Hockey's Historic Highlights

A Basic Hockey Ingredient — The Fans (Part Two)

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand

A Basic Hockey Ingredient — The Fans (Part Two)

Posted December 15, 2020

Viewed 670 times

Streaker hits the ice during intermission of Flames-Sharks game in 2013
Streaker hits the ice during intermission of Flames-Sharks game in 2013

   There is a tale about hockey fans which has been told umpteen times—and it fits the theme of this three-part missive.

   It seems that an enthusiastic follower of his favourite team was constantly being faced with the shortage of tickets. But, as luck would have it, after many attempts, he finally found vacant space. Not only that, but it was in a choice location. So his spirits were high as he made his way to the coveted seat.

  With the game not yet started he struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to him. He immediately made note that the one next to his neighbour was vacant. He expressed surprise that such a prime location would be empty.

   “Oh that is the seat my wife has been using!”, he explained.

   The answer to his suggestion that “surely some family member or friend could have used it!”, almost floored him.

   “Well no. None of them could come. They are all at her funeral!”

   In part one, which profiled the character of GOOD fans, it was acknowledged that loyalty is certainly one element which would be evident. And, reluctantly, you have to give the guy that! But on the flip side—the heartless attitude which would screw up his priorities so extremely—means he would have to be included in the BAD fan category.

   We all know what a bad book is; a bad taste is obvious; a bad storm won’t easily be forgotten; and a bad neighbour can make life miserable. In fact there are several more connotations of this commonly-used word.

   But as we apply it to hockey, there are specific traits which are unique to spectators whom we would categorize as “bad”. If paying customers (or poison pen writers) connect anything which is detrimental to the game, which undermine it, maltreat it, or exploit it—that is the pattern of a “bad” fan.

   Charlie Queerie, one-time sports editor of the Toronto Star, liked to illustrate ignorance of the game with this tale. It seems a Scotsman was watching a game for the first time, filled with a number of questions which would help him follow the match. He specifically inquired about the player who stayed in one spot in front of what looked like a cage. When he found out his task was to stop the disc from going in; and that he was paid $200 per contest for his efforts, he simply asked: “Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to board it up?”

   There is a similar yarn about sports scribe, Damon Runyon’s assessment of the one game about which he seemed to know little. After observing two periods, commented to his seat mate: “I don’t know if you noticed it, but that guy with the pads on is shoving the puck out every time someone tries to push it in.”. Then there was the Victoriaville lady spectator who kept calling the referee the “puckman”; and when the game was introduced to a city the South, everyone went home after the second frame, thinking it was like football with two halves, and so it was over.

  All of these are negative, of course, only in that they undermine the inherent atmosphere of the game. In an earlier column, booing, especially in derision of highly skilled skaters, was discussed. That is part of this theme; but, as my mother used to say, “I don’t chew my cabbage twice!” (Heaping trash on the ice will be featured in a future column).

   Whether it is according to Hoyle or not, there is an element of heaping abuse on players which decidedly falls into this category. It is called harassment. As most followers of Canada’s National Sport know, the New York Americans preceded the Rangers into the Big Apple by one year. One of star-spangled outfit’s most loyal supporter was a slender fellow with a rather large proboscis who was simply known as “Big Nose Harry”. He specialized in heckling visiting cage cops. He would park himself behind the screen wherever the out-of-town goalie was plying his trade—and razz them during that entire period. When the teams changed ends, he would follow that backstop to his new perch.

   It was in 1926-27 that Ottawa’s Alex Connell decided to put an end to this routine. As he skated toward his end of the ice he saw this leather lung waiting behind the screen. Connell began speaking to him; but in tones so low Harry couldn’t hear what he was saying. Naturally, he pressed right up against the mesh to make out what Alex was saying. And he got a poke on that big nose of his with the end of a goal stick for his trouble. He never again got within shouting distance of an opposition twine-tender.

   Even hockey stars have their favourite memories. Super goalie Ken Dryden can’t forget an unusual situation during the 1971 NHL playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens were pitted against the favoured Beantown six . The seventh game was in Boston on a Sunday afternoon. However, at the same time the Expos were facing the Phillies in Montreal’s Jarry Park. 20,000 watching the baseball diamond were also listening to the Habs’ game on portable radios.

   It would be unfair to accuse those spectators of deliberate disrespect, but when they jumped to their feet and cheered when the Canadiens scored a big goal, it so confused the umpires they called time, bewildered about what was going on. At the same time it would seem a lack of discernment, knowing the effect it would have on the players all geared up for the action on the field. At least it was bad timing.

   Fits of temper always cheapen the game. Elmer Ferguson, Montreal Star columnist in the 1940’s once recalled a particularly embarrassing demonstration of that emotion. The referees had gotten on the crowd’s bad side during a Canadiens/Maroons tilt, and were in a foul mood as they prepared to leave the arena.

   Believe it or not, it was none other than a prominent Mount Royal judge who expressed that disapproval most excessively. At that time the Forum “box” seats were chairs, which were not attached to the floor. His honour grabbed his seat, and threw it at Cooper Smeaton, who had called the game. Realizing he had gone too far, he jammed his hat down on this head, and squatted where the chair had been. But it was too late. Smeaton called upon the gendarmes to “throw him out!”

