The Rink Rat

All words  and music in this article are via Alan Murphy (Jump the Shark).

The Rink Rat

The smell of the arena, rink rats love it; it is something you love or you do not. Like most Canadians it is that smell that we will always associate with the game played on the ice. It is something about how the atmosphere, how the ice mixes with the aroma of the popcorn, nachos and other kinds of food that are now sold in arenas around the world that mixes together. That odor, for me, is the most addictive and compelling aspect of the rink experience.

After 15 years of living in the United Kingdom that smell had become somewhat distant and almost forgotten; then I went to games in St Petersburg, Cologne, Paris, Stockholm and Cardiff. And it was like I was transported back to the arena of my youth; the atmosphere was the same and so was the game. It took me awhile to figure out how to do it, but I now spend most of my free time during the hockey season in Europe to travel around to different leagues, levels and countries.

There is one thing I have learned and it is something that will offend many Canadians. What is that? Other countries love the game just as much as any Canadian and some show more love and respect for the game than Canadians have done in recent times. As crazy as it sounds, the biggest difference I have witnessed between the Europe and North American audiences is the respect level shown in the arena to their fellow fans, the product on the ice and those involved in the game.

You take in a game in nearly any arena in Canada and you will hear some very adult language  and often drunken altercation between opposition fans. Those are something I have rarely seen in European arenas. There is a good banter between fans of the different clubs and there is a fair bit of cat calling aimed towards the ice but nowhere near the language level you will hear in arenas in North America.

But if you mention hockey in Europe or any league played here to a North American fan you will get the look that is associated to old English teacher looking down at an impish child.

Hockey is the unofficial religion and language to most Canadians and any suggestion that any other countries fans could come close to loving the game as much as a Canadian would be answered with actions that would mirror those of Salem witch trials. While hockey may not be as popular here in Europe as it is in Canada, the fans are as passionate and as loyal as any Canadian fan. If not more and show more respect to the players than North American fans in recent times.

A couple of things have happened with NHL players where the reaction of European fans and North American fans were different.  First we have the Vegas Knights fiasco (which is what it ended up being) with Vadim Shipachyov  and then the comments of Jordan Eberle about how his tour with the Edmonton Oilers ended. Two different situations but in both cases we saw fans make whipping boys out of the players and ridicule their comments that became public.

In the case of Shipachyov the situation was pretty clear cut. He is a 30 year old pro hockey player, married with children who signed to play with the expansion Knights. Things went sideways pretty quickly and we may never know the full story. From what has been made public, Shipachyov was sent to the Knights AHL team in Chicago and by all indications it was a one way ticket. The next thing we heard was the player went home. Nearly every media outlet portrayed the player as a spoiled Russian player who was not willing to earn his bones to play in the NHL.

Some reports say Shipchyov had brought his wife and kids over and for me this plays a key reason why he jumped on a plane and went home. There’s about 1400 miles between Chicago and Las Vegas as about the same from St Petersburg Russia and Greenland. Why is this important? We do not know how well his family spoke English and how set up Vegas Knights were to aid families of players sent to the farm. Teams work years to perfect and improve the well-being of families of the players off the ice. Vegas is a new team and they are starting from scratch, so no one outside of the team has any real idea of they are built to help the families of players either traded or sent to the farm. In the case of Shipchyov it is not like dropping a person from Regina, Saskatchewan into Las Vegas, this was dropping a family from a different country and different language into the unknown.

Most of the media reports took shots at Shipchyov as a self-centred entitled player who was not a team player and the fans called him a stereo typical Russian player who thought of no one but himself. For me, if he did bring his family over and they had settled in Vegas only have the Chicago demotion dropped on them, is a very important matter of why he jumped on a plane and left. It was a family issue. Teams spend years trying to build a structure on making sure a family is properly taken care of when the player is either on the road, traded or sent to the farm. Vegas is still building theirs and we have no idea who it compares to other teams.

I can tell you from my experience, support systems are not built overnight and take years, keep adapting and improving as the demand dictates. We do not know how the Knights support system is and how this may have played a part in what happened. When it comes to that information, nhl player and teams are tighter lipped the la cosa nostra when Lucky Luciano ran it or simply put “first rule of fight club? Don’t talk about fight club!”

