The return of John Tavares to New York and an Islanders team that drafted him, developed him, made him their captain, and followed him into battle for nine years got me thinking about some of the unfortunate negativity that follows our game around.
Maybe it was the Islanders jersey someone threw at him as he left ice after warmup. Maybe it was the plastic snakes that found their way onto the ice before warmup. Or maybe it was the fact that some fans don’t know the difference between bedsheets and pyjamas.
Make no mistake, these things affect the players involved. I know Tavares is a professional, and one of the best ever to play in the NHL by all accounts. But he’s still a human being. Watching his reaction during the Islanders’ video tribute despite the thick chorus of boos in the arena is all the evidence you need.
The extra security and the intensity of the game between the whistles was something to behold in that game, and if Tavares’ reaction was evidence of his humanity, the electricity in the building was clearly evidence of the typical hockey fan’s passion for the game.
Unfortunately, that passion doesn’t always translate into feel-good stories. I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to sit in the stands when you have a child on the ice, but I believe I can appreciate a good play from either side while also understand that passion, mistakes, and excitement are part of the game. This is also why we read more about parents fighting in the stands at minor hockey games than we do acts of genuine fanfare and goodwill.
So, I’d like to buck that trend.
Making Fans During Tryouts
I spent many years watching tryouts in minor hockey. From organization to organization, city to city, it was generally the same. It became an art form eluding curious parents before and after tryout sessions.
That said, when I was involved in minor hockey I liked to spend some time close to the benches to see what the energy was like. In one such rink the benches were within earshot of the stands where all the parents stood, covered in blankets and drinking warm beverages that may or may not have been spiked with some feel-good fluid.
Well, it wouldn’t have mattered if I was within earshot or not. Typically during tryouts there isn’t a lot of cheering. Every parent is watching their own kid and riding the wave of every bump, every stride, and every opportunity.
Such as an opportunity for a huge save.
During the scrimmage in question, two players raced down the ice toward the tiny goalie facing them down. A 2on0. In a normal game the buzz in the crowd would have been intense, but again, not during tryouts.
That was until the puck was passed across the crease, the goalie dove from post to post, and the incredible save was made.
And the crowd roared. Not just the goalie’s parents, not just the parents of the kids on the same scrimmage team – everyone. Even the parents of the kids who didn’t score (who, after throwing their heads back in the air, circled back to give the goalie a tap on the pads). It was awesome.
So sure, there’s room for semi-insane fandom in our game, but we need to remember, these are human beings. Even when they’re being paid…
Wait, what did Tavares get from Toronto?
Ok never-mind, throw the snakes.