Montreal fans gathered in the Bell Centre for Game 7 of Round 2 against the Penguins, which was played in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Any time tragedy strikes the hockey world, the ensuing discussions center on how it “puts things in perspective.”
But placing actions and events into proper context isn’t exclusive to sudden death (in the literal, non-overtime sense) or cut-short hockey careers. As many have said before, much, if not all of any sports industry is a direct reflection of the societies in which it operates.
For example, let’s examine recent events in the NHL playoffs that underscored the notion of the “ugly hockey fan” and put them in perspective.
In the hours immediately after the Canadiens eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of their second round series, an assortment of blockheads and simpletons chose to go on a looting binge in downtown Montreal. And during Game 1 of Philadelphia’s series against the Canadiens, Montreal Gazette sportswriter Pat Hickey had his car vandalized by an unknown number of buffoons masquerading as Flyers fans.
The incidents caused some people to break out the “kids today!” cliché and wonder aloud what the world is coming to. And that would be fair – if those making the comment also took the time to examine other hockey-fan-related news and decipher its meaning.
But you don’t hear them squawking about something else that took place in both Philadelphia and Montreal this post-season: the filled-arena-and-no-players phenomenon.
Granted, it isn’t the first time fans of an NHL team have amassed to watch their representatives play a road game on the local JumboTron. However, it is becoming more prevalent – people across Canada gathered in small arenas to watch their team play and win gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics – and its increasing popularity tells us far more about hockey fans than a few nitwits who can’t handle their liquor.
Why would people pay $7.50 a head (as they did in Montreal), plus the usual excessive add-ons (parking, food and memorabilia), to sit in an arena and watch something they could see in the cocooned comfort of their own homes? Why would you subject yourself to body odors of strangers, blue language outbursts and spilt beer down your back when a 52-inch high-definition TV and the familiar ass-groove of your couch is playing snake-charmer to your ass’ snake?
And while we’re at it, why do people now rush into the streets to party after each of their team’s playoff game wins? That has chagrined many hockey types, but it doesn’t happen because every NHL fan base is patterning themselves after desperate Toronto Maple Leafs fans (who’ve been reduced to honking car horns and whooping it up after every period of a regulation game the Leafs are winning).
No, I suspect members of the public come together and jump around these days because on a primal level, they ache to connect with people of like minds and allegiances – and pro sports is one of the last communal outlets in which they can find that release.
They gather because, in this modern age that splinters all our loves and preferences into tidy little zones (i.e. dozens of specialized satellite radio channels, hundreds of highly specific television programs and networks), it is awful refreshing to have a cause common to thousands of others – especially when that cause allows you to paint your face without attaching a red ball to the tip of your schnozz.
They gather because, with all our wireless gear, our slingboxes and iPads and Big Wheels with global positioning systems, we have fully disconnected ourselves from the kinetic pushes and pulls that arise out of genuine human interaction.
(That’s part of the reason why uninformed members of the sports community are throwing their weight behind the tasering of fans who intentionally stray from designated fan areas. None of these taser-touters has ever been lit up with 25,000 volts – and because TV and certain authorities have taught them to believe the taser is little more than an extended hand-buzzer gag, they believe everyone should be open to a little ‘zap!’ action if they get out of line.)
Listen, taken on its own, any criminal act committed by any hockey community’s vocal and loco minority should have the hell condemned out of it.
But using the idiocy of a handful of mouth-breathers to paint entire groups of hockey lovers as callous reprobates is equally as stupid.
Look at the truly important developments among hockey fans and you can’t deny the game is serving a larger, more honorable purpose than it ever has before.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.