About a week ago I read one of the best hockey pieces ever posted here on bleacher report.
Matt Hutter, the Detroit Red Wings' featured columnist wrote a heart felt piece about his favorite team from an objective standpoint. (You can read his article here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/388749-nhl-playoffs-beating-red-wings-could-yield-finals-appearance-for-sharks).
Matt's piece really drives home the point that a true journalist can indeed be an actual fan of the team they cover. He/She just needs to understand the boundaries of bias and write reports without channeling their emotional ties to the squad.
Now the main line in Matt's story that spoke to me was when he claimed to be a hockey fan first and a Red Wings fan second.
That got me thinking...am I a Sharks fan first or a hockey fan first?
And one particular notion answered that question in a hurry.
When I started thinking about how Sharks "fans" currently boo Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell whenever he plays the puck, I realized that like Matt, I'm a hockey fan first.
Now that isn't to say fans who boo individual players can't still be hockey fans first and foremost.
Booing particular players on the opposing team is usually justified.
However, when it comes to Sharks fans booing Campbell, that is where the line has to be drawn.
It makes absolute zero sense to boo Campbell.
Why? Because nothing thus far during Campbell's career is a catalyst for booing.
San Jose "fans" (in reality just the band-wagoners who don't really understand the intricacies of the sport) who started the booing blatantly failed to do their homework.
And it really isn't that complicated, all one has to do is look back at Sharks history for an understanding on when and why you single out an opponent on the other team with boos and heckling.
There are two main exhibits that can be referenced from years past.
Exhibit A: Ed Belfour
Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour had posted solid numbers throughout his career before joining the Sharks half way through the 1996-97 season. Over his most recent four-and-a-half seasons prior to his arrival to San Jose, Belfour registered save percentages ranging from .902 to .907 and goals against averages ranging from 2.28 to 2.74.
But in just 13 games with the Sharks, his numbers were flat out horrendous. His save percentage dropped to .884 and his GAA spiked all the way to 3.41. The Eagle simply did not come as advertised.
Yet to make matters worse, the very next season saw Belfour flee to the division rival Dallas Stars. And can you guess what type of season No. 20 had for Dallas?
Not only did Belfour have a bounce back season, but he nearly won the Vezina Trophy with a .916 save percentage, 1.88 GAA, and nine shutouts. To make matters worse, Belfour led the Stars to a opening round playoff defeat of the Sharks that season and a year later backstopped them to a Stanley Cup victory.
Belfour was suppose to have that type of success as a Shark, not a Star.
And that in and of itself would be enough to justify booing the high profile netminder. But lest we forget, reports back during the 90's suggested that Belfour had made it clear while with San Jose that he didn't like playing here.
Ouch, talk about spurned right?
Exhibit B: Chris Pronger
The current Philadelphia Flyer and current Philadelphia Flyer has never played for the Sharks but he has faced them in the postseason in five separate times with three different teams.
Bay Area fans' hatred of Pronger began back in the 1999-2000 quarterfinal series between the Sharks and St. Louis Blues. San Jose would end up winning in seven games, upsetting the Blues who were the best team in hockey that season.
Throughout that series Pronger was on a parade to the penalty box, committing more than his fare share of roughing and cross checking calls.
A year later, the Sharks and Blues met again in the first round with St. Louis winning in six games. These back to back playoff appearances against the Blues were two of the more physical playoff series in Sharks history and Pronger was the poster boy for playing dirty.
And that "dirty" player tag has continued to follow Pronger around. Whether it is stomping on the leg of a fallen opponent or constantly instigating scrums, Pronger is always involved is universally considered a "royal pr**k" by the 29 teams he doesn't play for.
Furthermore, the fact that Pronger is a hall of fame quality defenseman and a Stanley Cup winner the rival Anaheim Ducks makes Sharks fans hate him all the more.
He is a great player with a Championship, something San Jose fans have yet to see there team accomplish.
Therefore, it makes total sense why Sharks fans should boo Pronger. There is a deep rooted negative history there.
However, booing Brian Campbell makes Sharks fans look like the biggest whiners of all the NHL fan bases.
For those of you who don't know, Campbell was traded to San Jose in February of 2008 for winger Steve Bernier and a first round draft pick.
And while the media hyped up Campbell's child hood relationship with Joe Thornton to make it seem like "Soupy" would want to sign an extension in San Jose, the front office knew very well that they be dealing with a rent-a-player.
Now down the stretch of the regular season, Campbell was golden for the Sharks. He scored three goals and tallied 19 points in 20 games, helping lead the Sharks to a 15-3 mark of unbeaten hockey throughout the month of March.
Campbell even scored a highlight reel spin-o-rama goal for the Sharks against the Canadiens that showed just how pivotal having a player of his assets is for an NHL roster.
Unfortunately the prevailing notion amongst Sharks fans is that Campbell didn't show up in the playoffs. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Campbell's one goal was a huge game tying tally in the third period of a must-win game against Dallas in the Conference Semis, and his seven points in 13 overall games is about on par for the defenseman's typical numbers.
Not to mention Campbell finished a plus-3 for the postseason despite being overly criticized for a couple of unfortunate mishaps on the defensive end.
Realistically, Campbell didn't have nearly as terrible a playoff as the average Sharks fan will claim he did. In fact, Campbell played the way his past numbers suggest he would play in the postseason.
The average Joe Schmo Sharks fan simply holds a grudge on that season being a failure for the team and pinned it on Campbell.
Why he pinned it on Campbell? I honestly don't know.
Campbell is a great player and all hockey fans should support one of the league's top defenseman.
He didn't completely suck in his time with San Jose and he didn't complain about not wanting to play here while on the team.
And upon becoming a free agent he decided to play closer to home where he could sign for a lot of money. Sounds like a smart career move to me.
Besides, it is not as if Campbell has experienced significantly more success with Chicago thus far than he did with San Jose.
Ergo, he is not Ed Belfour.
Nor is he Chris Pronger.
The most penalty minutes Campbell has ever posted in one season was 35 with Buffalo back in 2006-07.
Pronger on the other hand has gone over the 100 minute mark seven times and has never finished with lower than 74 minutes in a full season.
Simply said, Campbell isn't even half as dirty a player as Pronger has been throughout the years.
Plus there is no playoff history between the Sharks and Campbell. The booing of Pronger developed throughout years and years of the Sharks opposing Pronger in the postseason.
When it comes to Campbell on the other hand, the Sharks don't have that same history. And even if they did, booing him would still be idiotic because Campbell isn't worth booing.
There just aren't nearly enough negative circumstances around the Chicago defenseman to include him in a group with Belfour and Pronger.
Unfortunately, it appears as if Sharks fans are going to continue to boo Campbell during these Western Conference Finals.
With the whole hockey world watching, Sharks fans will end up giving even more ammunition to those who believe Californians fail to appreciate hockey in it's purest form.
I mean, c'mon! Booing Brian Campbell? I'ts blasphemy! It's Madness!
Aye dios Mio!
If only the average Sharks fan didn't embarrass us diehards who actually appreciate the game.
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