Weekend Links: On hockey fandom

NOTE: A always, this appeared first at RandBall, your home for beer drinking.

A couple of days ago, Will Leitch – who, let’s be clear, is one of my very favorites and will remain so – wrote an article about hockey fans titled “The Greatest Fans in the World.” In it, Leitch writes, “There is no such thing as a casual hockey fan,” an opinion he bases off watching a Rangers-Canadiens game at Madison Square Garden. He writes about how into the game everyone was, how obsessive the fans were, how they were die-hards in the truest and happiest sense of the term.

Now, I have no doubt that Leitch is relaying his experience correctly. But I do know for a fact that his experience, as wonderful as it might have been, simply isn’t applicable elsewhere. I’ve been at the Xcel Energy Center when the building was positively sparking with energy, but I’ve also been there on nights when most of the crowd seemed to barely notice that a hockey game was taking place. And St. Paul isn’t the only place this happens; one need only look at the empty seats (and empty suits) that fill the lower bowl at the Air Canada Center in Toronto to know that hockey fans aren’t immune to the kind of show-up-late, leave-early, check-the-phone-in-between fandom that afflicts so many other sports.

Leitch also writes that “hockey fans could care less whether or not you accept their sport.”. But tell a hockey fan that hockey isn’t a major sport, or mention ESPN, and watch him fulminate and shout. Sure, some hockey fans are happy with their fandom and don’t care about how you feel, but most hockey fans want as much coverage as possible of hockey, and therefore want the sport to be accepted and loved. Of course they care whether their sport is accepted. It’s only natural.

What really bothers me, though, is the assertion that hockey fans are somehow a different tribe, a tribe that wants no contact with the outside world. It’s dismissive of a sport I love as a novelty – an unknowable, inscrutable ritual that can’t be understood unless one was born into the tribe and accepted through its traditions. And that, I think, is the part that really just isn’t true. Hockey’s fun to watch, whether you grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada and playing hockey every day after school, or whether – like me – you never saw a game live until you went to college. Hockey fans aren’t a breed apart. Hockey fans are the same as any others. And to treat them as otherwise, even in a complimentary way, diminishes them.

On with the links:

*Let’s start with the Twins, now that spring training is in full bloom. Over at Twins Daily Jeremy Nygaard talks with Twins West Coast scouting supervisor Sean Johnson, and Parker Hageman tells you to watch out for Brian Dozier’s swing.

*Grantland looks at the Vikings offensive line – and the team’s desperate need to re-sign Phil Loadholt, and to figure out what’s going on at the guard spots.

*Jonathan Mahler at Deadspin reminds us that, concussion controversy or no, television will ensure football doesn’t go the way of boxing quite yet.

*In the aftermath of Taylor Hall kneeing Cal Clutterbuck on Thursday, it’s good to review Sean McIndoe’s seven levels of dirty hockey. Hall reaches Level 3, though he – rightly – got suspended for his actions.

*And finally: a self-promotional link. I’ll be writing a soccer blog for startribune.com called SoccerCentric, and I’d like you to check it out, if you could spare the time. I’ve got high hopes for this venture, and I hope you’ll end up enjoying it too.