Sunday, June 19, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
The good old tradition of the good old hockey game continued to flourish this week in Vancouver.
Burning, overturned cars, widespread looting, drunken brawls dozens of injuries, a million dollars in damage.
Sadly, sports fans, streets riots are as much a part of hockey as fighting, concussions and thuggery on ice.
In an orgy of hand wringing some, including the cops, are suggesting the rioting was caused by a tiny band of thieves and anarchists.
No it wasn't. For six nights all was calm on Georgia Street. It was only when Vancouver lost the Cup that the riots broke out.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae nailed it when he said; "To lay this at the door of a few agitators ignores the numbers who egged on the destruction of property and the confrontation with the police."
Hockey riots have become a nasty component of the game going back to the Rocket Richard riots in Montreal on St. Patrick's Day in 1955.
Montreal fans seem to have a pronounced proclivity for post game mayhem.
Last year, fans looted stores along St. Catherine Street. They've hit the bricks and thrown bricks in 1986, 1993 and 2008.
Edmonton staged its version in 2006 when the Oilers won something or other and of course there was the other Vancouver riot in 1994 when 50,000 fans took out their frustration at losing to the New York Rangers on downtown stores. More than 200 people were injured and property damage totalled more than a million dollars.
Even amateur hockey sets off primal destructive inclinations.
In May 2006, the University of Minnesota hockey team won the national college championship and then all hell broke loose.
One of the odd things about a hockey riot---it doesn't seem to matter whether the hometown favorite wins or loses. Mobs will riot just as vigorously over a loss as well as a win.
But there has to be a connection between what happens on the ice and what happens in the streets, doesn't there?
Has anybody ever studied or even stopped to consider why hockey seems to engender urges to pillage in its adherents more than other sports?
Yes there are serious soccer riots in Europe but they seem to be sparked by organized gangs of hooligans, usually British.
Baseball melees are usually confined to the diamond. I don't know of any tennis riots.
I think there are a couple of possible answers.
Hockey is an extremely fast and extremely violent sport. It is the only team sport I can't think of where fighting is not only tolerated and condoned but is actively encouraged.
Vancouver fans were disappointed earlier in the series when one of their guys was suspended for nearly decapitating a Boston player.
Is it not possible that the thuggery on ice can be replicated with thuggery in the streets?
Apologists for this kind of behaviour will argue that the fighting, the bone-cracking checks, the latest concussed player carried off the ice on a stretcher give the game a bad name.
Sorry but what gives hockey a bad name, is the hockey itself.
I went to the most famous hockey high school in the world. I was thrilled to see Frank Mahovlich in the cafeteria lineup and to have Gerry Cheevers and Dave Keon in my class. It was a great day when I met Bobby Orr years later in a CBC studio.
But that was a hundred years ago. The essential nature of the way the game is played and all the attendant hype have changed hockey and to my mind not for the better.
Because of the money at stake, the salaries, the fierceness of the competition, hockey has become a sophisticated version of rollerball.
The national game is in danger of morphing into the national shame.