Hockey must overcome hockey fans to gain mainstream acceptance

Craig Finn, the lead singer of indie rock band The Hold Steady, once tweeted "I feel like hockey believes in magic more than other big sports." While we're not here to debate the existence of magic, it's a fun little sentence that I often point to whenever people ask why I love hockey so much.

It's just… fun. It's fast and skillful and played by gigantic supermen who can skate and fire pucks through brick walls, and goalies who turn themselves into something stronger than brick walls to stop them. It contains a pure emotion unlike anything I've ever seen. There's overtime winners and dangles and dekes and slapshots and heavy hits and play-by-play announcers screaming their lungs out because something amazing happened. When everything is right, hockey is The Best and I would put that version of hockey up against any other sport. 

However, there's a problem with hockey, a really big one. A segment of the fan base doesn't see things that way. Oh yes, they believe hockey is the best sport just like I do. However, they see hockey as the best sport for precisely the reasons I think drag it down. 

Now, this is not a fighting debate, though I feel fighting (beyond the pushing and shoving at the end of a play) is pointless and drags a good game down. This is about a certain segment of the hockey fan base that wants this sport played by robots, preferably from Ontario, that refuse to show emotion and simply get by on phony words like "grit" and "toughness." If you ask this hockey fan who their favorite player of all time is, it's probably some nonsense like Cal Clutterbuck (all due respect to Cal Clutterbuck). 

This debate has been annoyingly stoked yet again in the wake of PK Subban's overtime winning goal over the Senators on Thursday. 

Watch Subban's celebration:

There is literally nothing wrong with it. Subban loses his stick and immediately skates for his own bench and hugs his teammate Max Pacioretty. But because someone asked Craig Anderson what he thought and he was in the position of either admitting that the best thing to have prevented PK Subban from celebrating was that he stop a completely stoppable shot, or just give the interview version of nodding and agreeing. 

This fuels the fire of a hockey culture that doesn't deal well with anything that isn't boring, deferential, and unquotable. It's French Canadian and it's American and it's European and it's even, in Subban's case, Ontarian: our game is the best and we have the best athletes and they're superhuman and their skill is unmatched… but act like you've been there before! It makes absolutely no sense.

If we have the best athletes, let them show off. The idea of "acting like you've been there before" is ludicrous when they're doing things that the analysts on TV are saying is incredible. I'm sick and tired of hockey being reduced to a culture of sucking the joy out of everything. Because it's the thing I like the most, and when you tell PK Subban to not "showboat" or whatever the hell the problem anyone had with that was, you're sucking the joy out of it and you're making it not fun for me. 

Hockey is for everyone, and hockey is fun. We should reward anyone who makes it fun, and we should punish anyone who wants it back in the dark, unquotable ages. And seriously, Craig Anderson should stop that shot. 

About Steve Lepore

Steve Lepore is a writer for Bloguin and a correspondent for SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.