Then we got the Eberle situation in Edmonton. No one was shocked he was traded. Was it due to a trade request or that the team just needed a change (I think it is more of the former then the latter). Over the years I have talked to several former NHLERs, some who played with the Oilers and some who played on hockey hot spots. And in talking with them they all had similar stories of how hard it is to play in cities that are hockey mad. Many said they grew to hate the game due to the 24/7 attention they got and all the media and fan criticism they received on a regular basis.

Jorden Eberle made a comment on it and got ripped to shreds by both the media and fans for saying the pressure in Edmonton was getting out of hand. Before I defend his comments, I need to explain why they were getting bad and would only get worse. As with many players, Eberle is on a contract that pays him a lot of money and in the 2016/2017 regular season he had a down season, not hitting 20 goals until the last few games of the season and being paid for being a goal scorer that is a bad thing. And then in the playoffs, his struggles continued to the level of during the oilers run in the playoffs he got no goals and only 2 assists in 13 playoff games. Media and fans were all over Eberle’s performance or lack thereof.

That is when the ghost of Justin Schultz may have made an appearance to Eberle. Justin Schultz was a highly touted D-man they oilers signed a few years ago and his run with the oilers ended with him being booed off the ice by oiler fans and run out of town by the Edmonton media.

Eberle had front row seats to how both the media and fans treated Schultz who had signed as a UFA with the oilers and saw that once the city and media turned against Schultz they never let up. Shortly before he was traded Schultz was reportedly nearly in tears due an entire arena letting him know what they thought; and it was his home arena.

Eberle saw that once the city and media turned against Schultz he was never going to be able to get himself out of that corner.  On June 22nd the Oilers gave him away to the NY Islanders for former first rounder Ryan Strome and on November 25th when Eberle made a statement he was happy to be traded so he could rebuild his confidence, he got ripped again by the fans and media saying it was not their jobs to be nice to him or handle him with kid gloves. Most of the people offended by his comments never played a pro sport or even stepped on any field at a high level; so they refused to accept they were part of the problem.

How does that compare with how the European fans I have dealt with? Fans can be rough with players, but they do not take them out behind the barn and tear them a new one on a regular basis. I attended a game in Czech Republic a few years ago, season ending game for a home team that was dead last in the standing and had a horrible year. Did the fans boo the team off the ice, toss jerseys on the ice or burn players in effigy? Nope. For the most part it was “we’ll get them next year” in reference to the other teams.

The biggest difference I see in how players are treated between the NHL and the European leagues is that players in the NHL are not looked at as not being human but animals in cages where you pay $40 to bang against the glass, toss bottles at them and hurl abusive language at them. Media and fans say that they are well paid for their job and should shut up and do their jobs. It is one thing the abuse players receive in the visiting arenas and something completely different in what is their home arena.  The word “fan” is the short form of “fanatics” and when the word fanatic is thrown around it is usually in a bad sense.  Can you be a fan without being a fanatic? Can you be a fan without making a player regret stepping on the ice for your favourite team? Can you be a fan without making a player regret ever picking up the game?

It is a two way street. I lived in Edmonton in the 1980’s during the glory years and I can tell you stories of how 4th liners or black aces were treated like gods when they went out in public. But the game has changed from a 21 to 31 team league and it now takes more and longer to win the Stanley Cup that all players and fans want to win. Organizations will suffer more down times then up times. Only 1 team wins the cup every year and that means 30 fans bases get to complain about why their team lost and to rip their players for not being good enough. And the media gets to pick out a whipping boy every year to pick on and in a place like Edmonton, I would not want to be the whipping boy as it would never let up. I have never seen fans grow to like a player after deciding he was the whipping boy.

Many years ago a famous hockey player complained about how players were treated like a piece of meat by teams. Now, it looks like the players are treated like pieces of meat by fans and media alike without caring of the fact of how the booing or multiple bad press articles affects the players.

