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Hockey Fans, Suicide Cult or Misrepresented?

February 1, 2010

I suppose the title is a bit much but that’s how I believe it is portrayed sometimes. I’m a Blackhawks fan and recently some of the media in the city has begun attacking the fan base for their treatment of people coming to games now that the team is winning. This coupled with the article I critiqued last week and conversations I’ve had with friends leads me to wonder, are hockey fans going over the edge?

Simple answer, no. Complex answer, see below.

I honestly believe that hockey fans are one of the more passionate fan bases in all of sports. I mean that in a general love for the sport sort of manner. Of course this could easily be a biased opinion and perhaps it is, but when it comes to the matter of a subjective opinion, everything is biased in some way.

Hockey fans are often criticized for being too much of a close knit community that shuns outsiders that do not understand our game and I think that, at times, is a fair statement to make. Yet in my constant need to compare my favorite sport to my favorite style of music, I think hockey is a lot like the punk/hardcore scene.

In the hardcore/punk scene there are a lot of bandwagon jumpers, just as one would find in any city with a winning franchise. The kids that show up with glued up mohawks or jackets covered in patches that seem over enthusiastic and if anything is labeled “punk,” they’re all for it. Just as with sports fans, there’s a snickering amongst “scene veterans” that those kids will jump on the next fad/phase in their life soon and they don’t really understand what it’s all about.

Hardcore/Punk kids and hockey fans have several things in common, amongst them is a passion for their primary source of entertainment and for the sanctity of that product. Bandwagon jumpers whether it be a kid that spent all of his parents’ money at the nearest Hot Topic or some person walking around an NHL stadium with a horrible looking knockoff sweater both seem to…threaten our existence. I know it may seem silly, but to us it is a dilution of something we hold sacred. Same goes for when people tweak the game or when someone calls something “punk” that obviously isn’t.

It’s petty, I know. Yet imagine being part of something that is a family, something that is a niche thing (at least in the United States) and having outsiders who know nothing about what they’re talking about trying to mess with it. We grew up with it, we know how to make it better and this is not to say that all outside suggestions are bad, just that most showcase the knowledge the outsider has on the topic.

In my short lifetime of twenty-two years I’ve experienced laser pucks, shootouts, Gary Bettman and Good Charlotte. I’m not the biggest fan of outside suggestion anymore.

Not everyone shares my opinion though, and that’s fine. Some people, myself included at times, welcome the inclusion of new people into a group. I’m not for the locking off these groups from new people, in fact, I seek to share my music and my sport with everyone I can because it means that much to me.

I suppose a better way of phrasing myself would be to say that breaking into these groups is like taking your first steps. Awkward at the beginning, but as time goes on you learn from your miscues and develop your walk. For some people it is just a fad, but for others it’s only the beginning. You learn from example and for many kids that get into punk music you go by what ever the mainstream idea of the genre is and basically put on the “punk uniform.” For bandwagon jumpers getting into hockey you think it’s all about fights and thuggery. As time passes you either start to grow a love for it or you abandon it as a passing fad. Many people I know laugh at newcomers in both arenas, one group laughs because they think the newbies are idiots, the other half laughs because they were there once.

For example, there will come a time later in the decade or the next when the Hawks fail to keep winning at the rate they are and miss the playoffs or the Bulls/Bears will field a winning team. At that time bandwagoners will leave in droves. The same thing happens in music too. In the mid-2000s, punk became popular again and I’d be lying to say I didn’t jump on this bandwagon. Yet as time passed I learned what hardcore and punk rock were really about and desired to stay. Fads came and went, the new punk kids moved on to metalcore and various other things, I stayed behind because I was hooked.

At a punk show it’s the energy from the band, the smell of the sweat rising to the ceiling and the movements of the crowd to the rapid beat of the drum. For hockey fans, it’s the chill in both the air and up your spine when you walk out of the concourse to see a clean sheet of ice ready to have a story written on it with blades, the roar of the crowd and the movement of the players as they race up and down the surface.

Recently a reporter from the Chicago Tribune called hockey a “simple” game that didn’t take long to figure out completely. People make the same claim about the music I love. To be honest, I agree and disagree about both.

One thing I love about both is that they are accessible because of their simplicity. Hockey at a purely face value appears simple. It’s a sport that people can understand easily. Punk and Hardcore are that way as well. The genres were created in response to bands like Kansas that played overly complicated music. Punk is a stripping down of music, as are the lyrics.

Yet at the same time both of these things are quite complex.

