I began playing hockey at age ten as a forward and gravitated to goaltending after watching the great Glenn Hall play for the Chicago Blackhawks at the old Chicago Stadium.
I played the game up to the level of Division 1 club for Bradley University and as a sophomore goaltender, helped them win their first conference championship. I played in men’s leagues until hanging up the blades at age 40. I also did the radio and television play-by-play for the USHL’s Chicago Steel for ten seasons and have been a Chicago Blackhawks season ticket holder for 32 years.
So yes, I’ve seen a ton of hockey.
I’m as passionate as any fan, but I’m writing this column for the benefit of the obnoxious, vulgar and abusive fans that often don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Like anything, there’s an art to heckling.
So if you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, here’s five things to avoid screaming from the stands at your next hockey game.
It’s an SRO crowd at the United Center, and the Chicago Blackhawks have the man advantage, and the denizens of the Madhouse On Madison are in full frenzy. Many are standing, anticipating a power play goal.
The Hawks quickly move the puck around the perimeter looking for an opening. The tic-tac-toe passing is mesmerizing, but the LA Kings’ penalty killers are staying in position, obstructing the shooting lanes. If you are a savvy fan, you know that the players are waiting for a clear, unblockable shot.
Suddenly I hear a guttural scream, “Shoot the damn puck! What are you idiots waiting for?” I look to my left and see a man obese enough to give the Pillsbury Dough Boy a run for his money.
He has beer in one hand and a half-eaten hot dog in the other. The revered Blackhawk emblem on his overly tight fitting sweater was partly obscured by gooey nacho cheese.
The man probably lacks the eye-hand coordination to open a door, yet he is disparaging some of the finest athletes on the planet. The only time he ever plays hockey is the video game variety.
Unfortunately, the pathetic power play critic is not alone.
2) “HIT SOMEBODY!!!”
Next, I hear a plastered fan instruct Brian Bickell to “Hit him you wuss, cripple the bastard!” The target that Bickell was being urged to cripple was a tired player heading for the bench. Now I’m all for solid body checking, but what that idiot apparently doesn’t know is that you can only check players that have the puck.
3) “You sieve, stop the damn puck!”
Obscenities are hurled from some clueless fans when a puck sneaks by Corey Crawford. They shout helpful comments like, “What’s the hell’s the matter with you, does it need to be the size of a beach ball?” Having played the position for 20 years and sitting directly behind the Hawks net for a perfect view of that shot, I’ll hazard a guess.
First, the shot was a hard one (85MPH or so) from well inside the blue line at the point.
Second, Crawford was totally screened with several bodies between he and the shooter.
Third, the shot was deflected twice – bouncing off a Hawk defenseman perched six feet from Crawford. Even a mongoose couldn’t have reacted to a shot it never saw.
4) “Are you fucking blind?”
Of course, verbal abuse from fans is not complete without targeting the officials. The most typical one this evening was, “Are you blind?” Never mind that any number of nearby fans could be personally affected by the tragedy of being severely visually impaired. As for the abilities of the refs, how many fans know how difficult that job is?
Ten players are skating in various directions and locations at speeds in excess of 25 MPH. Bodies are colliding, often in positions that are obscured by other players. It’s like being in the middle of a video game and having to track ten careening ball bearings. Can they see everything? No, but often, neither can slow motion replays.
5) “YOU RETARD!!!”
Now my blood starts to boil when the cheese coated Neolithic shouts, “What the hell were you thinking, you retard?” A young Blackhawk defenseman made a mistake at his blue line resulting in a great scoring chance. Fortunately the opposing shooter, Anze Kopitar, just missed scoring but there is no forgiveness from the over-served, under-informed critic. Again he bellows, “Get your head out of your ass, you retard!” Now I’m ready to drop the gloves.
Why? First, as a father of a son with autism, I have a real problem with anyone calling someone a retard. It’s ignorant, insensitive and totally cruel.
Secondly, on the play in question, Kopitar (a two-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best forward) made a great play creating the turnover. Astute fans know that over the course of a season, Kopitar earns millions of dollars to make that play.
Even more maddening is that the women and young children sitting near me are no deterrent to the full throttle, fire hose of crude obscenities that accompany the heckling. Sometimes I have to check to see if I am sitting in a section reserved for dockworkers.
Aside from being drunk, the problem with obnoxious hockey fans has to do with the lack of respect for and knowledge of the game. You don’t see that kind of behavior at a tennis or golf tourney. Imagine going to a PGA event and hearing fans screaming at Rory McIlroy for blading a chip shot or at Wimbledon when Roger Federer nets a volley. Doesn’t happen.
Almost every fan in attendance has participated in that sport, and they know how difficult those sports are. But many hockey fans have no idea how impossibly difficult and grueling the pro game, and when you add boorish behavior to ignorance you get Nachos Men.
For those unfortunates, I’d recommend the following simple rules:
1) Stop yelling instructions to the players unless you’re in the NHL Hall of Fame.
2) Get off the officials’ backs unless you want to be ejected from the arena.
3) Give the goalie a break unless you can routinely stop a 100 MPH slap shot.
4) Stop spewing obscenities.
5) Mind your manners instead of behaving like a Cro-Magnon man.
People who actually know what’s going on are trying to watch the game.