December 03, 2010
Last night saw the New York Islanders lose a close one to That Other New York Team in the gorgeous confines of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, in front of 13,742 fans. I'll refrain from taking a guess at the percentage of those people that were Rangers fans, but let's assume there were a few.
I've been to a number of Isles/Rangers games on Long Island - it's a special environment, but not the most homer-ific one.
So, does that matter? Does the crowd actually have any effect on the game?
I'm glad I asked.
In short: hell yes it does.
Certainly, every player is different, and what might pick one player up might slow another down.
For example, the older players in the league are near impossible to throw off their game. You think Chris Pronger(notes) gives a stolen puck about getting booed? You think Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) gets nervous when the opposing crowd is crazy?
Of course not. After so many quality years on the ice and Stanley Cups on their resumes, those guys are unflappable.
However, the young guys and the players on their way up through juniors and the minors are a little more susceptible to getting all wound up and doing something stupid. A good crowd can make certain guys feel rushed and panicky, neither of which is a quality that helps a goal scorer excel.
In general, a boisterous crowd is like a shot of nitrous injected into the player's veins, and some just find ways to channel that better than others.
And that's really what it's about - channelling the crowd's fire. Whether you're the home team (yayyyyy) or the road team (booooo), it's the same energy, so you need to find a way to use that emotion without running around and getting out of position. Loud crowds are almost always going to see the more electric games.
Personally, I lived for getting booed.
As I've said before, road boos are just home cheers in a different language - you know you're doing something right. Plus, there's something easy about playing the villain. Either way, my feelings were certainly never hurt. I never took the fact that the opposing fans didn't like me scoring on their team personally.
Having said that, I do remember having trouble focusing in college buildings like Minnesota (Mariucci Arena) and Wisconsin (Kohl Center) as a freshman. When you start falling behind in any building and the fans start piling on - M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A! - it's not exactly easy to get out there for your next shift with your chest puffed out. It pulls you out of your Bagger Vance-like focus and forces you to look around.
I'd argue that raucously supporting the home team has more value than booing the visiting team (though it isn't always as fun).
When you're falling behind on the road and you can feel the crowd rising up with your opponent, you start to feel very unwelcome and out of place. It's tough to stop a freight train like that - you're like the Grinch who stole Christmas, trying to pull the teetering sled back up before it falls off the edge of snowy Mount Crumpit, only you don't have that crazy Grinch strength to do it. It starts to feel like an insurmountable task.
On the other side of the coin, having sparse attendance or lacklustre fans at home can be utterly deflating too. I'd much rather play in a full building with rowdy fans who hate me than ones who could seemingly care less. (Which makes me think the Isles are rather looking forward to giving the Rangers a go in Madison Square Gardens tonight - no offense loyal Isles fans, but you're few and far between right now).
If fans hope to have any impact on a hockey game, it has to be done together. They can shift momentum and pick up a flat team if they do it right.
But that one guy heckling so much that the guy two rows down has to cover his daughter's ears?
I'm not just saying this for the sake of saying it, so hear me loud and clear, That Guy: that player you're heckling has no idea that you're even at the game. The human brain just isn't wired to hear every single person in a fourteen thousand person crowd. So unless a chant is done together, you're just another voice in the din.
So pull together, hockey fans. Chants and energy and boos and signs - all that stuff can make an incremental difference (okay, the signs are just funny to read from the bench, but still, keep making them). Maybe you'll be the edge your boys need.
And for jackwagon dropping eff bombs from row 222?