   It would be impossible to profile a meaningful account of fan idiocy without bringing “King” Clancy’s experiences into focus. When he pulled on the white referee’s shirt he had dozens of conflicts with paying customers. One at least, even though it was clearly insulting, had a twist of humour in it. One night in the old Boston Garden, the momentary quiet previous to a faceoff was interrupted by a leather-lung whose voice rang clearly enough for everyone in the arena to hear, “Hey, Clancy! We’ve got a place near here that’s named after you. It’s called Marblehead!” Ouch! That’s hitting below the belt!

  There’s an old saying: “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid!” That fits perfectly the profile of another spectator who falls into the “bad” class. About 1935 the Rangers and the Maroons were battling it out when Montreal’s Cy Wentworth blasted a shot that bounced off the post past Davey Kerr. The latter protested loudly, contending that it bounced out, not in. This brought an irate fan into the picture. He was followed by another, who made himself visible in that he was sporting a Maroon’s sweater. Referee Mike Rodden threw him out of the rink. Somehow he persuaded officials to give him a refund on the dollar he paid for the seat. Immediately he took his buck and bought a standing room ticket—but used his original ticket stub to reclaim his dollar seat. Crazy! But not stupid—but a con artist.

   Both the newness of ice hockey and the variation of word meanings, contribute to a chuckle shared by writer Tom Benhowski. It was 1972-73 and the Flames made their debut in Atlanta. That the sports writers were still learning the game was emphasized by an incident in the spanking new press box. The team press guides were getting a workout as goals were scored and penalties assessed. When the home team potted he first tally, all and sundry checked the data included about the number of the marksman.

   The silence was broken when one scribe burst out: “It says heah this fella’s a left winger…..ah mean we don’ lahk no lef wingers (he understood it to indicate his socialist political tendencies) heah in the South!” It’s not racism; but it sure is prejudice!

  Hero worship motivates some fans to go to great lengths to get the signature of their favourite player (or players). Some write in for them; and some wait in line after a game and hope their ideal is neither too exhausted or irritated to scratch out his John Henry. One of my favourites is about a spectator who had the gall to ask Bill Speer if he would go back in the dressing room and get Bobby Orr’s autograph for him.

   Apparently one Florida Panther follower was not up on all the “P’s and Q’s” of the protocol of this hobby. One night he hung around the boards during warm-up hoping to catch Pavel Bure and ask him for this favour. When he finally tracked him down, and popped the question, he was pleased with an affirmative nod. “Got a pen?”, he asked the superstar.

   Bill Hewitt once discovered that the course of a game can have a significant effect on a spectator’s moods. One night in Chicago, when the old Stadium was bulging at the seams, he noticed a little old lady sitting on the cold cement steps near the television booth. Feeling sorry for her he offered her a place near him in their broadcast location. She thanked him profusely, and improved her viewing site. As they chatted he could tell she was thrilled the Blackhawks were in the lead.

   However, midway through the final frame, the Leafs scored twice and took control of the action from then on. During another commercial break Bill turned to speak to her again. But she must have blamed him for Toronto’s turning the tables. She gave him a hard look; whacked him with her programme, and stalked out of the arena.

   Streaking (running naked in public places) debuted in the fall of 1972, when college students added it to their list of “statements” they were trying to make about a “square society”. It didn’t take long for hockey arenas to be favoured (?) by such performances. One of the first featured a young female (we’ll not call her a lady) who dashed across the ice at a California Golden Seals home game with only her vital statistics covered. It was still enough to warp the contact lenses of some shocked onlookers.

   But the incident of this kind that is best remembered took place 40 years later. On October 2, 2002, Tim Hurlbut was in attendance at a Flames/Bruins game. Out of the blue he stripped down to his socks, climbed the glass, and jumped on the ice. He had been offered $200. by some strangers who dared him. His name tells the story. It may have been that part of him that hurled the glass, but it wasn’t that section of his anatomy which cushioned his landing. In fact he fell backwards, hit his head, and knocked himself out. He never collected. In fact it cost him $400. for ambulance fees, plus whatever he paid in fines.

   Less than month later, Vancouver was the scene of another lamebrain stunt. This man climbed the protective screening behind the Canuck’s goal, and hung upside-down 25 feet over the floor. He remained out of reach of the security team for the third period, but after the game was unhooked and dragged by the hair outside the arena.

   On September 16, 1985, the Canucks were hosting the Bruins. While play was still in progress a spectator by the name of John Purdy jumped over the glass, all decked out with skates and stick, in possession of another puck, and started scooting down the ice, stickhandling like mad, heading for Pete Peeters in the Boston cage. He took a shot, which, even though Pete made no real move to stop it, rebounded out, only to be popped into the cage. He then skated to the portion of the rink where the penalty box was, and sat down, as if he had been sentenced for an offence. We was quickly whisked away by the arena staff.

   All four had one thing in common. Apart from their Narcissistic antics, which were obvious distractions, they cheapened the game. They were like a juggler strutting his skills in between acts of a Shakespearean classic — implying that the entertainment was not sufficient in itself—but these made up for what was lacking, bringing them up to a worthwhile standard.

   One of the more recent clashes, and perhaps the weirdest, involves none other than Tie Domi. Shortly before the 2001 post-season play involving the Leafs and the Flyers, the stubby winger, who goes by “Tugger”, got under a Philly follower’s skin. The steamed-up spectator tried to get at him, prompting the glass to give way. A confrontation followed, and the fan sued him, saying he brutally assaulted him. The “pot calling the kettle black”, can’t help but be called a bad scene!

   Collectively, all of the above, were — if we may reverse an old adage — “making a sow’s ear out of silk purse!”

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