Above the Glass
by Samantha on 03/16/11 at 05:57 PM ET
I myself choose not to, but I was so amused and inspired by Paul’s fan email and Pierre LeBrun’s responses to his readers that I was moved to write an entry about the only thing fans love to do more than watch the sport. Sure, I’m a little perplexed by why the Edmonton Oilers, with all its young talent and Captain Cutie Pie Sean Horcoff, can’t get its act together and put together a few huge wins in a row. But if the Oilers up and moved to Portland, Oregon tomorrow I would be the first person to line up for season tickets and purchase a Jordan Eberle jersey, and I’d tell others to do the same. Maybe it’s just because I don’t live in an NHL town and you always want and appreciate what you don’t have. Or it could be because it’s just not in my nature to wig out over any sport. Which makes me wonder why so many people get so caught up and make such a simple game so complicated. Why is ranting as inherent to hockey as spitting, fighting, swearing and trash talk?
It’s an investment. By paying money for the NHL Center Ice Package, forking over half your life savings for season tickets or searching in vain for grown up size Pittsburgh Penguins pajamas and matching fuzzy animal slippers on shop.nhl.com, as fans we have a vested interest in the team. According to the collective bargaining agreement, players’ salaries are tied to revenue and revenue is tied to little details like tickets, concessions, parking and promotional items such as jerseys and hats and PJs. Fans do more than watch the sport. We pay for it. And we have a right to expect our favorite team to do well and make us proud. But under current salary cap rules it’s hard to guarantee that today’s Stanley Cup champion will be wearing the ring next year too. Ranting on Twitter, Facebook, emails and blogs won’t change that. Revenue and salaries are not tied to fans’ opinions: they are tied to ticket sales. Your favorite team driving you nuts? If I thought it would work, I’d say shut up, tune out and stay home. Don’t buy a ticket, don’t purchase a baseball hat, don’t tune into the Versus broadcast of your favorite teams’ matchup and the advertising from which the team makes money. Talk is cheap; action is priceless. But really, let’s face it, watching crap hockey is better than watching no hockey at all. So tuning out just isn’t going to happen.
Man speaks when he fails to be at peace with his mind. I have always loved this expression, which I first heard in a CBS Hallmark movie of the week. Not sure if it’s an actual proverb or quote or just a cheesy piece of dialogue from the movie, but I liked it so much I made note for future reference. Yes, I watched a Hallmark “we care enough to send the very best” movie of the week. It was the off season. It was a weak moment. What can I say? I have no excuse. My point is this: if our team is winning and doing the things we want them to do, then we don’t need to say a lot beyond slapping other fans with high fives and declaring “that was #@$@ing awesome!’ But when they start down the path to the dark side, we can’t shut up. Ranting is therapeutic when the Pittsburgh Penguins just lost Game 7 and bid farewell to Mellon Arena courtesy of the freakin’ Montreal Canadiens. But it still won’t change the Pens’ fate in the 2010 playoffs and it won’t give me any control over their management, trade or coaching decisions. Psychiatrists will tell you that verbalizing emotion is how we deal with it. Hockey is an emotional game, on and off the ice. Why bother watching it if it wasn’t? And when emotion gets the better of even the best of humans, it has to go somewhere. And thanks to social media, it frequently goes to Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere. Social media thrives on two basic fundamentals of human nature: the need to communicate and to connect. It’s pure genius, except for the part where if you Tweet it, you can’t take it back. A year ago, I could have gone on and on about the Tampa Bay Lightning and what the heck happened to them and their Honkin’ Tall French Captain. But right around the time I’d had enough and was feeling the need to blog it, the team announced that Steve Yzerman had been hired as GM. And the rest is history. So was that blog post.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. And fan worship. Here in Portland, home of “keep Portland weird,” there is no bumper sticker too weird, counterintuitive or outrageous. I saw this one on the back of a Subaru. It doesn’t make much sense, right? If you love your country (or your NHL team) you don’t bash it, you don’t dissent from it, you don’t disrespect it. Here’s another way to think about it: we dissent because not only do we see what’s wrong, we also see the potential of how it can be made right and better. Dissent on the surface may be how we express disagreement and disbelief, but underneath it’s also how we express the passion to change what’s wrong and make it better. Likewise, if you looked at it from a certain point of view, you could say that ranting is the highest form of fan loyalty and worship.
So here’s the deal: Letting it rip now and again is human nature and it is a reflection of our passion for the things we love, no matter how much we might hate them in any given moment. But speaking without thinking rarely changes anyone’s mind for the better and it definitely won’t make Pittsburgh Penguins fuzzy animal slippers magically appear on shop.nhl.com. I know whereof I speak. Here in Portland, the Winterhawks are at last emerging from many dark years in which they didn’t make the playoffs, no or few players were drafted and if the paper decided to cover them at all, it was never good news. It was a disheartening and frankly embarrasing time to be a hockey fan in Portland. Flash forward to 2011. At last, the playoffs are a given, the team is in the hunt for a division and conference title and several games this season have sold out or close to it. Yesterday’s rant about the team has become today’s Cinderella story. So, go ahead, let ‘er rip, but try to remember that the future may not be as far off or unattainable as you think. Every team has its down season, its losing streak and its tough times with injuries, roster moves and what not. Fans can choose to rip the team, or we can choose to have faith. In Portland, we had faith but it wasn’t easy. And we do have the light at the end of our tunnel. We head into the final week of our regular season tonight, and next weekend the playoffs await. We are proof that rechanneling your ranting energy into patience, faith and hope are a way better use of your time and effort.
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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