Hello everybody. Iíve got a column this time around that touches on an issue that I think is hurting sports in general, so letís get right to it. I welcome anybodyís opinion on what I have to say here, because I would love to hear other perspectives or similar experiences. My E-mail address will be at the end of this column. Itís a long one this time around, so if youíre pressed for time, bookmark this page and check it out later!! J

SENATORS vs OILERS - A Yearly Ritual Turned Sour

OK, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I am originally from British Columbia in a little hick town/island called Masset. When I was born, my father was stationed there in the military. As a kid, I got the chance to see some very isolated if not exotic places. I got to live in the Northwest Territories for 4 years. I got to live in Bermuda, of all places, not once, but twice, 5 years total. However, the place Iíve called home for the past 15 years or longer is Ottawa, Ontario. So if youíre wondering what exactly could an A+ certified computer technician know about hockey, as the Molson commercial goes, I AM CANADIAN!!! That being said, it can safely be said that I earned my passion for hockey honestly. When I lived in the Northwest Territories in the early to mid 1980s, it just so happened that a team who called themselves the Edmonton Oilers were making a name for themselves in a big way. Forget about the fact that they had the NHLís leading scorer ever on the team in Wayne Gretzky. Forget about the fact that they had his bodyguard in Dave Semenko. Forget about the fact that they had the biggest scoring European of all time in Jari Kurri. And furthermore, forget about the fact that they had a pretty good squad of players in Mark Messier, Charlie Huddy, Craig MacTavish, Marty McSorley, Kevin LoweÖthe list goes on. What they did in the 80s goes beyond the players, the team, the management, the fans. They created a legend that will forever be etched in hockey history. They became only the first real Canadian dynasty of the post-expansion era.

Of course you have the Montreal Canadiens, the most storied franchise ever. But prior to the first round of expansion in the late 60s, early 70s, you only had 6 teams in the NHL. After expansion, teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders were not only good enough, but lucky enough to be able to win the Stanley Cup and get a taste of what only Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Chicago, New York Rangers and Detroit had the privilege of experiencing. Around this time that the Oilers were winning Stanley Cups was around the time that I got into watching hockey and realizing the great game that we Canadians invented. Those years from 1983 until 1990 changed my life forever, and since then I have always been a fan and will forever have a special place in my heart for the Edmonton Oilers. Itís easy for someone to say that they are an Oilers fan just because of the fact that they were winning at the time, but it was much more than that. Even when they werenít winning, I was there to cheer them on. Iíve always firmly believed that when you pick a team you stick with it through thick and thin. Of course at the time it was easy for me to pick the Oilers as my favourite team, but what sets me apart from a lot of hockey and sports fans is that even today I have remained a fan. Why am I writing all of this?? I want to make a statement that I am a 100% true devoted Edmonton Oilers fan. Yes, you read that correctly. I live in a city that now has had its own NHL franchise, the Ottawa Senators, for 10 seasons now. Through it all I have witnessed some pretty exciting hockey and some pretty boring hockey, but I have remained an Oilers fan. Of course, 2002 will make it 12 years since the Oilers last drank from the Stanley Cup, but along with that year and the 4 wins prior to that year are memories that I will cherish forever, and will (hopefully) be able to experience again.

