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I’ve seen NHL games in a dozen cities, but I can’t name one in which the civic mood is so dependent on the home team’s fortunes. Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary—all have ardent fans, of course, but even at playoff time you don’t get that sense of held breath, of precarious hope and impending calamity, that gripped the city in May and June. Boston and Detroit and Chicago and New York and Philadelphia are hockey towns, too, but other sports take precedence in the States, and all those cities have Stanley Cup memories to tide them over.
As the new NHL season approaches, our playoff memories have as much to do with mayhem as with hockey. Mayhem on the ice, when the finals deteriorated into the ludicrous, Don Cherry-endorsed brand of mugging and “manliness” no other sport permits, and mayhem on the streets, when the Bruins won the Cup. The riot was something you might expect to see after a soccer match in impoverished parts of South America or Africa or England, where life is so bleak that your team becomes the vehicle for your own blunted aspirations. You may be condemned by poverty to the council flats or the favela, but your tribal identification lets you share in your team’s glory. Or anguish in its failure, as we did so publicly, and destructively, after Game 7.
How could it happen in a city as pleasant and prosperous as ours? What makes us live and die with every goal, when the game’s outcome doesn’t affect our lives in any lasting or material way? In the aftermath of the finals, freelance writer Bruce Grierson set himself the task of answering those questions, and his conclusions are fascinating and unexpected. As we learned when the rioters were outed on Facebook, subtract the emotional affiliation and you find not immoral hooligans and criminals or, as in the British riots in August, organized gang members. Here, beneath the Luongo jerseys and the blue-and-green face paint, were your honour-student son, your kid sister, the Grade 11 skateboarder down the street. Click here to read Bruce Grierson’s article, “And the Fans Go Wild”.