From the archives: Hockey

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Flame Wars: The Tampa Menace

Saturday, 29 May 2004 — 8:29pm | Film, Hockey

In honour of tonight’s 3-0 victory over the Lightning, at which the audience was entirely in varying degrees of red, I am going to write some more about the euphoric atmosphere in this here city of Calgary.

From the Yellow Journalism Files comes this little gem I saw in this week’s FFWD Weekly, which, for you Edmontonians reading this, is Calgary’s equivalent of your SEE Magazine: a brief observation by one Jason Lewis that the sports fans leading the charge of Flames fever here in Calgary “are not only a little hypocritical, but also a bit nutty.”

This by itself is not so objectionable, but read on. “You know when the latest Star Wars movie comes out and people line up for five days dressed up as R2-D2 to buy tickets?” asks Lewis. “You folks in the Flames jerseys with the thermoses of soup outside the Saddledome at 5 a.m. to get playoff seats are the sports-world equivalent of those sci-fi geeks.”

Speaking as someone who indeed lined up for five days (okay, three) to buy tickets for one of the Prequels – and let’s not even get into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Tuesday or the midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – it’s easy to take this as a compliment to Flames fans everywhere. But in light of what he says in the first paragraph about hypocrisy, is it just me, or do I detect a bit of negativity? Lewis goes on and makes an entirely anecdotal argument that we “didn’t see [him] walking around in a yellow track suit for the opening weekend of Kill Bill,” which is a rather misguided take on the motivations underlying the dress-up, line-up subcultural phenomena we are seeing more often in this age of tentpole events.

The Kill Bill argument falls flat because as good a film as it is, and as recognized as it has become in the Internet film geek community in particular, Miramax never let it dabble in big licensing deals, which meant the burden of acquiring a yellow track suit (itself an homage to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Death) demanded that you make it yourself. That already eliminates the first pillar beneath a public demonstration of one’s admiration and support for something: the commercial infrastructure.

With the Calgary Flames, you have both the merchandise and a team whose performance makes it fashionable. In the case of films that have yet to establish both a major commercial presence and a fan base willing to spend hard cash on it – a fan base that needs to be earned on merit – this does not happen. This is why the hype machine comes into action primarily for sequels to films that are mainstream cultural phenomena, which Kill Bill, Vol. 1 sadly was not.

For instance, the amount of costuming that happened going into The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night was minimal; without the images from the movie imprinted on society at large, and given that the mass merchandising of Tolkien was just getting off the ground, it was impossible to tell the Aragorns apart from the Boromirs anyway, unless you somehow managed to procure a Horn of Gondor. The openings of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, however, saw a whole lot more in the way of elf fashion and hobbit pageantry. The first Star Wars underwent a similar pattern, and by passing off its growth with every passing film as the development of a geek subculture, it is easy to ignore how this culture was driven by the general public. Tellingly, nobody went to The Passion of the Christ decked out as Jesus despite its record-shattering run at the box office. The exception to the rule was the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but only because the kids already had costumes they wore to the release of The Goblet of Fire or the previous Halloween.

The thing to remember about dressing up for movie openings and sports games is that it only works, and it is only fun, if a lot of people are doing it. Even when you put aside the commercially licensed paraphernalia you are still left with what is, in its own right and on its own terms, a crafts fair. On one hand, you have your tinfoil Stanley Cups and “Cup Belongs in Calgary” signs; on the other, you have the latest handmade Stormtrooper costume projects like the ones coordinated by The 501st Legion. Ultimately it has little to do with the event, and a lot more to do with the sense of community. It may seem obsessive to the layman, but that does not make it a bad thing.

Lewis may contend that the bodypainting of red flaming Cs on game nights is no better than mock fighting in a cinema parking lot with glowing plastic lightsabres, but it would be more accurate to say it is no worse.

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It runs in the family

Friday, 28 May 2004 — 9:31am | Hockey, Music

I will begin by saying that the homegrown Albertan doctrine of “shoot, shovel and shut up” applies not just to mad cows, but also to hockey games like the one last night. No, really – let’s not talk about it. The penalties alone speak for just how poisonous the atmosphere was in the Ice Palace last night – 64 minutes dished out against Calgary and 60 against Tampa – but like I said, let’s not talk about it.