So now, I get to my whole point behind all of this. I mentioned in my previous column that if I witnessed anything interesting at the Senators/Oilers game on March 14 that I would share it with you all. Either Iím getting too old, or hockey fans now just donít get it. As much as I do not really care for the "Original Six" rivalries of the past, I can appreciate what they mean to the game and I would never ever intentionally make anybody feel bad about being fans of any of those teams, nor would I ever question anybodyís reasoning behind liking a particular team. Perhaps if I were old enough to have had the opportunity to witness the Original Six years I may appreciate them more. Unfortunately I wasnít around either to witness the 1972 Summit Series, but I also know that it shaped the history of our game and it gives me an appreciation of where our game has been. Make no mistake, I live in Ottawa and do like to catch the occasional Senators game, either on TV or live. Having already said that Iím a die hard Oilers fan, you already know that I donít ever miss it when they come to town to play the Senators. This is where the point of all of what Iíve said comes together. A friend of mine and I have made it a yearly ritual to get together and catch that game when it comes to town. This year, I made sure I had my tickets ready to go as usual. I got dressed in my Oilers jersey and hat and headed out early to the local watering hole to get pumped for the game with my friend. This year I managed to grab tickets through a promotion at this restaurant where they not only offered a food discount, but they offered a shuttle bus to the game. This made perfect sense, because I live in the East End of Ottawa, and the Corel Centre is way in the West End suburbs of Ottawa. I had been anticipating this game for a long time. I went so far as to make sure my work schedule gave me the day off so that I could get the whole mental preparation going. Currently, including the recent game, the Edmonton Oilers have an 8 season domination over the Ottawa Senators. For some reason, the Senators have never beaten the Oilers in regular season play in that time span, and have only managed to beat them once in their entire 10 year modern history. This obviously has boded well for me, being a die hard Oilers fan. But as I already mentioned, unfortunately the hockey fans of today just donít get it. I will walk around Ottawa with an Oilers baseball cap without even thinking twice about it. This will change to their jersey once the playoffs roll around. Make no mistake, people of Ottawa, if Ottawa were ever to meet Edmonton in the Stanley Cup Finals, it would be my dream series come true. It wouldnít really matter who won. The excitement in the two cities that a series of that magnitude would generate would be absolutely mental. I would still be rooting in my heart for the Oilers, but it would be a series that I would undoubtedly enjoy nonetheless. Being a fan of the Oilers for so long, I cannot just change allegiances just because Ottawa happens to have a team that could be dangerous in the playoffs, or even because they have a franchise at all. I would probably catch a few games along the way because I am a hockey fan after all. If ever there was a time where Edmonton was either not in the playoff picture or eliminated and Ottawa was still in, I would follow the Ottawa run and cheer them on without thinking twice. Through it all, however, as any of my friends and family will tell you, there would be a piece of my heart that would be missing until they dropped the puck on a new season in October.

Anyway, the day started off like any other day off. Finally the fateful time that I had been anticipating for so long came, and I met up with my friend, we ate, we drank, and then we made the bus ride out to the Corel Centre. Right off the bat, I get on the bus and a person who was going to the game saw my Oilers jersey and made a comment to me that I was on the wrong bus. When I questioned why I was told that it was because I was wearing the wrong jersey. Rather than argue with the fan (who also happened to be female), I shrugged it off and that was the end of it. Finally we get to the game and we are able to watch another good game unfold for the Oilers. The game was pretty close to a sellout. The Corel Centre seats 18500, and there were 18397 fans actually in attendance. It was a pretty good turnout, and the usual die hard Oilers fans, like myself, were there in full game attire with the jerseys and the flags and even the face paint. There were easily 1000-2000 hockey fans there that were clearly cheering for the away team and not the home team. I thought the whole time, these fans get it, these fans can appreciate hockey history and, like me, cannot change their allegiance.

Then, at one of the intermissions, I was standing in line getting a coffee and there were two fans ahead of me, one with a Senators jersey, the other with an Oilers jersey. The fan with the Oilers jersey makes a comment to the other fan in the Sens jersey that next week they are going to throw away the Oilers jersey and buy a Senators jersey because they apparently have a better shot at winning it all. As it was at that particular moment, the Oilers were winning the game, and were sitting only a few points out of a playoff spot. I couldnít let this fan go away without asking him why he was going to do something like this and why all of a sudden did he want to change allegiances and cheer for the home team. His answer to me was that "because itís time for a change". I left it at that because this was obviously a fan who doesnít get it. Donít get me wrong, I have Ottawa Senators clothing too, but I would never throw away any sports memorabilia.

