Saturday night after the Oilers lost to the Blackhawks, I witnessed an event that unfortunately we have seen here too often and one that I have been on the receiving end of. Oilers fans loudly booed the players the last minute of the game and it did not stop there.
For those of you who don’t know, there is an open area, beside a bar, through which Oilers players must walk to get to their dressing room after each period and at the end of the game. On Saturday night, the fans in that area booed, and gave it to the players for the twenty yard walk from the bench to their room.
When you win that is a nice walk. When you lose, and have been losing lately like the Oilers, that walk is a walk through hell. I know — my teammates and I got booed there more then a few times, as we struggled through injuries and weak play.
There is no where to hide on that twenty yard walk. Your fans are very close to you. By the time you reach the dressing room doors you are two inches tall and simply walk in right underneath them. It is much different from getting booed on the ice. Getting booed on the walk feels much more personal. On the ice or bench the fans are a sea of people. The noises all blend into one resounding negative vibe.
As you walk through the twenty longest yards in the world, it becomes very personal. You can see individual faces and hear each specific comment – they no longer blend in with the crowd. I can still remember some of those faces and have since run into them. That night they were giving it to me and my teammates – the next time I saw them they wanted an autograph. It’s crazy.
The struggles of the team lately are well documented and both now and as a player I had no issue with fans speaking their mind. I do however have issue with comments about how players feel about those boos. Too often, I hear on my post game show on TSN 1260 that these “million dollar players just go home or that they don’t care”.
ARE YOU NUTS? THAT IS THE FURTHEST RESPONSE FROM THE TRUTH!
Walking through the twenty yards of hell getting abused by YOUR fans gets to you. You don’t just shake it off with a shower and some axe body spray. It stays with you. You are already embarrassed by your performance and the outcome and then you are rattled by the response from your fans. You don’t just shake it off. Even now, I can still feel that horrible range of emotions. You don’t feel like eating. Sleep doesn’t come easy. You are grumpy to everyone around you.
This isn’t written to suggest the fans are in the wrong for voicing their displeasure. I have no problem with that. As a player you take the good with the bad. When the team rattles off multiple wins the twenty yard walk is awesome, you feel ten feet tall.
My goal is to make it clear that the players do hear the fans frustrations and they do not simply forget about it. It does bother them greatly. Don’t buy into the noise that players don’t care — they do. What is said behind closed doors is much different that what is said publicly to the media. MUCH DIFFERENT!