As a Maple Leafs fan, I used to not care about a game between the Habs and the Sens. The two teams would put a passionate hockey fan addicted to Red Bull to sleep. But things got intense in the first two games in the opening round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was lots of contact, heated words exchanged, and the determination on both sides to beat each other up. Kind of reminds me of the Canadiens-Nordiques playoff match-ups in the past where there were more fights than goals. It’s only the start of the post-season but we are already seeing some bad blood being spilled. On the other side of the coast, the Vancouver and Calgary series is so heated, there is no knife sharp enough that can cut through the tension. Bad blood wasn’t limited on the ice. There were brawls happening off the ice as well.
I recently covered an OHL playoff series between the Barrie Colts and the North Bay Battalion. It was not quite as intense but it did deliver drama, great scoring plays, dynamite goaltending, a couple of fights, and plenty of chippiness. The last game of the series saw a large contingent from North Bay making the trip down to Barrie to cheer on the Battalion. Kind of like when Leaf fans would infiltrate the Palladium/Corel Centre/Scotiabank Place/Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. Hearing fans of visiting teams scream louder and annoy the home side adds more fuel to the fire. It makes watching hockey, especially in the playoffs, more interesting to watch.
Part of the reason two teams often despise one another is geographic. The closer the opponents are, the more intense it gets. Ottawa and Montreal, for example, is less than 2 hours from each other. Rivalries aren’t limited to the sport of hockey. Soccer is perhaps the best example where inter-city opponents are often the most hostile. It is not limited to just cities either. There’s been a hate between Canada and the United States that has developed over the last 20 years whether it is in hockey, soccer, baseball, and basketball.
Contrary to what the pacifists who disguise themselves as sports fans say, bad blood is good for sports. And with what is at stake, you need it. This is what makes sports interesting to the spectator. Even noted anti-fighting-in-hockey advocate Mike Wilbon believes players retaliating in sports is welcomed. We are attracted to the participant who is as emotionally involved in the games as those who watch it. We often become skeptical towards multi-million dollar athletes playing in competitive sports. More often than not we don’t see them compete with the same passion and emotion that we normally associate with sports. So when we do see them hit, battle, and show off their animosity to towards their opponent, that appeals to fans like us.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say players should step out of bounds or people should go break the law to display one’s love for their sports team. But you can not take out the emotional component of the game. As long as you have two combatants willing to compete, don’t expect them to leave their hostilities towards each other at the door.