It’s nice to have hockey back so that we can appreciate the insights it brings into human behaviour.
For example, when the Florida Panthers were in town, Ottawa Senators fans booed whenever the Panthers’ Alex Kovalev touched the puck. This sort of thing goes on a lot in hockey rinks and if you asked Senators fans why they booed they would reply that Kovalev played for Ottawa a couple of years ago, received a big salary and didn’t seem to try very hard.
Another former Senator accused of not always trying hard, Alexei Yashin, used to get similar treatment when he showed up here in a New York Islanders uniform. That’s understandable, I suppose, although cheering your team always seems more useful than booing the other one -- and sets a better example for the kids in the crowd.
At home you’re teaching them that hating people is wrong; at the rink you’re showing them that there are exceptions.
Generally speaking, the booing has at least some faint historical justification: the player did something wrong, like not play well, or sign with another team. Several Toronto players who played a chippier kind of game heard boos in Ottawa. And of course there is the peculiar case of Daniel Alfredsson, who once knocked a Leafs player into the boards in a playoff game and got away without a penalty.
Worse, he stole the puck and scored the game-winning goal.
For that, which happened in 2002, Alfredsson is booed to this day by Leafs fans, every time he touches the puck. In a bizarre twist, the booing is quite loud in Ottawa, because so many Leafs fans attend games here. So you have the most beloved player in Ottawa history being booed in his own arena because of something that happened to Toronto more than 10 years ago. It is difficult to count the number of ways in which this is wrong.
But at least it can be explained. How do you explain that fact that Erik Karlsson, Ottawa’s young defence star, was booed every time he touched the puck on opening night in Winnipeg? What did Karlsson ever do to them?
Did he once fight a Jets player? Did he say something nasty about Winnipeg in a local paper? That will sometimes do it.
Well, no. He didn’t do those things. He was booed for being a great player on the opposing team. Isn’t that crazy? You boo a guy because he’s on the other team and he’s good.
That’s how it works and it’s certainly not limited to Winnipeg. When Sidney Crosby, then 19 years old, played in Ottawa in the 2007 playoffs, the many fans made a point of booing the Penguins star.
Why? Many local commentators asked the question at the time, condemning the booing as classless. The only serious defence came from people such as the anonymous contributor to an online forum who said: “We boo someone to take them off their game.”
Right. A guy has played hockey all his life at the highest level and is paid millions of dollars for doing so and he is going to be taken off his game because some fans boo. More likely, he won’t even hear it, such is his level of concentration. That’s what Erik Karlsson said after the game in Winnipeg. He didn’t hear it.
Two months after becoming a national hero for scoring the game-winning overtime goal for Canada in the 2010 Olympics, Crosby was booed in Ottawa during the playoffs. His team went on to win that series.
Of course, they pay for their tickets and it’s a free country and all that. And of course words like “sportsmanship” are rarely heard these days. Still, wouldn’t it be better to save the booing for something truly deserving, like the flu or the commissioner?