Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Tips for staying classy in hockey

Over the past two weekends, the Portland Winterhawks were subjected to the uglier side of hockey in two back-to-back losing games with the Spokane Chiefs and a routing of the Seattle Thunderbirds. These included an incident in which security stood idly by while the players were put at risk by a drunk fan, a scoreboard that read Garbage instead of Portland and verbally kicking a goalie while he was down. I would have been twerked just as much if it was a different team and not my hometown boys, because said behavior wasn’t just an insult to my team. It was an insult to this sport and everything that is good about it. Which got me to thinking about the tips I would give to fellow fans about how to stay classy in hockey.

1) Above all things, respect yourself. Marcel Noebels was awarded the second star of the night on Saturday, for his assists on three of Portland’s eight goals. As a former Thunderbird, you’d think local fans would applaud him not so much for his helping Portland, but to pay respect to a former player and to honor all that he achieved while he played there. Instead, they booed him. I know from seeing mentions on my Twitter feed that there are Seattle fans who love and miss Marcel and I feel bad for the good apples in the barrel who were misrepresented by their fellow fans. In short, respecting this sport, the players and their font office starts with respecting yourself. Stay respectful, you’ll stay classy.

2) Respect the player. It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that Seth Swenson was a much-loved Portland Winterhawk. And he still is, as evidenced by the small section of fans who cheered him at a Portland home game when he hit the ice in his Seattle Thunderbirds jersey (he was part of the trade that brought Marcel to Portland). We did it and I suspect we’ll do it again when next he blows through town. Because that’s a human being down there on the ice, a young boy who is someone’s son, brother, cousin or friend. And for three seasons, Seth was just that to Portland. Our adopted son that we cheered and watched grow up and supported the same as we do all our players. As such, we will support and respect him no matter where he plays.  If that doesn’t work for you, think about it this way: Junior hockey is just a stepping stone for the boys who play here, but those of us who live here it is a chance to watch the NHL’s future before they become superstars, no matter what team they are on. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may have been on the opponent’s team, but anytime the Red Deer Rebels came to town, I was in my seat early and ready to watch every second that he was on the ice. Sven Bartschi may currently play for an opponent, but if he hadn’t been injured when the Hawks blew into Calgary in October, I’m pretty sure Flames fans would have been excited to watch him play. In short, it is a privilege to watch the NHL’s future grow up and grow into champions right before your very eyes. One that should be appreciated and respected no matter what jersey said player is wearing. 

3) Don’t kick a man when he’s down. This should be a no-brainer, but alas in some rinks it is not. Last weekend, Winterhawk goalie and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Mac Carruth went down in a game with Spokane and appeared to have gotten his bell rung. Fans who had already been chirping away upped their ante and started calling him a pussy, cry baby, and telling him to stop faking and get up, etc.  As if that wasn’t enough, the next night a young child, acting on the fine example of adults around him, brought a sign that had many of the same chirps. Mac turned out to be ok and he continued playing. But when a player is down and injured, no matter which team he’s on, you don’t do that. Last season at a game in Portland, two Everett players accidentally collided, sending one of them to the hospital on a stretcher. Not only did fans in our rink settle down and wait quietly to see if he was alright, but Ryan Johansen helped the medical staff get out to the ice to help him and Winterhawks trainer Rich Campbell assisted the medical team. That is class. And that is what you do when a teenage boy from either side is down and could be seriously injured. Period. No exceptions.

3) Use the scoreboard for its intended purpose. On Saturday, at the start of the game, the Seattle Thunderbirds replaced Portland with “Garbage” on the scoreboard. Really. Personally, I just thought it was sad and sort of funny, because I know the Winterhawks enough to know that giving them crap like that is like feeding them breakfast. They’re all super nice guys, but they have an edge to them such that they thrive on stuff like that. I can just see them in the dressing room laughing at Seattle and declaring “Bring it on.” Too funny. Also, the front office of a major junior team has an obligation to uphold the rules of the game, both those that are in the books and the unspoken rules of respecting the game, the team and the league. That includes motivating your crowd the right way, which includes but is not limited to selling team swag for fans to wear at the game, giving away noisemakers and putting cool, fun stuff on the jumbotron like “Go T-Birds Go!”

5) Remember that we’re all in this together. Games like the ones in Spokane and Seattle are the perfect example of why hockey as a sport and fans get very little respect from non-appreciators. Hockey gets a bad rap for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are unruly fans who are the bad apples that spoil the barrel. Most of us are cool, respectful people who all want to enjoy this game no matter who we cheer for. Case in point: one bright spot in last weekend’s games with Spokane was sitting next to some Chiefs fans who had driven in from Idaho to watch the game. We had a great conversation about how good each of our teams and players were, and we even agreed on some of the sketch calls by refs. And that’s the way it should be. It doesn’t matter which team we applaud, at the end of the day, we all go to the rink for the same reason; because we love this game. And we should behave accordingly, in and out of the rink. In the end, it all comes back to point number one: respect. For ourselves, for each other, for the players and teams and for this game. It’s like I tell my friends who make fun of my portable french press that I take with me on camping or hiking trips: just because we’re in the great outdoors (or in this case, the great indoors that is a hockey rink) that’s no reason to be uncivilized.

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com