Hockey is a very complicated sport at times. Line matchups, offensive/defensive schemes and style of play are quite complicated when you get down to it. While punk/hardcore is stripped down, there’s nothing simple about raw human emotion, an exploration of who we are or why humanity chooses to act in the manner it does.

I apologize on behalf of all hockey fans, punk or hardcore kids if we seem like we don’t want you in our little group because that’s not the case, we’re just on edge about new people. Our passion is the most important thing we have and we’re weary of newcomers because we’ve been burned before. For hardcore/punk kids it’s by either family or just the actions of humanity in general. For hockey fans it’s because we’ve seen beloved franchises relocated to sunbelt cities, the dumbing down of our game on national television and a commissioner take away a lot of tradition from our league.

We take our choice of entertainment seriously. It provides us with a community that we can belong to, something that can make our lives better. Even if it’s for a short time, it allows us to forget our troubles and feel part of a larger family.

This is just my explanation for why hockey fans seem so hostile. Perhaps this is just the explanation for why I’m so hostile, but every word of it is true. In all three groups there’s one thing that seems to be highly valued and that’s genuine truth. Our athletes are down to earth people who are often very blunt about their opinion. So are our musicians.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 8:25 pm

    As a relatively new hockey fan, I’m glad to hear that I’m accepted into the fraternity. I mean that seriously. I’ve always worried about being considered a bandwagon jumper, not just in hockey but in pretty much all sports. I’m a born Steelers fan, and when I wore a Jack Lambert jersey the day after Super Bowl XL, someone accused me of bandwagon jumping. I’m a Red Sox fan — a legit one, since the 90s — and that should say it all. Now, I’m getting into hockey, and I’m a Caps fan. Great timing, right? I don’t feel like I’m on a bandwagon, since I did live in DC, but there’s that nagging voice, and that fear of ridicule.

    You’re right — it’s tough for people with a legitimate interest in things to get involved in them if they’re new, unless there’s someone who can kind of introduce them to it and guide them. But once you feel like you’re in, it’s pretty awesome — like being in an exclusive club. So I know where the exclusion is, but also the inclusion.

    It’s very complicated. Just like everything else in sports.

  2. Sharky permalink
    February 1, 2010 9:59 pm

    All Crapitals fans are bandwagon jumpers so you should fit in nicely.

  3. Dave permalink
    February 2, 2010 12:30 am

    Outstanding post. I can’t speak much to the punk side of your debate. I listen a ton of music under the massive category of rock, but couldn’t break it down much further, so I have no idea what that is like.
    But the hockey thing I can discuss. It’s been crazy to see everyone come out of the woodworks as a Hawks fan. I see a million Facebook statuses during games now … “Huet sux!!!” is a popular one, it seems. I had a friend try and argue with me on AIM about the Hawks and I know he wouldn’t know what a hockey puck was if I hadn’t taken him to a game, and I doubt he’s watched much since. It definitely seems like the “cool” thing to do now, to be a Hawks fan. But I’ve tried hard to welcome these people with open arms … it’s hard though. I don’t want the Blackhawks fan base to turn into a bunch of raving lunatics. Like … Colts fans. Or some Cubs fans. Bears fans have a lot of jackasses in there base as well, and that’s what worries me. Some Chicago fans suck … and if those fans hop on the Hawks’ bandwagon, I’d hate to have those douchebags representing the rest of us.

  4. Jim permalink
    September 10, 2010 12:48 am

    I’ve been a die-hard hockey fan since I was 4 years old. It was the first sport I was introduced to, and I was hooked. As a kid, I would do massive amounts of damage to my grandmother’s knick-knacks by pretending to be The Great One in her living room. I can even remember why I became a Blackhawks fan at the age of 6 … they had the coolest uniforms. I’ve endured the heartache of being a Blackhawks fan. I remember taking pride in the smallest of victories (Like how happy I was when Dirk won the Selke, back in the early ’90s).

    All that being said, I’ve been accused of being a band-wagonner. I can understand why, though. I’m military, and I’ve been stationed in two places in the past 10 years that have little to no interest in hockey. It’s not accessible where I’ve been living. Aside from checking up on the Hawks through the internet, I rarely knew what was going on from 2000 until the ’08-’09 season. So when my cable provider FINALLY added Versus to our package, I got excited again. I haven’t missed a game. THEN they added the NHL network. I’m sure I’m the only person in South Carolina with it. And guess what happens when I go back home proudly wearing my Toews jersey… I’m called a bandwagon fan. Even by those who didn’t even know that Bobby Orr once wore a Blackhawk uniform. Perhaps I am a little excited. My favorite team just won it’s first Cup since ’61. I might be over the top with my jubilance, but I AM NOT a bandwagon fan!

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