Gorches: Blackhawks fans should welcome bandwagon jumpers
By Steve T. Gorches 314-3797 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2013 11:04PM
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 12: Fans cheer as Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates with teammates after Bolland scored a goal in the third period against the Boston Bruins in Game One of the NHL 2013 Stanley Cup Final at United Center on June 12, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Updated: July 16, 2013 6:21AM
More than any other sport, hockey induces so much angst between so-called “real” fans and so-called “bandwagon” fans, and everyone in between.
This cropped up often three years ago when the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, and it’s happening again during the latest run into the Stanley Cup Final.
Longtime Bears fans don’t complain about new fans jumping on board during a long playoff run, which doesn’t happen often.
Longtime Bulls fans may have complained a little back in the 1990s when the bandwagon was overflowing with people who only knew Michael Jordan and couldn’t tell you the name of the first or second guy off the bench, but for the most part it was “the more the merrier.”
White Sox fans were just happy to have a bandwagon with people on it for the ride back in 2005 during the memorable World Series run.
Cubs fans don’t have to worry about a bandwagon, though the stands at Wrigley Field have been less full the last couple of years since the team is really bad.
So why are “Hard Hawk Hockey” fans so snobbish when it comes to new fans?
Don’t they realize what state their sport and team were in about eight years ago? The National Hockey League completely canceled an entire season — the only time that’s happened in the four major sports — and didn’t award the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1919.
I was one of the numerous hockey fans who wasn’t happy, and, like any consumer in the free enterprise system, it was my right to choose not to watch the sport for a couple years.
That triple-overtime thriller Wednesday night reminded me of watching Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, in which Brett Hull scored the game-winning goal in the third OT to lead the Dallas Stars to the Cup over the Buffalo Sabres.
No rooting interest, just an affinity for good playoff hockey of any kind back then. But just like the 1994 season and lost World Series didn’t sit well with many baseball fans, 2005 pushed me away.
But just because I strayed away from the sport because the the owners and players didn’t caring about me in 2004-05, that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of carrying some hockey fandom card that hockey snobs think they carry in their wallets.
It wasn’t just hockey’s labor issues that drove me and many other fans away. The Blackhawks themselves were a joke. The franchise was named the worst in professional sports by ESPN back in February 2004. Thanks to previous owner Bill Wirtz — whose nickname was appropriately “Dollar Bill” — the Blackhawks alienated their fans by being cheap with free agents over the years and not televising home games on local television.
So the sport and the local team didn’t care about the fans. Tell me again why I and numerous other fans should have stuck around? That’s like a restaurant serving you raw meat, warm pop and spoiled vegetables and then expecting you to come back. It’s consumerism at its finest.
When Wirtz died just before the 2007-08 season, it’s sad to say but that was a good day for Blackhawks’ fans. His son, Rocky, took over and things started changing almost immediately.
Home games were televised — novel concept, huh?
The team started marketing itself to younger audiences — welcome to the 21st century.
By the way, most of that new audience to which the Blackhawks themselves marketed is unwelcomed fans to the hockey snobs.
And fans like me began returning, much to the dismay of hockey snobs, I guess, because those buffoons are still chiming in, whether it’s on social media or sports talk radio, stating their hockey fan credentials and saying how annoying supposed bandwagon fans are.
The real question is, are there really diehard, Xs and Os hockey fans? The sport doesn’t lend itself to true Xs and Os and strategy. It’s the ultimate crapshoot with the best-laid plans going awry due to stupid luck.
Hockey isn’t baseball, in which sabermetric geeks can win arguments with old-school dinosaurs (like Hawk Harrelson) because stats rule.
Anything can happen in hockey. Take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as a prime example. The Bruins outplayed the Blackhawks for most of the game, and most of the 52 minutes of overtime. They had numerous legitimate chances at winning the game. At the end of the first OT, they hit the inside of the post and the puck caromed away. Most of the time when the puck hits the inside of the post, it’s ricochets into the goal, not back toward the players. Is there a hockey sabermetric for that?
There was the chance later in OT when Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was sprawled on his stomach and a Boston player was at point blank range ready to win the game when the puck rolled off his stick while Crawford’s leg stretched to block the left side of the net.
And how did the Blackhawks win? On a shot from just inside the blue line from Michal Rozsival that deflected off two different players — Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw, who got credited for he game-winner and eventually, during the subsequent celebration in which he was miked, yelled “I love shin pads!”
Is that the old hockey shin-pad sabermetric?
Or how about the game-tying goal in the third period on which Johnny Oduya’s shot ricocheted into the net off the skate of a defender past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.
Tell me how Xs and Os explain that. It shows that in addition to the Xs and Os of hockey, there are also Ps, Qs, Fs and Zs because of randomness and luck.
Therefore, how can any hockey fan be high and mighty about who should be a fan? Randomness on the ice equals randomness in the seats and watching on TV. Just be happy hockey is the talk of the town for the second time in four years and let anyone on the bandwagon who is willing to watch an entire three-overtime game. That takes some dedication.