It always surprises me how eagerly some sports fans crawl into the gutter, as if they’re seeking to find how low their immaturity will sink them.
Such was the case Thursday evening when the Saskatoon Blades visited Prince Albert’s Art Hauser Centre to play against the Raiders in Western Hockey League action.
Sadly, the seemingly sauced sinkers appeared to be fans of the Raiders.
Among the four men sitting directly behind the Blades’ walkway to the visiting team’s dressing room, two wore hockey jerseys (one for the Raiders), and the other two wore regular street clothes.
The group of four had been heckling the Blades’ bench all night. In particular, they’d been chirping Saskatoon captain and defenceman Evan Fiala throughout the game; Fiala and his defensive unit sat well within earshot of the four.
No problem there; I see no issue with fans of one team trying to rile up the players of the other team.
Bonus points for creativity, too. I’ll never forget the loud, consistent taunts of a Swift Current Broncos season ticket holder in the 1990s; he would spend every game at the city’s Civic Centre ensuring the visiting team, the referees and every single spectator knew exactly what he was thinking.
But on Saturday, these four men showed how classless they intended to be. They began taunting Fiala after he had been injured in the third period.
The Raiders were down 5-3, with about seven or eight minutes left in the game.
As the Raiders cycled the puck in the Blades’ zone, they passed it over to centreman Jordy Stallard, who was waiting in the Blades’ left faceoff circle; he tried firing a quick shot on Saskatoon’s goal while Fiala defended him.
After the shot, the puck immediately popped up when it deflected off of a stick or a skate; it was on a direct line to Fiala’s face. As soon as the puck smacked the 20-year-old in his face, he dropped to the ice while clutching the impacted area.
Stallard immediately called to the Blades’ bench for the team’s medical trainer to come attend to Fiala. The captain managed to skate off under his own duress to his team’s bench, directly in front of the four taunters
When the puck hit Fiala’s face, the four began whooping and cheering. They continued as he skated to the bench.
Once the captain stepped off the ice, the man in the green Raiders jersey tried shouting taunts at Fiala through a crack that connected two panes of glass.
Fiala went into the Blades’ dressing room and didn’t return for the game. After the game was over, Saskatoon head coach Dean Brockman said he was getting stitches on his face, though he didn’t know how many.
A few words of advice to these fanatical four.
Have some class. The buffoonery of mocking someone when he/she is hurt is the stuff of bullies. Stop it.
You are watching teenagers and young adults risk injury each game they play. You are watching highly-skilled athletes (most under 20 years old) trying to make their way in a cut-throat industry that doesn’t allow for error.
The sporting world, and especially the hockey world in western Canada, is a community and resembles a loosely connected family.
Be respectful of the young kids who work their butts off to stay in that community for as long as they can.