It seems more and more fans are either traveling to watch their team on the road, or after being transplanted are savoring the visit from their favorite team to their new home. It has been years since I have seen my team in hostile territory, the last coming during the memorable 1990 playoff run which began with an Adams Division playoff clash with the Hartford Whalers. The Bruins won the game 6-3 but the atmosphere was the most memorable, there might have been as many Bruins fans there as there were Whalers fans, and after the game thousands of jubilant Bruins fans paraded through the mall and onto the street to the cheer of the time “Hartford Sucks”. Probably not the most gracious of guests, but as I prepare to embark on my first trip to The Rock to watch the Bruins face-off against the Devils, it did give me pause that I might want to think about road trip etiquette, after all I am not that snarky college kid anymore.
Wear your colors with pride: I think that it is an absolute must that you wear your heart on your sleeve and don your team colors with pride when watching them on the road. In doing so, be prepared for good-natured ribbing, but that comes with visiting enemy territory. I would however suggest that if you are wearing a player jersey, do not wear one of a player that now plays for the opponent. So if you are going to see the Thrashers in New Jersey, do not wear a Kovalchuk jersey. My pet peeve is the head-scratcher, which occurs when the San Jose Sharks come to Boston and it apparently gives permission for all the Joe Thornton jerseys to appear. Yes, I cheer for the laundry not the guy who wore it, and no longer plays for us (but that is another post for another time).
Cheer your team cheers and sing your songs at your own peril: NOTHING seems to get a formerly friendly crowd (or section) fired up faster than an Ole’ Ole’ Ole’ or Let’s Go Flyers (in Fenway Park). It will definitely spice up the atmosphere, but I would suggest having a group, or several groups before you try and leave your audio stamp on the game. Unless you are jeering the referees, that usually has the effect of uniting a crowd, and should be used as an “emergency” olive branch in the event you have overstepped your bounds. Oh and that is best employed when you admit that the home team just got jobbed and unite with the enemy, if only for a moment (no need to hold hands and sing “We Are The World”, but acknowledgment that the refs suck is sometimes a powerful salve). Also, be prepared to have those same cheers and songs turned against you, a hazard of taking the offensive in enemy territory.
Know your surroundings: Are you alone or in a small group?? Are you in a family section or in a section with fans who have had one too many?? Are you a Philly fan in Boston, are you a Toronto fan in Calgary, are you a Devils fan in MSG, or are you a Nashville fan on Long Island?? There is a difference between having fun and trying to stir up trouble. Where you are sitting and who is in your group may dictate how loud and crazy you can be during the game. However, it is always wise to remember you are not at home, but VISITING someone else’s home; cheer but do it respectfully (no vulgarity) as you represent the fan base of your team. Don’t be the fan that gives your fellow fans a bad rap. If you are in a large group, it is true there is “safety in numbers”, and if you think you can take over a section in a positive way that enhances the atmosphere, go for it and have fun, but don’t expect that everyone is going to welcome you with open arms. In short, don’t be the visiting fan that you want to pummel at YOUR home barn.
In moderation: On the road is probably NOT the best time to imbibe the same way you might at home games. It goes to the “know your surroundings” issue, and I have seen more than one visitor tossed from the game after being egged on by the home folks, knowing the fan has had one too many. If you need liquid courage to attend a game in enemy territory, you are probably better off spending the money on the NHL Center Ice package and acting like a horse’s arse in your own living room – then you don’t need a buddy to bail you out. The adult beverages are cheaper as well.
Share your passion for the game: Before the game or during intermission, talk with the fans around you, especially if you have made an exceptionally long trip to see your team play. Most passionate NHL fans will appreciate the effort you made to support your team, and you might even be able to entice them to make a trip to your neck of the woods to see their team play next time! Try not to gloat if your team is victorious, but there is nothing wrong with celebrating your team’s play. A word of advice, don’t shove that foam finger in anyone’s face.
Date Night: If you are bringing your boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other to the game and they are a fan of the opponent, plan on wearing some extra thick skin that evening. You are in a NO-WIN situation. If your team wins and the home barn is jumping, your date is going to be grumpy. If your date’s team is winning and they are jumping around being all obnoxious, plan on getting grief from your fellow fans for having brought a traitor into their midst. Please make sure that if you bring an enemy guest that you review a few of the ground rules for visiting etiquette, or else there is a good chance you are going to be watching the game at the local watering hole before the second intermission.
I was at game 1 of the Bruins playoff series with Montreal last spring and there was quite a bit of red in the Garden, but not as much as I had seen in the past (Good Job Bruins fans buying up those tickets!). There were many Habs fans that were there to have a good time, and then (per usual) some that did not do their fan base any favors. However, I noticed there were three fans sitting right next to us dressed all in black, and I realized they weren’t cheering at all, for either team. During one intermission I caught them speaking in French and realized they were Habs fans “incognito” and once they realized I knew what was going on I think they got nervous. I did not blow their covert operation, but it was probably not the best way for them to enjoy the game. Given the way some of their fellow Habs fans were behaving, I am not sure they necessarily thought they had a choice, which is a shame, and I am not sure I entirely blamed them for their decision. Game 2, a couple of great Habs fans sat behind us. They took the good-natured ribbing in stride and gave some back for us relying on their “sloppy seconds” by way of Michael Ryder. The guys had a great attitude and the cheering and the jeering was good fun. The way both groups handled themselves definitely made the atmosphere in our section lively, but no one was on the edge of their seat wondering when the first punch was going to be thrown or who was going to get a beer dumped down their back (unlike what was going on two sections to our left)! At the end of the game it was hand shakes all around, and it was fun having them there!
So head into enemy territory wearing your colors with pride, but remember that you represent the fans who also cheer for your team, and they might want to visit that city someday without wearing a beer because you overstayed your welcome. If you are the host, try to remember that our collective NHL fan base is its own little community that already has to fight for respect within the ESPN consumer world with the big dogs of the MLB, NFL, and NBA. Approach the enemy with an open mind! Heck, you and the opposing fans might actually have more in common than you think. You probably both hate the price of the beer, want to pull the plug on the smarmy “MAKE NOISE” meter on the jumbotron, you probably think NHL on the Fly is way better than SportsCenter, or at the very least you both know that you and your buddy could do a much better job than Mike and Pierre on the NBC Game of the Week Intermission Report. So remember, as the NHL says, “Hockey is For Everyone”, even fans of other teams.