Confessions of a Former Hockey Fan

At the risk of sounding like a juvenile who is taking his puck and going home; I’m taking my puck and going home.
After bleeding red AND white since 1955, and enduring and enjoying year after year of hockey excitement, mayhem, and disappointment … I am hopping off the Red Wings bandwagon following this most recent season’s ending.  I’m packing up my hockey mania forever.  No more for me.
One element of that decision is psychological; I guess at my veteran age I just can’t take it anymore.  I’ve gone from enjoying the game immensely to getting so worked up over Red Wings fortunes that I found myself depressed for days when they lose a playoff contest.  That’s no way to ‘enjoy’ a sport.  This is what Mickey Redmond has long meant in warning “It’s no place for a nervous person.”
The second element of my estrangement is more unusual, and I immodestly think ought to be of some interest to Red Wing and NHL brass.
I have a friend, a middle-aged local professional, who became convinced during the recent Phoenix series and beginnings of the San Jose playoffs that the sport is now “fixed.”  I of course ridiculed and dismissed his notion.  Such a concept is absurd, you can’t “fix” something as involved and intricate and convulsive as a hockey game.  But then I watched the vicious hit on the Wings Johan Franzen in the fifth, and final, Sharks playoff game.  And I am deeply disturbed about what it indicated, and perhaps more to the point DIDN’T indicate, about that painful series, about the NHL’s game.  What it didn’t indicate was fair play, or any commitment to honesty or courage by the four on-ice officials, or, finally, a passion for justice by Red Wings brass — at least nothing near the brand exhibited by their die-hard fans.
How can that absurd non-call can be interpreted as anything other than some kind of intent by NHL officials to influence the outcome of that game?  It was certainly the key moment, the turning point, of that tense and all-important match.  How in the world could the officials have interpreted a play where Franzen nearly had his head separated from his shoulders — FULL seconds after distributing the puck during a third period rush — as anything but a vicious mugging?  The referees acted like they were comically deaf, dumb, and blind when the Wings protested the outrageous hit that was obviously intended to injure, or at least neutralize, the then-hottest Wings scorer in a tense tie game.  What hit?  Oh, we must have missed it.  All four of us … missing the biggest Red Wing on the ice (big as Bertuzzi) being criminally clobbered by the largest Shark on the ice, Douglas Murray (dirty as Lemieux).
How could it be?  It would seem understandable ONLY if those officials were actively moving that game in the Sharks direction.  Simple as that.  What else would account for their apparent blindness and suddenly silent whistles in an otherwise SO-tightly called series?  Thus the Wings thus did NOT get the lengthy power play they deserved; which might have netted them the go-ahead goal that could have thrown the series, and the home-playing Sharks, into turmoil.  That San Jose immediately took their MOMENTUM (provided by the boost that comes from trying to kill your opponent and inexplicably getting away with it) and scored their series-winning goal a few seconds later ought to have hockey fans everywhere — not just Detroiters — very concerned about something incredibly weird and worrisome going on with their sport.
After the game, the local interviewer for Fox Sports — the balding allegedly funny guy whose name fortunately escapes me now — didn’t even bother to ASK Red Wings coach Mike Babcock about the flagrant injustice and subsequent swing of fortune.  And I would bet he would defend that astonishing oversight by saying that Babcock routinely refuses to talk about official calls after a game.  Apparently, from his public statements, Babcock feels that complaining about calls is small potatoes, minor-league stuff, not highly sportsmanlike.  Not worth rehashing after the game is over, and hearty handshakes exchanged.
Well, it may not be to him … a guy who makes a lucrative living from the good and honorable reputation of the NHL.  But to those of us out here who do bleed for, and with, his team … we want answers.  Or at least questions asked.  And we want coaches and team officials and PLAYERS — where have you gone, Ted Lindsay? — who care as passionately as we do, as we have for our decades of Red Wings fandom.  We who only buy the tickets, and watch the games and buy the pizzas of the advertisers who bring us the broadcasts.  We don’t get rich off the NHL maintaining a clean public image.  But we can watch a suspicious miscarriage of justice and know that something smells, and I mean REALLY reeks, in Hockeytown.
Where was the outrage?  Just here in my front room?  A series is possibly STOLEN by somebody in the NHL who seemingly — again, how else do you explain it? — wants the Sharks up and the Wings down … and WE’RE the only ones who notice?   Not the coach, not Fox Sports Detroit (though credit Redmond– who screamed “unbelievable!”–and some FSD reporters for at least talking about it), not the League, not the players?   THEY’RE all just good sports who figure it’s sour grapes to notice when they have become the victims of a game-defining crime?  Who hate to cry over spilt milk?
Who witness — in the key game, in a sport where the tiniest moves and most imperceptible momentum swings are analyzed and viewed again and again on national TV — the turning point of a playoff-deciding game being a most questionable if not downright dirty play … and don’t even talk about it afterwards??  Neither of the local major dailies even raised the play in their discussions and otherwise minute dissections of the game and the series in Monday morning’s papers!  (Who got together and decided that?)  Un-be-lievable.
Well, if they don’t care, if they’re out of outrage — meaning Red Wing brass, the media, the Wings players — then I’m finally out.  No more for me.  I’m not going to bleed red and white, and have my blood pressure shoot sky high for a team that doesn’t care enough about ME to protect MY interests, or the very honesty — or apparent honesty — of its own game. 
Somebody ought to send this message along to the Red Wings.  They may be, after all, losing more than just one disturbed longtime fan with this latest stunner. 
Maybe I’ll send it myself.  But then again … maybe they’ll be too high-minded, too fat and happy, too sportsmanlike down there at the JLA … to read it.  Or care.

2 replies on “Confessions of a Former Hockey Fan

  • BaseballinDC

    Sounds like some Red Wing fans are developing Yankee mania – you can only enjoy the game so long as your team wins every year. My 3 year old knows better than to get upset when Dad wins at Candyland.

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