With many hardcore NHL fans now migrating to smaller venues to take in their hockey, there has been a predictable need to adjust yourself to the atmosphere of a small rink. Gone are the days of losing your voice in the gargantuan multi-purpose arena. In are the days of booming your cheers in the little barns sprinkled across the continent.
If we’re doing a face value appraisal of what it’s like to lend your voice to an NHL game, the fact of the matter is that unless you’re sitting next to a bench — or you’re watching a game at the Air Canada Centre, where a conversation in the men’s room echoes throughout the building (zing) — players aren’t going to hear you.
A function of the modern arena has been to further separate fans from on-ice action (Safety. Pfft.), blocking out a considerable amount of sound in the process. Former NHL defenceman, now TSN personality Aaron Ward said semi-recently that the only rink that still captures the vintage feel of a crowd on your back is the Shark Tank in San Jose.
Luckily, this lockout has given us the chance to return to a simpler time, where rinks held less than 10,000 people, fans were closer to benches and ice surfaces and the players skating around could hear every damn word you say.
Many people are put off by heckling. To these people I say: “The internet is a great place for shopping. Find a sense of humor and pick one up.” As I see it, home ice (field, court, whatever iteration you like) advantage is just that, an advantage. If you’re helping tilt the scales further in your team’s direction by increasing the atmosphere, you’re helping out your team and increasing chances of winning.
I’ve never heard a post-game interview with a player who said, “Boy, it sure was quiet out there. It totally messed with my head.” Or a goalie who said, “They didn’t cat-call me or anything. WHAT TYPE OF SADISTIC GAME ARE THEY PLAYING?”
You know what does get talked about? “The fans got on player X and it appeared to be getting to him.”
Ergo, by attending a hockey game, being loud (and proud), and moderately derisive, you make yourself a pretty valuable member of your favorite team.
Here’s how to do it properly.
Pick one or two players and dominate your matchup
You may think picking a star here is a good idea. It’s not. It’s a waste of your hard working voice. The best players are the best players and the odds are they will play well regardless.
Example: Daniel Alfredsson gets booed mercilessly by Leafs fans and has 70 points in 75 games against Toronto. Yup. He’s rattled.
The fact is picking stars is not only a futile exercise, but it’s considerably less fun than picking not-stars. If you ride someone all game long and they are of considerable repute, the odds are high that they will score the game winner. This will lead to you feeling like a jackass, becoming a social paraiah and living evermore as a friendless hermit perpetually steeping in regret.
By picking obscure players, you are not only forced to try harder as a means of overcoming said obscurity, but you will also be privvy to their errors which will bring about your Bronx cheers, and really send momentum in your favour.
Momentum, as a rabble rouser, is an invaluable resource and only the not-so-good will feed you momentum in satisfying heaps.
The other benefit — should you be within earshot of the visiting bench — is your victim will spend more time on the bench, listening to, and seething at, your words. If they turn around and scan the crowd for you, you are winning this battle.
(Note on seating: If you go with the intention of being loud/heckling, seats around the visitor’s bench are ideal, though a close radius around the penalty box also yields fantastic results. If you intend to watch hockey and only that, high seats in the corners are your ticket)
If a third line scrub isn’t your thing, consider one of the goaltenders. The backup sits on the bench with nothing else to do (auto-punchlines) and the starter, under the right circumstances, is cannon fodder for a hostile end of the rink which can potentially lead to embarassing goals against.
Like an enforcer scanning a lineup card before puck drop, pick out your nemesis and prepare yourself for battle.
Wit > Being Rude
It’s no secret that sporting events are family outing destinations and you must tailor your material accordingly. A disturbing trend in modern heckling perhaps underlines a greater trend in the world.
There was a time when society was grand and jeers such as “we want a pitcher, not a belly itcher,” rained down on the world. Today, the modern fan is more content going with, “Bleep you, Player. You bleeping suck.”
Yup. That’s a real knee slapper. Please flex that brain a little harder so we can see how far your genius extends.
I refuse to settle for this, and neither should you. Not only are you increasing your likelihood of ejection, relocation or being banned from the building, you are painfully unfunny to the point where people would welcome Tyler Perry or Kathy Griffin in your place.
I’m saving you the embarassment by letting you know now.
Witty heckling is a practice, and one that requires much fine tuning over many years. There are many online resources on the matter, and I encourage you to absorb them as if you were studying the teaching of Buddha. They will show you the way to heckler zen.
The fact of the matter is that every fan has their own style — much in the same way that every writer has their own voice — and I encourage you to seek out yours. Speaking from experience, I can vouch for great success using longwinded heckles such as “That penalty you took was a poor decision on your part,” or “I have not been impressed with your performance thus far,” or “I guess I won’t be seeing you on All-Star weekend.” The delivery leaves the recipient with added sting because you took the time to form a reasonably coherent sentence while simultaneously insulting them.
I also encourage you to do research prior to games if you know which teams are coming to town. In the social media age, it’s phenomenal how many semi-pro or amateur hockey players don’t understand the concept of “privacy settings” which leads to many excellent forms of material. I happily recall one instance where I inadvertently befriended a college hockey player during a 10 minute misconduct over the topic of Facebook Family Feud as he played that game with some proficiency.
Research adds depth to your heckles, and depth adds quality.
The names of significant others are also in play when you do research, but I should inform you that you’re risking a “Mike Milbury is in the stands” calibre beatdown if you ask number 17 to “Tell Michelle I say Thanks for Friday.”
The more you know.
It’s not all negative
Part of being a good fan is not only berating visiting players, but encouraging your own. While “Rah Rah” fanfare is considerably less humorous and creative, it can still be spun in a way that tears a strip off of the visitors.
Your “Let’s go team” dispositions are a very good thing. They unite people in support behind a worthy cause. Whenever your team appears to need a momentum boost, give them one with your unified, totally not cult-like chanting. There are few things more gratifying than when your team scores during one of these bellowing chants. However, you can also use these successes as ways to continue your quest into the minds of your opposition.
Should your team score a goal — ideally you cheer for one that does such things — the spin of said goal is all up to you. May I suggest something along the lines of, “Thank God you were on the ice Player I’ve Been Ripping On all night. Your team may have done something properly had it not been for you being yourself.”
Not ideal, but the message is just the important part. Something good happened. Yay. Now I direct it at the player I’ve been lampooning all night.
Your past teachers may have told you in school to, “Cheer for our team, leave the other guys alone.” Well, your teachers were wrong. That is a false dichotomy. Cheer for your team AND see if you can get an opponent to cry. This is a multi-tasking world, after all.
Provided you have read and taken notes on the above post, you are now mentally equipped to be an effective, useful fan at a hockey game, given that only rinks where players can hear you are currently being played in.
By zeroing in on a couple of players, opting for wit over outrage and staying positive in negativity, you can effectively provide your team with an added boost in the home ice advantage department.
Also, if you are one of our many wonderful female readers, you should all be aware that your heckles count for double the effectiveness and are more inspirational for the crowd at-large. There’s no science to prove it, but I’ve seen it and heard it with my own eyes. I would write the “Backhand Shelf Guide to things in life that are more awesome than a witty female heckler at a sporting event” but Bacon already has a Wikipedia page.
With this knowledge I implore you all to go forth and make a difference in the world.