I like Sidney Crosby, I really do. But I have a serious bone to pick with that man about the legacy he left behind in Nova Scotia.
Before Sid, no kid in the whole province ever thought he was going to the show. For that matter, no parent ever dreamed of it either (more on that in a minute). You went to those Sunday morning practices with the goal of having fun/not freezing your ass off. And maybe, if you worked hard enough, hockey would eventually bring you the opportunity to see what happens when you pee on a sauna radiator in some poor hotel at a tournament in New Brunswick (answer: something magnificent).
If you were really, really good you might be able to ineffectively reference your hockey skills in an effort to pick up women at a bar, but few of us ever aspired to those heights.
Then Crosby came along. At first it was just a whisper: There’s this seven-year-old kid in Cole Harbour who can roof a wrist shot from the blueline every time. Then it was a rumour: Have you seen that Crosby kid? No, but I’ve heard his Dad’s a nut. Then all we could do is sort of watch in disbelief, like teenage wiccans who had accidentally conjured a powerful spirit with a Wal-mart Ouija board.
I remember watching him tear through our Bantam team like a toddler gleefully and innocently plucking the wings off a moth. He could scarcely help it, and we didn’t blame him.
Then he got drafted and all hell broke loose. I’ll graph it for you:
Hockey became serious. It was important to get ice time and it was important to score and to win. As a young official, I was a potential – and indeed, frequent – impediment to those dreams of greatness. I like to imagine there are still old-timers out there who say things like, “My boy would’ve made it if it weren’t for that tall and slightly-awkward referee from an Atom A game back in ‘07”.
The primary manifestation of all this rage was free advice directed at me, the official, in the middle of the game. It was rarely helpful – iterations on “go jump in a lake, you incompetent bozo”, for the most part. It sounds silly to complain about now, since an angry crowd is something I think Canadian hockey fans have come to expect at just about every game and every level, but in that province it really was both uncommon (in my limited experience) and unnerving at first. Whose mom is this and why is she swearing at me? Is this something adults really do?
As far as influencing the game goes, the yelling was completely useless. For every referee that was intimidated into making calls one way there was another referee who would be enraged into screwing the other team.
Crosby’s dad, of course, was famous for his fits and he was tossed from many an arena. I was much too unnerved to do any tossing, preferring to keep my head down, do my job and ignore the unsolicited input as best I could. It was really the only strategy available to a referee, unless he wanted to get into the stands and start throwing punches.
I’ve only ever met one solution for the problem of unruly crowds, and his name was Phil. Phil was blind and not the sharpest of intellects, but he wanted to be a referee. He would sit behind the timekeepers bench in an old Jofa helmet and, when penalties were called, turn and repeat it to the crowd, complete with emphatic signals (not all of them to be found in the official rule book). One could always sense the unease among the crowd at these times. Although they had long sense shrugged off the shackles of those social norms surrounding shouting at children, they weren’t quite prepared to accept this blind man as a target of their venom.
So they shut up, having apparently discovered the point at which their moral flexibility could not bend any further in the service of their children’s future career as an NHL star.
If one nugget of gold is a lucky strike then two makes a gold rush. With Nathan McKinnon on the scene, I can hardly imagine the atmosphere of frantic competition that will pervade the province to its absolute depths.
My proposed solution is to replace all referees with little girls holding crippled puppies. And if that doesn’t work, I guess I’ll just stick to blaming Crosby.