Title reflections

June 20, 2006

I flipped on the tube to find the clock at 11:00 in the second period, Carolina leading Edmonton by a score of 2-0. I only needed to watch for about one minute to realize that the game was already out of reach. Edmonton was unable to control the puck through the neutral zone as the defensive posture of the Canes worked to near perfection.

Fernando Pisani scored early in the third to close the gap to one, but Cam Ward continued his stellar play en route to the Conn Smythe. The 22-year old rookie has shown his organization and the National Hockey League that he is a ready for prime time player.

As the seconds ticked down late in the third, I calmly sat back in my chair and got ready for the best minutes in sports. My favorite part of the playoffs is the end of the last game of each series and seeing the handshake line. I play adult hockey, and we do this after every game. It doesn’t mean much to most of us, but I feel it’s an important sportsmanship lesson. Seeing guys who get paid to play the game do the same things I’ve done, is the second greatest thing of the evening.

Of course the ultimate thrill for any hockey fan is seeing the team captain, and then each player of the winning team, take the Cup, give it a kiss, and hoist it over his head. Anyone who has strapped on skates has dreamed of this moment from Day One. Children win the Cup in their minds on a daily basis. Which of us has not skated in from the left wing boards, put a wrister over the goalie’s shoulder in OT, and thrown up our stick, gloves, everything else in jubilation at winning the Ultimate Prize? I know I have.

I’ve been lucky enough in my lifetime to see two of my teams win a title (Cincinnati Reds in 1990, and Ohio State football in 2003). I try and remember every game I watch that I may never see this again, but I’ll always live with hope. Fans are always reminded that to say “We won the game” is not technically correct because a fan doesn’t actually play the game. True fans realize that this is both correct and incorrect. As a fan, I did not score the goal, steal the base, or make the tackle. But my loyalty as a fan of both my team and the game are what enables the players that do these things to earn the money and fame they receive. Long-time loyal fans support a team through thick and thin. I’m proud to call myself a Blue Jackets fan from Day One, and I’ll feel like a part of the team should “we” ever be lucky enough to win the Cup.

Despite what I’ve heard from many sources, fans of every team deserve the hope of winning the Stanley Cup. If the only teams that should be allowed to win are either Canadian teams or Original Six teams, why should the “rest of us” even bother playing the game? The reach of a sport grows because of fan popularity. Although the NHL may not have the marketing appeal of the NFL, it has still grown enough as a game to have franchises in 30 cities across Canada and the United States. Fans (new and experienced) put as much of their heart into cheering for a team in Raleigh, Tampa, Nashville, and Atlanta as they do in Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton. There are statistics that some people can (and maybe will) show me that supposedly refute my claim. But I say that you can’t measure heart. Fans of all teams put their heart into their team. On the Edmonton bench after the game last night, you could see the pain in the faces of each player, and practically feel it through the television. Don’t think that their fans were not experiencing the same thing. Detroit fans know how they felt after the Wings lost the Edmonton series. Don’t think for a minute that Nashville fans didn’t feel the same way after losing to San Jose. Being born or living in a “traditional” hockey market does not mean that you (as a fan) deserve to win any more than John Doe in Atlanta who picked up the game two years ago and really enjoys watching hockey. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, entitlement is a sin against true fandom. Be gracious in both victory and defeat, hubris is not a becoming trait.

With this said, I issue my congratulations to both the Carolina Hurricanes and their excellent fans for their first Cup win. I hope you all can enjoy your victory, and that it means as much or more to you as it did the first time you won it on your driveway/backyard pond/neighborhood rink. I’d always rather see my Blue Jackets win, but seeing the pure joy on any grown man’s face (regardless of jersey color) as he raises the Cup over his head is enough to force me to blink back a few tears.

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