Anyway, the rest of the game was where it started to get interesting. My friend and I were watching the game and observing some of the out of town scores and talking about hockey in general and just in general enjoying the experience. We werenít being overly loud or obnoxious like Iíve seen at some games that Iíve been to, we were simply enjoying the experience like all fans should be. For some reason, a collection of fans who were obviously together took exception to our discussion and asked us if we would please be quiet and just watch the game!?!?!!? News flash to this fan: there were already close to 18400 fans at this game and they were telling us to be quiet? Since when did it become customary for fans to just simply be quiet at a spectator sport in an arena that can seat 18500 fans? Granted, the home team was losing, but even though I was wearing a jersey of the other team, I wasnít rubbing it anybodyís face, I was simply enjoying the experience. So I spoke up to this fan and politely told him that I paid for my ticket to get into the game just like he did, and if he wanted people around him to be quiet then perhaps he should have either reserved a private box or stayed at home and watch the game on TV. This was another fan that didnít get it, and I was appalled (and still am) at the gall and ignorance of this person. My friend then asked the person what his problem was, why did he feel that he had to start trouble unnecessarily, why doesnít he just be quiet and enjoy the game as well? Another fan from this group piped up and told my friend that if the both of us didnít be quiet that he was going to ram his fist down both of our throats. In any event, some words that I cannot repeat here were exchanged unnecessarily and I just wonder even now to myself, why? Hockey is spectator sport that families and friends of all sizes, shapes, creeds, color go to see, and I just felt that this fanís ignorance was uncalled for. If you canít go to a game and enjoy it, win or lose, then perhaps you should stay home. I could understand the fanís outburst if we were at a movie or play, or if we were being obnoxious and cutting down the home team (or as Ron Barr would put it, I wasnít "Heckling"), but this fan had absolutely no rhyme or reason to ask 2 fans out of 18400 to be quiet. If you want to try and pump up the home team, you donít do it by trying to start a fight in the stands and you definitely do not do it by threats of violence amongst children. This guy was there with a couple of buddies and his wife and two children, and not only did they show how childish they really are, they forced arena security workers to monitor the situation needlessly. After all of this transpired, security was almost ready to throw somebody out of the game for nothing more than stupidity. There is no other word for it.

What bothers me most about the whole thing, is the example that this sets for the children. If I would have ever acted as childish as these apparent grown adults did while I was younger, my mother would have personally seen to it that I never got to witness another event at that venue ever again, and she made good on her word more than once. I learned very quickly that if I was ever going to be allowed to show my face in public again that I would behave accordingly. These people however, were sending a message to their children that this kind of behaviour is OK. One of the children ran over to their mother and started crying. This experience spoiled an otherwise great day and game and I felt bad for the kids, even though they werenít mine. Did I mention that the final score was 4-1 in favour of the Edmonton Oilers. While I obviously was happy with the result, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth over the experience with the fans. I am who I am and I am just one of the people who paid my hard earned dollar to be able to see a hockey game. So to the fan who decided to try and spoil the night, even though I said so to your face: I hope you are happy that you were able to dampen the spirits of an otherwise great evening, and I hope that you bow your head in shame for making yourself look like a fool not only in front of the 20 or so odd fans around you, not only to the security staff of the Corel Centre, but to your own family who had to endure your childishness. There is no place for that kind of behaviour in society, especially when youíre at a public venue. Oh and by the way, I didnít mention this before, but thank you for being so oblivious and inconsiderate of the fan behind you and sitting in a position that at times partially blocked my view of the ice. I donít even want to know what might have transpired had I tapped this person on the shoulder and asked him to please move his head back an inch or two. Some people just donít get it and Iím not sure if they ever will. I am certainly not about to explain myself to anybody.

I am an Oilers fan, period, and if you donít like it, thatís too bad. Anyway, thatís my bit on the game. It was actually a good game, fansí antics notwithstanding. Even though I paid good money to witness the game live, I will probably enjoy it a little better if I watch the tape in my VCR or catch some of the highlights on Sports Center. Unfortunately it will make me think twice before buying tickets to another game this year, but I can guarantee you that I will be there for the next time the Oilers come to town, with or without the fans who donít get it. Life is too short to concern oneself with the actions of others, I can only control myself. Unfortunately this person who calls himself a fan hasnít learned that yet. Quite frankly, if that is the way I have to be to be a hockey fan in Ottawa (or anywhere for that matter), I want no part of it.

I know y'all are dying to give me feedback on this, so E-mail me and give me your perspective on this or anything else hockey or sports related: puckin45@puckinaround.net


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