In looking how the media and fans reacted to both the Shipchyov and Eberle situations, I am sadden to think that both the fans and media have lost touch with humanity over the subject of how to deal with a fellow human being. This reminds me of the SPEECH from movie network and described the future of journalism in 1977

If it bleeds it leads. Media and fans no longer engage each other, they seemingly just engage to enrage and have little interest in being nice with the product on the ice, whether it be a 17 year old kid playing his first game in the NHL or 35 year old vet trying to make it one more year. They are more interested in ripping them apart then building either of them up.

My experience in watching games in Europe is that fans would rather build up a player with a slap on the back to say we will get them next year then they are to burn them in effigy like so many hockey fans do in North America.

I am a hockey fan and in watching and reading the responses to the Shipchyov and Eberle situations, it seems to me even the most passive hockey fans does want to even consider as fans they may be part of the problem and not part of the solution when things go wrong with their team. Seem to me they do not care that the players are human not robots. For me, if you want to see the true colours of teams fans base—suffer a few losing seasons and see how they react.

This concerns me.

Next blog will be about a road trip I am taking with the Cardiff Devils booster club on the 27th of December for the game against Coventry. Again it won’t be about the on ice product but about the fans, the love of the team and the players. Have a good Christmas! Remember those out there who are spending their Holidays alone.

Twitter handle @jtshark71

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18 Responses to "The Rink Rat"

  1. Lloyd B. says:

    I was a rink rat in my youth. I still recall the smell of the arena.

    We did not have to take power skating lessons because we pushed the scrapers to get the snow off the ice.

    I thought the guy that would walk on the ice with the crampons on his boots flooding the arena had the the coolest job. Thankfully I never found out.

    LT.. What a most excellent guest article. If this is what we can expect, please keep them coming.

    All the best to you in the new year.

  2. J-Bo says:

    I am in total agreement with this article. It should be front page news and jtshark should be interviewed on HNIC. This is a major issue that has angered me many times attending an Oilers game. I loved when Ben Scrivens threw the jersey back into the crowd in a game a few years back. Frankly I am tired of mean, crude, and rude fans! While I’m at it, can we all quit getting sloppy drunk and/or dropping 75 f-bombs a minute at the games right beside little children??!! The general lack of class and common courtesy of many fans at the games, and online, is alarming and discouraging.

  3. 99217 says:

    I think when Eberle failed, on a number of occasions, to backcheck with max effort that the fans turned on him. When management gave the 6 mil. deals to 4,14,93 it was shockingly stupid and doomed now 2 talented players to be traded.

    Would Eberle have been moved if his aav was 3.5-4.5 mil? Possibly not, and would talk of Nuge moving or the Hall/ Larsson trade happen if management was more responsible with money? They may all be worth 6 mil. now but this would be the first year I would agree with that assessment.

    Management needs to share blame(with the fans&media) for Hall and Eberle’s exit comments because they didn’t show any foresight regarding the potential that these players would not perform to the value of those contracts that early in their careers.

    I also agree that this article was interesting and educational regarding fan attitude and behaviour across the pond.

  4. dustrock says:

    JTS great job as always.

    Funny how you’ve seen Euro fans generally treat the players & each other better than in North America.

    Wonder how that differs from how they treat other fans & players in soccer.

  5. N64 says:

    dustrock:
    JTS great job as always.

    Funny how you’ve seen Euro fans generally treat the players & each other better than in North America.

    Wonder how that differs from how they treat other fans & players in soccer.

    Had the same thought. Here it’s hockey that stirs frantic fantasy. 12 months a year hockey is the only full time story and the players are fuel for armchair asshattery . Most fan bases don’t respond well to players walking. But cooking them still on the vine is a special talent that does not bode well for Stanley in Canada.

  6. Ari says:

    Beautiful article. Well-timed given the holiday season.

    “Engage to enrage” concept blows my mind because it’s so true.

    You’re right, we are all human beings. A shame that we have to be reminded of it

  7. StixMalone says:

    Great writing. Personally I feel in a blue collar world we complain about players a lot. Not about the player personally, just the big $$$ the said player gets paid. Most of us get paid 9-5. We cannot comprehend someone making more in 3 hrs than most make in a year. The cost of a ticket to watch a game live is out of reach for a lot of people. Doesn’t mean we can’t still be fans.