What this means, though, is that there will be at least one more return to Tampa for Game 5 – a bad thing in its own right, even when home-ice advantage is not taken into consideration. I refer not to the thirty-above hockey weather or the unsportsmanlike demeanour of what can be termed a hostile fan base, both factors that run quite contrary to what one can expect of watching hockey here in Calgary, but to a far greater menace to society as a whole. Her name is Brooke Hogan.

Ms. Hogan, a Tampa native who sings the national anthems at their home games with about as much vocal ability as her father Hulk, is – and I mean no disrespect to the Harts, who are good folks with whom I once crossed paths by way of piano lessons, of all things – irrefutable proof that professional wrestlers shouldn’t breed. I say this because the way she stomps all over “O Canada” like a wounded soldier limping across the Somme would be considered grounds for war by any country with an actual military. Here’s a lesson to all the aspiring American Idol contestants out there: singing a cappella does not give you a free pass to disregard the idea of tempo, which is about as fundamental to human civilization as the concept of the number zero. Don’t believe me? Take a wave mechanics course.

Leading an audience in an anthem (keyword: leading) comes with the implication that to some extent, members of said audience will be singing along. The fact that the American arena is primarily full of Americans is irrelevant, when ten percent of all Canada is watching the live telecast. When you lead an audience in song, you never, ever push and pull the tempo to your liking. It’s bad enough that she speeds through the first stanza as if it were the Indy 500, but to pull a ritardando in the next and an accelerando in the one after that – assuming she even has the capacity to understand that this is what she’s doing, which is a leap of faith – should get her at least a ten-minute misconduct.

The bottom line is, regardless of whether or not it is intentional, Hogan’s “performance” of the Canadian anthem is nothing short of cultural mockery. History has shown that such mockery has a very real demoralizing effect – one that Calgary overcame in Game 1 on merit, but you can only stomach something like this for so long. This is no different than the raucous booing and jeering of the visiting team that seems to be such an integral part of Tampa’s sporting culture. Come Game 5, someone get the girl a metronome, or get her off the ice.

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Hear ye, hear ye

Tuesday, 25 May 2004 — 9:27pm | Hockey

Let it be known through all the kingdom that the Calgary Flames destroyed the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. One could say Tampa discovered, the hard way, the truth behind a rather clever anagram that was passed on to me this weekend, which appears to have originated from a Vancouver Canucks newsgroup: rearrange the letters in “Ville Nieminen” to get “evil men in line.”

The real irony of it all is that for perhaps the first time ever, it’s election season, and everybody in Calgary is proudly wearing red.

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Sharkbait hoo-ha-ha

Wednesday, 19 May 2004 — 9:51pm | Hockey

Tonight I went to see Game 6 of the Western Conference Final matchup between the Sharks and the Flames, taking a seat almost directly three rows behind the official scorer on the Sharks’ end (or the Flames’ end in the second period). Unfortunately, my camera just missed the puck that slid all the way down the ice into the empty San José net with less than a second remaining in the third, but that would have been the icing on another layer of icing on the cake anyway.

It was a game of compromises. On one hand, it thankfully did not go into overtime. On the other, Martin Gelinas still scored the eliminating goal. On one hand, the Sharks actually scored. On the other, they still got a sound whipping.

All of you out there who tried to convince me to take up a summer job somewhere more interesting than Calgary: this summer – well, every summer, but this one in particular – there is nowhere more interesting than Calgary.

So yeah: I got to see the Campbell Bowl presented live, the Saddledome’s getting another banner, the Flames are going to the Stanley Cup Finals – and I have yet to finish my apologetic penance for losing faith in my hometown team and making fun of them all these years. It looks like hell is three-quarters of the way to freezing over, and we all know what that means: perfect hockey weather.

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Smoke me a Kiprusoff…

Monday, 19 April 2004 — 11:15pm | Hockey

I’ll be back for breakfast – that is, when the Calgary Flames feast on a plate of Wings.

The last time Calgary made it past the first round, the Berlin Wall was standing, cell phones were novelty items the size of bricks, and I held a British passport.

The rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs have a lot to live up to, because this series has had every form of high drama conceivable in a sport – a 4-0 sweep, a near-comeback against a four-goal deficit resulting in three overtimes, and a Game 7 sudden-death fight to the finish after a third-period goal with five seconds on the clock – but with my hometown team coming out on top. That was fun.

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