockey believers.
“Get a stick in someone’s hands and they’re a fan for life,” said Sean Henry, the Preds’ president and chief operating officer.
Growing the fan base, while ensuring existing fans stay happy, is crucial for the league. It’s a long-term commitment, said league executives, but it’s the lifeblood for the sport, and by extension, the business of the NHL. Read more
After walking out on the Rangers coaching job for a similar stint with the Bruins in 1950, Boston coach Lynn Patrick never failed to zing his former team nor its stars.
One of Patrick’s favorite foes was an unobtrusive little guy who wore No. 18 for the Rangers and never caused trouble, except to enemy goaltenders. Wally Hergesheimer, who died at age 87 on Sept. 27, was that target. “Hergesheimer,” snapped Patrick after the diminutive right winger had potted a pair, “is nothing but a garbage collector.”
By contrast, Wally’s manager, Frank Boucher, smelled nothing but roses, laughing off Patrick’s rip during the 1952-53 campaign with the perfect squelch: “ ‘Hergy’ was my leading scorer (26 goals) last year and will do it again. I’ll take that ‘garbage.’ ” Read more
This may come as news to anyone under the age of 20, but the Czech Republic was once a force to be reckoned with at the World Junior Championship. Watching them sucked out your will to live the way the Death Eaters in Harry Potter did, but they were a successful bunch. They won the gold medal in both 2000 and 2001 and celebrated by crawling in a line on their hands and knees.
But in recent years the Czechs have looked like they were playing on their hands and knees. They won a medal in 2005, when they took home bronze, but since then they’ve been a third-world country at this event. In the past nine tournaments, the Czechs have never finished higher than fifth. They’ve lost seven quarterfinal games by a combined score of 30-5 and have been a whipping boy for the top teams in the tournament. Read more
Jeff O’Neill couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d just hopped on a stationary bike at the training facility of the Carolina Hurricanes and started peddling when he turned on the TV and flipped to CNN. The first thing he saw was two planes crashing into the World Trade Centre.
“I was like, ‘What the f—?’ ” O’Neill said. “I turned to (a teammate) on the bike beside me and said, ‘I just left a guy’s office who told me flying is the safest thing I can do.’ ”
O’Neill was witnessing the attack by al-Qaeda in New York City. Only minutes earlier, he’d left the office of a psychiatrist who’d bombarded him with a bevy of statistics that concluded air is the safest way to travel. The shrink had tried to cure O’Neill of his crippling fear of flying, which haunted him his entire career spanning 11 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. O’Neill’s fear of flying wouldn’t be cured on September 11, 2001. It still isn’t, and it’s an occupational terror shared by many other players. Read more
By Risto Pakarinen
Last year, goalie Juuse Saros could do no wrong. He played 44 of the 60 regular season games for his HPK team in his hometown, Hameenlinna, Finland as a rookie. He surely would have played more had he not missed a few weeks during the World Junior Championship in Sweden.
At the WJC, his .943 save percentage was the tournament’s best, as was his goals against average of 1.57. Media voted Saros to the tournament all-star team and Finland won gold. At the end of the season, his SP in the Finnish league was .923 and his GAA was 1.76. Read more