I used to have trouble understanding the psychology of the most outraged sort of hockey fan – the Jersey Tosser.
What’s this guy thinking? And not just at the moment of truth, but through the process leading up to it.
The Jersey Tosser goes out and spends $250 on an officlal jersey. It’s got the hologram and everything, which is important if you are stopped on the street by the Official Jersey Police.
Buying the thing isn’t bad enough. He also intends on wearing it out of the house, where other people can see him.
Remember – this is a grown adult who does not play hockey for a living. Yet he wears the uniform of someone who does. I get it. You like hockey. Do you like vacations? Do you dress up like an airplane pilot when you go on a plane?
Having spent all this money in order to look silly, the Jersey Tosser goes to see his team play. It’s not having the greatest night, which will happen a fair amount of the time in the NHL.
But our protagonist has had enough. Between jerseys, platinum seats and enough beer to fill a bathtub he’s down, like, a grand. He’s beginning to think he should have bought a new flatscreen instead. Like all heroes, he is finally angry enough to do something about it.
So he stands up, whips off his jersey and throws it on the ice. Or maybe he brought the jersey separate, and just in case, so that he doesn’t have to go out to the parking lot looking like an out-of-shape Stanley Kowalski.
The Jersey Tosser was at the Vancouver Canucks game on Saturday night. The Canucks got their doors blown off by the Penguins. The booing started long before the game was over. With a couple of ticks left in the third, the Jersey Thrower struck. It was a Bo Horvat jersey. I’m sure Horvat isn’t bothered. He doesn’t get paid either way.
In a very homey, hockey touch, Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin picked up the fallen sweater with his stick blade and tossed it back into the stands – “I’m sorry, sir. I think you may have dropped something. Up and over this 10-foot barrier.”
This never made any sense to me. Is the implied suggestion that you, a grown man who loves the Canucks enough to go around Vancouver kitted out like one of them, are breaking loyalty with the team? That in this moment, your fandom is finished? Come on. This guy will be back. This is a man who got on the bus in a hockey jersey. He’s not going anywhere because he’s got nowhere to go.
But watching the pan-Canadian reaction to recent jersey tossings, I’m starting to get it.
There’s not much an individual hockey fan can do that will register with the team. Twenty thousand of them can get together and jeer, but unless they keep it up game after game, it won’t penetrate.
However, if one well-refreshed doofus chucks a $250 shirt over the boards, all hell breaks loose. It is a widely accepted, hockey-specific visual cue that the 18-wheeler is 16 wheels over the cliff’s edge.
The Canucks were supposed to be okay this year. Not good exactly, but all right. It hasn’t turned out that way.
It’s only tipped over into December and Vancouver’s already out of the playoffs. It can’t score and it can’t stop anyone else from scoring – a bad combo. Things are going so poorly for Elias Pettersson, the presumptive face of the franchise, that he got himself ditched from the No. 1 power-play unit. All the promise of a couple of years ago is curdling.
Matters are not helped by the fact that the two other western teams, Calgary and Edmonton, are carving up the NHL. If only Vancouver were closer to Ottawa, maybe this wouldn’t look so bad.
But until Saturday, this was all rolling at a slow boil. It’s only been 25 games. Slumps happen, even long ones. Sometimes you need to have a bad year before you can have a few good ones. I can do this all day long.
Then the jersey was tossed.
The headline wasn’t that the Canucks got judo-flipped again. It was, per Sportsnet, “Jersey tossed on the ice is sign of the times for the Vancouver Canucks.”
A jersey gets tossed and it’s not just a bad night. It’s a sign of the times. And the times are apocalyptic.
Everyone loves a sports meltdown, especially when it’s happening to someone else. Every vulture in the NHL is currently adjusting its flight pattern to begin circling Rogers Arena.
One Jersey Tosser begets more jersey tossers. Each additional jersey tossed adds exponentially to management’s image problem. All of a sudden, no one’s watching the players. They’re watching the stands. From which section will the next unmistakable emblem of terminal decline be hurled? How many tossed jerseys can a general manager survive? I’m going to say no more than a dozen on three non-consecutive nights, but in a period no longer than two weeks.
There is no way to stop the jersey toss because, what, you’re going to send security in to start tackling the customers who are closest to centre ice (i.e. the richest ones)? What if someone’s taking off their jersey because they’re hot when you hit him in the numbers? That’ll be top of the pops on YouTube within the hour.
Teams can’t even argue that jersey tossing is an unacceptable flouting of the rules. Clubs are delighted when fans fill the rink with ball caps after a hat trick. So which is it? You can’t have a rule that only applies when it suits you.
So there is no good way to stop this act of insurrection. That puts enormous power in the hands of individual fans. Any time they want, any one of them can write the headline of that night’s game.
All it costs you is a couple hundred bucks and, as long as you keep the jersey tucked in a handbag until you need it, none of your dignity.