Monday, June 15, 2009

Being a Red Wings Fan in Vancouver

I am proud to confess that I have been a Red Wings fan for virtually my entire life. I latched on well before puberty, and on my tenth birthday I was privileged enough to attend a Wings game at Joe Louis Arena and to attend the LA Kings practice the next day. I got to have a sit down chat with Marty McSorley, after the practice and have my picture taken with him, while I was dressed head to toe in Red Wings gear. I have nothing but the fondest memories of Marty, and on my death bed I will herald him as one of the kindest ambassadors of the game of hockey that I have ever met. In 1993, I was a student in a class swarming with bitter Leaf fans. When Detroit went up 3 games to 1 in the series, I went to class early the next day and decorated the classroom with Red Wings paraphernalia. When Toronto came back and won the series, thanks to Nikolay Borshevsky, I was devastated. My dad had to drag me out of bed kicking and screaming the next day to take me to school.

When the Wings lost to San Jose in 1994, I was equally devastated. When the Wings lost the New Jersey in the Cup final in 1995 thanks to the introduction of the neutral zone trap, I was once again devastated. When Detroit won in 1997, I was literally bouncing off the walls, and eventually found myself on my knees in front of the television crying tears of joy when Steve Yzerman accepted Lord Stanley’s Cup. Then Detroit won again the next season, and I was equally as excited when they won it for Vladdy Konstantinov who was in a wheelchair. I was spoiled with success and finally those Montreal Canadians fans at my high school who continued to come at me with “have you ever been alive to see your team win a Championship?” finally shut up. When Detroit won again in 2002, I was happy, but not ecstatic. As a sports fan with championships, there are diminishing marginal returns of happiness. Such that when the Wings won again in 2008, I was happy but not excited. I didn’t even watch the clinching game because I didn’t need to in order to derive pleasure from the experience.

In 2005, I moved to Vancouver. I always liked the Canucks, but once I moved here I adopted the home team as my own because I had already been spoiled with success and I would rather see my home team win than my favourite team. I worked for Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment, I love the city of Vancouver, and I have plenty of Canucks merchandise in my possession. I put up the Canucks car flags every year in the playoffs, when they have made the playoffs, because I want the city in which I live to share in the joy that I once felt seeing Steve Yzerman hoist the Cup.

This year, I was still cheering for the Canucks, but when I went out onto the golf course I proudly wore my Wings jersey. It is fun to wear a hockey jersey on a golf course, ala Happy Gilmore, because a lot of hockey fans golf and it invites conversation. So I wore my Wings jersey every day that I golfed throughout the playoffs, and despite being in a hockey hot bed, nobody said anything to me. So when the Wings lost to the Penguins Friday night, I already had my Saturday tee time booked. I was torn, do I wear the golf shirt, or do I suck it up, be a fan, and continue wearing my Wings jersey? Note that I do wear a Canucks hat with my Wings jersey, so the locals know that I do support the local team. I have noticed that some people to gaze in my direction with a look of confusion, but fuck it, I am a life long Wings fan who also cheers for the Canucks.

On Saturday, I wore the Wings jersey after they lost in the Cup finals as a social experiment in a hockey mad market just to see if any of the locals would say anything to me. When I showed up at the course, a few locals pounding back some beers at the clubhouse looked at me and pointed. As I passed, one of them said “it takes a lot of pride to wear that jersey today” and I responded with “4 Stanley Cups in a little over a decade, I have nothing to be ashamed of”, and that shut them up. After golfing 18, my buddy (wearing his Leafs jersey) and I went to another course to golf a round of twilight. When I got there, the grumpy old man working the pro shop (who saw me wearing the Wings jersey all playoffs) said to me “it is time to stop wearing that jersey” and I came back with “no, I am 24/7/365 and I have nothing to be ashamed of. Unlike Canucks fans who at the nearest sign of adversity start jumping off the bandwagon like Robert Downey Jr at Mardi Gras, I will continue to support my team through better and worst.” He had no response.

In closing, I want to see Vancouver win a championship. I have shirts and hats and will support them. But this was the first time that I wore a Red Wings jersey the day after they were eliminated from the playoffs, and I was still proud of my team. In my life growing up in Northern Ontario, I was pretty much alone as a Red Wings fan. I knew a few others, but most hockey fans in North Bay supported Toronto or Montreal. In grade 9 in 1994, I even played on a hockey team with one of the few Red Wings fans in my city. He was killed in a car accident in the middle of the winter, and my father (our coach) gave the eulogy at his funeral. Near the end of his eulogy he said when you go up to heaven, Craig will be the one wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey. This tragic death happened before Detroit won their first Cup in 50 years in 1997. Each of the four times they have won the Championship since; I have glanced up into the heavens and thought to myself, I know one soul up there who is happy right now. That is why I made the decision to wear the jersey whether they won or lost, because I know there is at least one eye in the sky who held his chin up high.

1 comment:

  1. I think that story is illustrative of just how much of a "hockeytown" Detroit is and how loyal Wings fans are - especially compared to the complacent Leafs Nation. Case in point - look at the hundreds of thousands signing up at to bring some competition to the Blue/White.