  8. Kbobbyg says:

    To be fair, the reason for the more respectfull fans is probably that ice hockey isn’t number one. I live in a city in Europe (Dresden) where Ice Hockey is a very distance number two to soccer. The ice hockey fans are very passionate and respectfull as stated in the article. They pride themselves on this fact and tell all people who misbehave at games that they should go to the soccer games instead. The soccer fans from Dresden have one of the worst reputations in the whole country. The point being you have a choice, if you prefer a more disrespectfull or should I say a more raw sporting experience you go to a soccer game. If the people didn’t have that option the ice hockey games would also have more disrepectfull fans. In fact during the soccer winter break the ice hockey games actually take a turn for the worse.
    The media and fans singling out players is always awfull. The main excuse always seems to be that the players earn so much money and therfore have to put up with almost anything. This completely disregards scientifitic studies stating that any salary over around 50000 a year doesn’t make you happier at all. This means regarding family, stress and pressure you should treat the players as if they were only earning 50 grand a year.

  9. mumbai max says:

    Thanks Alan and Mr Christmas Lowetide

    Thanks for this thoughtful article for the morning after Christmas. I believe that there is more humanity compassion and civility required in the world in general, as well as in this particular arena.

    With all due respect and a tiny ironic wink, I also wanted to make an observation and a suggestion if allowed.

    One of the joys of this blog is the combination of great content and great style. Mr Mitchell’s writing is lyrical and concise. The writing quality itself is the missing ingredient in almost all hockey blogs. Your passion and humanity shine forth from your writing. As the cherry on top, I would suggest an editor with a sharp red pencil to tighten and hone your message.

    I look forward to begin reading your blog to hear your refreshing viewpoint.

    Please enjoy the rest of the holiday season.

  10. Pretendergast says:

    I would argue alot of the fan vitriol for many players stemmed out of management.

    It was quite obvious in this blog that Schultz was not a first pairing defender for example. We knew sheltered 3rd pairing and PP minutes would play to his strengths but it never happened.

    You say players are vilified, well management seems to have some sort of screen at least when it comes to the MSM where they are rarely, if ever, criticized. Therefore frustrations had to be vented somehow.

    Only available outlet? Product on the ice. Should it be this fanatical? NO! But we are here. The only difference is the fall guys are making more money than many if not all on this blog combined, which really doesn’t jive with the workman effort Edmontonians expect.

    I still think people hated Hall because he was too pretty.

  11. Johnny Larue says:

    I have been a season ticket holder for 23 years and while I would never boo an Oiler player or throw a Jersey on the ice I do understand the sentiment. The fans have supported their team through thick and thin and most of them will never make in a lifetime what some make in one year. What causes the vitriol is the perceived lack of effort or caring by the players . The fans only want to see that the players care and are trying that’s what players such as Ryan Symth or Bucky we’re beloved. In the cas of Shultz especially it looked like he was just going through the motions and didn’t care. That’s were the expression Jultzing came from. The fans passion is a double edged sword if you’re trying even if you’re not the best you will be loved but if you’re indifferent watch out the fans wrath is enternal

  12. flyfish1168 says:

    Johnny Larue:
    I have been a season ticket holder for 23 years and while I would never boo an Oiler player or throw a Jersey on the ice I do understand the sentiment. The fans have supported their team through thick and thin and most of them will never make in a lifetime what some make in one year. What causes the vitriol is the perceived lack of effort or caring by the players . The fans only want to see that the players care and are trying that’s what players such as Ryan Symth or Bucky we’re beloved. In the cas of Shultz especially it looked like he was just going through the motions and didn’t care. That’s were the expression Jultzing came from. The fans passion is a double edged sword if you’re trying even if you’re not the best you will be loved but if you’re indifferent watch out the fans wrath is enternal

    I agree with you on what you have said. I just like to add in that sometimes the pressure to perform is so great on these young players that they are playing scared to make a mistake. Also, I believe playing with injuries or sick happens more often than we are made aware. For about a two week stretch there Connor played sick and Oscar played with a nagging injury. These things have an effect on their performance.

