Newborn Hockey Fan Tony X Understands what Veteran Hockey Mind Steve Simmons Fails to
Steve Simmons sent out a hockey tweet that enraged small market hockey fans. 'Tony X' was able to reveal everything wrong with Simmons' attitude in 140 characters or less.
When you get introduced to a new culture, there are two landscapes you encounter: the physical ones, with its sights, sounds, and images. And then there are the psychological ones, with its ideas, thoughts, and habits.
Media personnel help mold that landscape into a place people will either accept, or reject. It's not their responsibility to get people to watch. But it is their responsibility to communicate their understanding of the game, and how their thoughts converge with the game's highs (like John Scott's NHL All Star appearance), and its lows (like the handling of the Patrick Kane situation).
Recently Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, sent out this particular thought:
I'm a freak. I watch everything. But the only great hockey town left in the playoffs is Pittsburgh. That saddens me. https://t.co/JZNZDHB1fc— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) April 28, 2016
Like a fool, I fetched the rhetorical red meat on command. But thankfully, so did a lot of people. Simmons didn't really backtrack so much as say "just kidding! Not!".
After all, words mean things. Being saddened by the lack of "great hockey towns" clearly implies that other hockey towns are inferior. On its own, it's a lazy statement fueled by the psychological fossil drool of the "old boy's club". On a broader scale it subverts inclusion, displaying for all the world to see a desire to keep hockey in some lame snowglobe of recycled narratives and superficial support for those that want a piece of the ice pie.
The irony here is that Simmons lists Minnesota: a hockey town so great that it was moved to Dallas because the town wasn't willing to pay to watch hockey.
Granted, this is coming from a man who invented a story about an NHL superstar loving hot dogs to feed into some lazy narrative about a Star player who couldn't perform under a bad coach's system. His hostility towards analytics doesn't do him many favors either.
But at the heart of Simmons' idiotic tweet is a philosophical question about what makes a "great hockey town". Mere history can't suffice, otherwise we'd be waxing nostalgic about the Quebec Bulldogs, or the Hamilton Tigers who were there before the Bruins and the Blackhawks. Markets like Vancouver, who have been battered by inept drafting, and Montreal, who has no idea how to deal with its lameduck coach, has a lot of fans wondering what exactly is so great about a hockey town controlled by tradionalists unable to create watchable hockey.
If Simmons were the rabblerouser he thinks he is, his despair would be directed at Marc Bergevin, Jim Benning, and the cast of Behind the B's. But it's not because he's interested in preserving the status quo. Not questioning it.
Which brings us to Tony X. Yes, I'm still getting used to referring to people by names you'd see at a 2001 Quake LAN party. But Tony X became famous-ish by essentially watching hockey for the first time on Twitter while St. Louis battled Chicago in the opening round. Though a Blues fan, we'll forgive him for the time being. It was frankly, fantastic.
I don't know who this dude kane is but we gotta stop him.— Tony X. (@soIoucity) April 26, 2016
The St. Louis Blues appreciated this newborn hockey fan, leading to a response from Vladimir Tarasenko himself.
My point here is not that Simmons should be celebrating all hockey wherever he can. The point here is that he need not undermine it with the kind of lack of sincerity that impacts hockey culture.
Texas is anything but a traditional hockey market. With a social scene that offers mechanical bulls and cowboy hats, the Friday night lights of local football, and a landscape full of ponds that never freeze, Dallas is not definitely not your grandfather's hockey town.
But what Texas hockey fan isn't proud of the culture Jim Nill has helped create? The culture that brought in players like Tyler Seguin, and determined that Jamie Benn would represent Dallas Stars hockey? The tortured cliche of history is that 'history is the polemics of the victors'. And Dallas is a hockey team with plenty of victors right now. After all, Stars fans still get to watch their team. What's to be saddened by?
This is how sports endure: by attracting new fans that help foster the connection among communities that can help shape the future of hockey. Not internalizing hockey interests like it belongs to an arbitrarily selected few.