Chirping is a part of hockey, as much as fighting; however; there are times when both can go too far. For someone that cannot skate backwards, I do my fair share of chirping. Believe me, there will be some after this weekend. I have one co-worker who is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and one who is an Islanders fan. That trash talk will obviously be a lot of fun; hopefully twice as much fun depending on the results of the game tonight.
There is some trash talking that will always be funny…Brad Marchand licking players, the same annoying Marchand brushing the puck in a shoot out just enough to count as a shot and giving the Flyers an extremely rare shoot out win. The Leafs losing to their own 42 year old Zamboni driver on Hockey Night in Canada? It is a great story for the goalie, and always will be, but only adds to the legend that is the Maple Leafs losing streak. Did you know that there are entire sites devoted to trashing the Leafs? There are, and the people that write those memes are far better at being a smart ass than I could ever aspire to be. Look them up and have a good laugh, but they really are all in good fun.
I have never played the game. I reffed a deck hockey league for a while, and left because holy cow, the mothers of those kids were quite involved. I consider myself fluent in profanity, and those women put me to shame. I understand that chirping is a part of the game; it was evident even in the pre-teen boys that played in that league. As far as trash talk or chirping goes, there are just subjects that should be off limits; a player’s race, his sexuality; his family. Words are very powerful; there are things that hurt far more than a punch ever could, those scars don’t ever heal.
When has the chirping gone too far? During an NHL exhibition in London, Ontario prior to the 2011 season, a fan threw a banana at Wayne Simmonds. As the wife of an African American athlete, and mother to an African American child, I was infuriated. Simmonds, who might or might not still be my favorite player in the NHL (I assert my 5th amendment rights here) shrugged it off; he was used to racism. He should not have to be used to racism, the “fan”, and I use the term loosely, that threw the banana at Simmer is a stain on the game I love. He received a $200 fine as punishment.
Another incident that went too far and ended in a suspension was Sean Avery calling actress Elisha Cuthbert his “Sloppy Seconds”. Cuthbert had dated Avery and was at the time dating Dion Phaneuf, whom she eventually married. Gary Bettman, in one of the few decisions that I have backed 100%, suspended Avery almost immediately. The suspension was indefinite when imposed, but was fixed at six games. The Dallas Stars, Avery’s team at the time, did not feel that six games was enough and cut ties with the oft controversial player.
The most recent example of chirping gone too far was Colby Cave. When the story of Cave’s hospitalization broke, I was stunned, but was hoping for a happy ending. The news that Cave passed away was devastating, and I read as much coverage as I could. I read hockey, I write hockey, it lives in my soul, and my team has suffered many tragic losses. My heart was broken for his family, his newlywed wife, and Oilers fans.
I don’t often engage with trolls on IG or Twitter; it is the definition of useless in my opinion. A comment that I read, on a Flyers account I follow, changed that. “Well, at least he is in a better place now. #oilerssuck” I was furious, and let loose; this was a young life gone; a son, a husband, a well loved teammate. I had never been ashamed to be a Flyers fan, but was at that moment. That “fan” was, and remains a stain on the game AND the team I love. I cannot possibly imagine being Cave’s wife or mother and seeing that comment; I actually sent an email to the Oilers PR rep and apologized on behalf of all Flyers fans as a result. Being a mom changes you that way, it does.
I am not great at apologizing, but I do make an attempt when my trash talk goes too far, or I think that it may have. There are some things that should be left alone, and while I know that, even I cross the line occasionally. There is one time trash talk went entirely too far; where the tragedy of Pelle Lindbergh’s death intersects with Ron Hextall’s rookie year. It remains to this day the reason the Rangers are the one team that I despise with the fire of a thousand suns.
Lindbergh died in November 1985; the newspaper clippings are pressed away still; yellowed with age. Rick Tocchet was my puppy love crush at the time, with his dark hair and eyes he was the choice of all the good Italian girls I grew up with, but everyone loved Pelle. He was more than a Vezina winner who was going to win Flyers fans the Cup that we had been waiting for; he was truly a nice guy. He would spend hours talking with fans, signing autographs for young girls, like me. Yes, that autograph is preserved; there is no amount of money that could ever make me part with it.
The Flyers lost to the Rangers in the playoffs the season that saw us grieve the beautiful young soul that was Pelle. The following year, the hockey gods graced the Flyers with Ron Hextall, an entirely different type of goaltender. Fiery and temperamental, Flyers fans embraced Hextall as one of our own. He would lead the Flyers to a Game 7 Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Edmonton Oilers in his rookie year, winning both the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoff MVP. Wayne Gretzky on the opposing team, the Flyers didn’t win the Cup and Hexy was STILL voted the MVP; let that sink in.
So when was the trash talk too much in Hextall’s rookie season? In the first round, versus the Rangers, that’s where. During a game at Madison Square Garden, Rangers fans delighted on getting on screen holding up coffins bearing Pelle’s #31. Stanley Cups with the picture of Pelle’s mangled Porsche glued on them. For those too young to remember, Pelle died in that crash and two others were critically injured. Then there is the one sign that will be forever be ingrained in my mind: “Hextall, Go Buy a Porsche”.
U N F O R G I V E A B L E. While I have said this before, I will say it again: The Flyers could win the Stanley Cup, sweeping the Rangers to do so, every year until infinity, and I will never forgive those fans. The camera operators and management at MSG feel my fury as well; those fans should not have made the coverage. Instead, those images were shown on the big screen over and over, driving the fans in attendance to a frenzy. If social media had existed at the time, I would have tangled with every Rangers fan I could get my hands on.
All these years later, the wound is so fresh that I can still taste the blood. I have friends from pretty much every walk of hockey life, Rangers fans included. True hockey fans know when the line is crossed; not one of the sign holders from that game was a true fan of the game of hockey. They were ghouls, dancing on the grave of a man that was more than a goalie; he was a son, a fiancé, a person taken from this world far too soon. Pelle and his family deserved more than mean spirited chirps. I truly hope that every Rangers fan, every true Rangers fan, is ashamed of those “fans”. So chirp away, but know when to stop before it goes too far; be a true fan or walk away from the game I love, please.
Photo credit: CBS Philadelphia