  13. Jethro Tull says:

    The notion that the media or fans influence management’s decision to trade a player are a fallacy. Nobody gets ‘run out of town’.

    If you believe this to be true, then you must also accept the rumours about the players; that they had a massive sense of entitlement and there was a party culture. These weren’t the 80’s Oilers. They weren’t so good they could still play half-cut and win a Stanley.

    I don’t believe the rumours anymore than I believe we have any influence on executive decisions.

    And an Eberle trade request? I’m not sure that holds water….pretty sure that would have leaked.

  14. The Trade Guy says:

    I do like the part where its mentioned that once Eberle was in the doghouse, he knew he couldn’t get out.

    That feels so very true about Edmonton (and probably other teams). Nuge may have climbed out a bit with his strong play, but I think a chunk of the fans are looking at the cap hit, and their preconceived notions of the player, and want to spend the cap on the next big thing.

    Oiler fans always have to have whipping boys, and it becomes completely detached from what’s going on on the ice.

    I don’t watch hockey much anymore, but LT’s blog does provide attachment to the game. To read the comments I would think Lucic was a disaster, but the boxcars look pretty damn good? Sure he’s going to decline as he goes deeper into his contact, but he seems to be doing good things out there.

    If I were a GM of the Oilers. I would probably sign a Russell, and give him extra money just to be my lightning rod for lazy and angry fans. I figured he was doing his usual, bleeding chances and blocking shots, but that offense he posted this year…

    Now the goalies. “#(*$#(*$(*##$$@”

  15. Whatif says:

    Many fans see ‘their team’ as a reflection of themselves. In their personal lives they are not outrageously successful; they don’ t make a bundle of money; they aren’t famous; they aren’t idolized and they aren’t champions.

    As fans of ‘their team’ they are totally devoted. How many times have you heard the phrase ” so and so bleeds copper and blue”?

    So when a ‘player’ or ‘the team’ fails to meet fan expectations, the anonymous attacks begin. From behind the glass, in the crowd, as anonymous critics. Fans also hide on the internet. Their anonymity is guaranteed so they are emboldened to say things they would never have the courage to say face to face.

    It takes courage to play hockey at the NHL level.

    It does not take courage for supposed fans to attack and vilify the players or management.

    Here is hoping that 2018 can be a class act for Oiler fans.

  16. SoCaloil says:

    Great write up

    Over the years I have wondered whether the fact that players are constantly under the microscope in the Canadian market has negatively influenced their lack of on ice success and inability to bring the cup “home”

    Maybe maybe not since ’04 ’06 ’07 ’11 being close but no cigar. But who knows
    One must say that Edm is not the only market with such hefty issues Look at Lou in Van or Kessel and Phanouf in TO

  17. littleenglish says:

    Although I agree fans of sports in general need to chill out, I think NHL players have it easy compared to EPL players where you reside. If players here can’t handle the pressure, no worries get traded down south.

    Can’t say the same about those who play top flight football where the pressure is probably even more immense playing in front of 70k rabid fanatics in Old Trafford, or pretty much any city with a top flight team. Hell, even the second highest division in England could rival the pressures of the NHL.

    So, it doesn’t make what’s happening right, but part of the job description should be having thick, ductile skin.

    Also the article could have been done without the hyperbole and conjecture.

  18. frenchfrog says:

    What the heck is with all this “beautiful writing” and “great writing” stuff?

    Are you guys for real?

    “It is something about how the atmosphere, how the ice mixes with the aroma of the popcorn, nachos and other kinds of food that are now sold in arenas around the world that mixes together.”

    “Other countries love the game just as much as any Canadian and some show more love and respect for the game than Canadians have done in recent times.” (Done? How is love and respect “done” again?)

    “you will hear some very adult language and often drunken altercation between opposition fans.”

    “you will get the look that is associated to old English teacher”

    That was only in the first few paragraphs! I’m sorry but if this was a high school English paper, it would fail. The grammar and sentence use is awful.

    Readability is incredibly important when it comes to articles. This needs to be scrapped and rewritten with someone helping you with the basics of the written language.

    It’s not personal, but I’m serious, you need to work on your writing. Get Lowetide to help you edit.

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