Ultimately, we all want the same thing, right?
In the words of Jeri Blank, "I got something to say."
Friday evening, I stumbled upon a little something called The Girl's Guide to Watching the Rangers. I was intrigued, as a girl (and definitely not a Rangers fan) to see what this tailor-made manual could offer me and my "kind". After I read the entire "article," the resulting Twitter-rage made sense.
Of course, the most superficial offense is the fact that it's a girl's guide to watching hockey. It's littered with the stereotypes that kick the feminist movement back several decades. (For the record, I get excited over hockey news and 70% off sales; the latter excitement is also partially-related to my day job.) But what really rubbed me the wrong way was the fact that a woman had written it. (Way to make the sisterhood look bad with your projected lack of self worth.)
All of us fans, male and female, have our own tales about entering the fandom. Some are born into a hockey-hungry family; others develop an appreciation for it due to a significant other, friend, or relative; several fall into it because it sparks their own independent interests. In any case, each of us has our own guide for getting into the sport we love.
I've two brothers, no sisters. Both siblings are die-hard hockey fans. I have vivid memories of my older brother quizzing a 4-year-old me in the back seat of the car on team names. ("Montreal..." "...CANADIENS!") I longed to strap on my Barbie roller skates, grab a stick, and join the neighborhood street hockey games. (This would change when I got older...and was allowed to play in the street.) My younger brother wanted me to play NHL 94 with him until the Sega Genesis exploded, mostly because I was easier to play against than the computer. (As much as I like playing them, I'm terrible at most video games. Except Street Fighter.)
I'll admit that I joined the hard-core hockey (Flyers) fandom when I was 12. Driving home from a family function, my older brother begged my parents to turn the radio to WIP so he could listen to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Flyers and Rangers. At this point in my life, hockey was merely a passing interest, and I would have preferred listening to music over garbled speech. (Yes, remember when WIP was on AM radio?) Annoyed by my protest, my dear elder brother said something that, for some reason, pierced my heart:
"What do you mean you don't want to listen to the game? You're the only person in Philadelphia who doesn't care!"
Ouch. Such hyperbole, and yet, I didn't want to be the only person in Philadelphia who didn't care! When my school held its Stanley Cup Finals pep rally, my mom outfitted me in whatever Flyers shirt my brothers weren't wearing. I cheered as each name on the Flyers roster was announced, not showing much favoritism toward any of them because, hey, they were all the same guys to me back then.
Game 1, I was glued to the television screen from the puck drop to the final horn. Game 2, same scenario. Then, Game 3. Finally, Game 4.
I had gone from being the "only person in Philadelphia who didn't care" to the girl who cried her heart out when her new favorite team lost.
June 1997 was a bittersweet time for me -- I hopped on the bandwagon, but I refused to jump off. In defeat, I gained an understanding, an appreciation for the sport of hockey (and, of course, the Philadelphia Flyers). I wanted more. I joined hockey message boards and learned all about the Flyers and the NHL. (I had to keep it a secret from my parents, for if they found out I was talking to strangers on the Internet, I'd be banned from using the computer until college.) Of course, I had my brothers to count on to give me tips in a more "parent-friendly" way. (Also, I think they both relished the fact that sis was finally becoming a legit hockey fan.) In fall 1997, Comcast SportsNet was introduced, which meant I could watch every single Flyers game, in addition to national broadcasts. (Before that, most games were on PRISM, and we only kept that for so many years until we said to Hell with premium channels.) I was set.
Eventually, I had a new favorite player -- Rod Brind'Amour. There was something him that I really liked. Was it his work ethic? His leadership? The way he tucked his jersey into the back of his hockey pants? The fact that he was, ahem, kinda ripped? (Remember: I'm 12 and at the corner of Puberty and Feelings.) In any case, Brindy was my number one, and his jersey was the first of many I had ever owned (black 3rd jersey, 1997-98).
When I entered high school, I made several life-long friends via hockey. Oh yeah, I went to an all-girls school. My girlfriends and I were known as the Flyers Clique. We went to games, practices, autograph signings. Hell, I even ditched my junior prom to go to a late-season game with one of my best girlfriends. Did we ogle players? Yes. We were teenage girls. But we were also capable of holding meaningful conversations about hockey. I didn't follow *nsync and BSB or any of those other boy bands (save for 2ge+her = RIP QT), I followed hockey players. Sure, I could tell you how much Justin Williams made my heart aflutter (or maybe that was the birth defect?), but I could also tell you that he played right wing and quote his stat line for his NHL rookie season by heart.
