The NHL, hockey fans, and "class"

After the riots that happened in Vancouver after Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, there's been a lot of talk about "class". Mostly, this has been directed at the mobs in the streets in Vancouver in a derogatory fashion - how they lack "class". But it's also been used to describe how the Canucks fans inside Rogers Arena treated the Boston Bruins after the game was over - they were "classy".

So, what does "class" mean, exactly?

I suppose this varies from person to person, but to me, it means "respect". A number of fans on the streets of Vancouver had no respect for private property - or for other people in their way, from what I understand. But the fans inside of Rogers Arena respected the Bruins for a job well done at the expense of their team.

I think everyone has lamented about the lack of respect in sports, as well as the lack of respect that's in society at large. And hockey is no different from any other sport in that way. There definitely seems to be a certain lack of respect on the ice and off of it. Although, you rarely hear about players badmouthing each other in the press over the course of a season, which is something, I suppose.

You do hear about the occasional coach badmouthing other coaches and players off of other teams. Sort of like Bruce Boudreau. He likes to think he's "calling out" players from opposing teams, when he's really just being disrespectful. I don't think that too many fans outside of the Washington Capitals fan base would call him "classy".

While on the other hand, the Tampa Bay Lightning's coaches and GM exude nothing but class, according to most hockey fans. GM Steve Yzerman is highly respected among the hockey community, and many would equate him with the word "class". Head coach Guy Boucher, while still something of a new-comer, has earned respect by being respectful. He has developed a reputation for handling the press well and for appreciating the fans. He's also quickly becoming known as "classy" himself.

And, because of them - plus Jeff Vinik and Tod Leiweke - the Lightning as an organization are becoming known as "classy" as well. Now, hopefully, the fan base will uphold this new status among NHL teams. Because those few fans of Vancouver didn't do that so much with their rioting.

However, the NHL as a league has a long way to go. You know a sport has trouble with respect when teams can't divulge specifics on injuries for fear of those injuries being targeted. And while playing to win is what fans want and expect from their teams, there's also a line that most don't want to see crossed. When "playing to win" becomes "playing to win at all costs", that's the point when unnecessary injuries happen and things have gone too far.

Officiating is another part of the NHL that lacks "class". Sports become unfair when rules are replaced by judgment calls, and that's what we've seen happen. Whether it came from the former head of NHL discipline Colin Campbell or the on-ice officials, it almost doesn't even matter. When you can't play a sport by the rules as they are stated on paper, then you're not respecting that sport.

The real problem with people and institutions lacking "class" is that no one holds them accountable, so they think they can get away with it - and they often do.

It's not only about being respectful, but also demanding and earning respect. If you want to be a part of a classy fan base, then you've got to demand that the fans you know be respectful. That doesn't mean you have to be a pushover, it just means that you have to call out bad behavior when you see it, as well as not resort to name calling, throwing stuff on the ice, rioting in the streets, etc. It's as simple as that.

Or, let me put this another way, Lightning fans - just try to live up to the classy examples set by Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher.

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