, , , ,

There’s something about the atmosphere of the Air Canada Centre during hockey games that discourages rowdiness, chirping, belligerence, and other harmless fun that used to be standard fare at Maple Leaf Gardens. Perhaps you don’t need to look much further than the names of each building to see what’s changed: one’s named after a detestable corporation and the other after the actual team it housed. “AC” is even built into the current name, suggesting its chilly atmosphere. Perhaps that’s a stretch. Maybe not.

If you colourfully voice your displeasure at the refs, or any number of the gutless pukes we routinely play against, you’re liable to arouse the ire of fans sitting next to you. But why? Aren’t we all on the same team here? Is this a hockey arena or a church? I don’t care if you’re with your child: between our collapses, refereeing travesties and the opponents’ various abominations, I freak out watching games on TV in a room by myself–I can’t be expected to suppress my rage for a perfect stranger after paying just as much as them for tickets. Kids should be introduced to real hockey fans at hockey games. Like religion: get ’em while they’re young. In fact, I am offended by silent emotionless fans. This is the detestable behaviour. If you want dignified silence take your child to Disney On Ice. Real fans should have the right of way. We have a license to be vulgar in our home arena. Up to a point. Here’s where the line is.

As a kid in the Gardens I heard a fantastic chirp aimed at one of our frictionless defenceman: “Hit ’em with your purse Murphy!” Great use of colourful language to express a point. The mild sexism was offset by the cleverness of the chirp, delivered inevitably from the nosebleeds by a drunken fan. It showed passion, if not hockey wisdom–Larry Murphy only went on to win a couple Stanley Cups with Detroit, that team who never fails to make something of our discarded players (see Ian White).

So it’s perfectly acceptable to be a boor so long as you’re drunk, somewhat clever, your voice carries conviction, or the right circumstance arises. Anyone who saw alfredsson hit Tucker from behind and score the winner of game 5 after going unimpeded to the net (that timeless demonstration of the spirit of hockey debased in full: alfredsson’s magnum opus) couldn’t have possibly been sufficiently vulgar. A crowd of Andrew Dice Clay’s might have got the right note.

Next item. If there’s a fan beside you from the wrong team and you come to severe disagreement after some beers, you should be the bigger man and avoid punching him in the face. This is pure class. It’ll wound him to the core going home having to admit that, while he suffered some chirps and other appropriate abuse, Leaf fans are fundamentally civilized.

In addition to being classy for its own sake, shouting matches give the fans in neighbouring seats a colourful story. It enhances their overall experience and they should be grateful: there’s nothing quite like the overflow of unbridled passion expressed in mellifluous swear words. That’s authentic spirit. Polite clapping grates on my ears.

But there’s one reason that trumps all others: rowdy crowds encourage the home team. They feed off it. It makes a tangible difference in the outcome of the game, and after missing playoffs several times by a single point perhaps it cost us a shot at the Stanley Cup. Ask foreign junior teams what it’s like to enter a Canadian barn full of maniacal fans. Ask an NHL player what it’s like to play in Philly. We have on obligation towards our team to give them any advantage possible, and if there’s even a 1% chance their play will be enhanced by the fury of the vociferously hostile mob, we can’t in good conscience stay quiet. And no team ever started playing better because fans suddenly cheered when prompted by a routine video of Wendell Clark. It has to be raw, uncontrived enthusiasm to inspire a team or unnerve the opponent.

I’m not the first to say the ACC is a cold hockey building, and from what I understand soccer fans in this city bang drums and have no problem freaking out at TTC games, or whatever that team is called. Voicing unrestrained passion shouldn’t be a hard sell for a team whose slogan is “spirit is everything.”

So when confronted by an ACC patron demanding silence, whether with child or clad in a suit or normal civilian clothing, remind them that they’re acting as an agent of the opponent, and kindly direct them to this article so they can feel ashamed of their tacit anti-Leafs behaviour.  Perhaps they will reconsider their prudish attitude and begin anew, hurling obscenities at loud volume like a proper Torontonian.

Let’s take back our arena.