This post from Stanley Cup of Chowdah -- a rival team blog -- is what inspired me to share my story, my guide, if you will. Two points really stood out to me:
Again, I became a hockey fan at a time in my life when I outgrew cooties. I found (and still do find) some hockey players attractive. It's not the sole reason I pay attention to the sport, but it's a bonus. And that's not to say that I only like the "cute" ones. (Rod Brind'Amour, the one with the bod? He broke his nose about 85 times. He was considered an acquired taste in the looks department.) Ignoring the fact that SCoC uses Sidney Crosby as their example (Really? You couldn't go with, say, Lundqvist? :wink: :nudge:), I agree that finding a hockey player handsome should not immediately void any other meaningful opinions a woman would have about the sport. I'm fortunate to not be able to recall any incident in which a group of men belittled my hockey knowledge because I am a girl. Then again, the guys I know are rather awesome, and I've been fortunate to avoid those types of people. But I know it's not an uncommon scenario in the hockey fandom, and it's not limited to otherwise male-centric hobbies.
It’s been said a lot lately, but clearly it’s a point that still needs making: men and women are hockey - sports - fans in pretty much the exact same ways. The part of a woman which might think that Michael Del Zotto is dreamy has absolutely nothing to do with the hockey fan part of her, which might question whether his power play prowess is worth dealing with his defensive zone lapses amidst relatively sheltered minutes.
And to that I say, amen. Hey, Claude, you're kinda cute and all, but especially for a newly-minted captain, you're taking some really moronic penalties lately -- snap out of it and become more disciplined. (Tell your teammates the same thing, kay thanks!) I don't care what you look like -- don't dog it out there! You look like a pizza? You score a game-winning goal in OT or successfully break up a 3-on-1? I don't care. I love ya.
Meanwhile, SCoC references this post from Up the Pucks, which seems to suggest some sort of dissension among women hockey fans:
Ladies, if I see you in a star's shirtsey or sweater, I doubt I'll strike up a conversation with you for the sole reason that I assume that you're a no-nothing fangirl or wannabe puck bunny or just wearing it to appease your significant other.
Harsh, but I very much held similar views in high school. (Although to be fair, these girls thought Ruslan Fedotenko was Russian. Oy.) I'd say I'm a lot more relaxed now in this view. but every so often I'll wait for a female fan to prove that she's more than the Brayden Schenn shirtsey she's wearing. Maybe it's because I'm inherently catty? (As I said, I seldom, if ever, came across this behavior. At least knowingly.) Perhaps I need to hold men to this standard, too -- I've come across male hockey fans who had as much knowledge about the sport as a potato. (At least few were honest and told me they're playoff bandwagon jumpers.)
So I'm not perfect. I don't claim to be a walking Hockey Night in Canada Encyclopedia. I'm still trying to learn how in the hell Corsi works. (I'm working on it, promise.) I find some players cute. I appreciate the muckers-and-grinders. I know icing isn't just on birthday cake (and that it should be hybrid by now). I can sometimes catch an offsides before the officials do (even if my fellow fans would prefer to argue otherwise.) I know the Flyers last won a cup before I was a twinkle in my parents' eyes and it sucks. I believe fighting should remain in the game. I think the Flyers defense misses Matt Carle more than they could imagine (but no, he wasn't worth over 4 million dollars.) I've been to the Hockey Hall of Fame twice and while I admire the copious amount of history crammed within, I still think the announcer booth is the funnest thing on display there. I attended my first (and only) NHL draft in Toronto in 2002 by a remarkable chance -- and no, it wasn't for the first round but it was still one hell of an experience. (Ahren Nittel was sitting about 5 rows ahead of me when he was drafted by the New Jersey Devils.) I tend to judge rival fans (male and female), but I've also been able to create some wonderful friendships with those who cheer for opposing teams (even division rivals!). I'm sure other fans judge me, too -- hell, you're likely forming an opinion of my fandom based on this ~2,000 word post!
There's no such thing as a perfect fan. We're drawn to this great game for different reasons. Each of us has our own guide by which we followed. We wrote it, or co-wrote it, as we saw fit. Do we need someone else to tell us how to do it the right way, in accordance to gender? Of course not. It's our story to write, to share with others if we so wish so that they, too, can craft their own guide. I know I'm grateful for my guide to hockey. And in the end, no matter your gender, your guide should be all that matters to you.