Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hockey Fans Should Be Hit With 5, 10 and a Game

Many people unhappy with violence and chaos

News flash.

A lot of people are excited about the Edmonton Oilers advancing to the Stanley Cup final. I'm one of them.

With a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Saturday, the Oilers will play for the Stanley Cup for the first time in 16 years. The last time they did so, in 1990, they defeated the Boston Bruins to claim hockey's highest prize. This is something that hockey fans in Edmonton have been waiting for all too long, and it is the first great triumph of the new NHL.

Unfortunately, there is something happening that is far less than a triumph -- that is the atrocious behavior of hockey fans celebrating on Whyte Avenue.

Dubbled "the Blue Mile" by national media (the Blue and Whyte Ave by fans), Edmonton's landmark Whyte Avenue has been ground zero for the raucus celebrations following each Oilers win. However, what began quite nicely during the Edmonton/Detroit series has quickly become a nightmare for many denizens of the area -- including, but not limited to, local residents and business owners.

During what can only truly be described as a riot following the key Oilers win on Saturday, up to 20,000 fans lit bonfires in the street, jumped from buildings into trees, and kicked in the doors and windows of hapless Whyte Avenue businesses.

Shamefully, the vandalism of Whyte Avenue businesses has been a common occurance during the post-game celebrations this postseason. Estimates place the clean up cost at $1,500 to $2,000 after each celebration. This is for the street alone -- it doesn't include repairs to local businesses.

The Edmonton Police Service is now responding in kind. Police Chief Mike Boyd has promised a "get-tough" strategy for dealing with these hooligans -- likely one that can't help but involve riot police.He has even noted that police do have the option of declaring martial law and calling in the army to help pacify any crowd that develops.

It's a very sad day for the city of Edmonton, and for Edmonton Oilers fandom, when the option of setting the army loose upon a post-game celebration would even be entertained by the authorities. And the authorities are not to blame for this.
It's the fans.

Certainly, not all the fans. Hopefully, it's only a minority of bandwagon-jumpers who think they've found a good excuse to tear up local streets in search of a macho thrill. Nonetheless, there is simply no where else to point the finger of blame in this matter, and sadly, the blame fits.

For their part, the Oilers themselves don't approve. " It's sad to see some of the incidents that happened," forward Georges Laraque announced. " I hope it won't come to the point that it will ruin everyone's celebration. [Hooligans] don't respect our ethics or our morals and our pride in the city."

Ryan Smyth only wants to see some sanity. " Obviously we would like everybody to be safe and have fun, but be responsible too."

The Oilers aren't alone in their concern. The Edmonton Sun letters page has been filled with angry statements about the violence. " I had better not be stopped from celebrating an Oilers [Stanley Cup win] because of you drunken vandals," wrote Dustin Bell. "Just because you're too young or too stupid to understand that drinking doesn't mean you have to bust up Whyte Avenue doesn't mean you have the right to take away my chance to celebrate with friends and strangers and cheer on the Oilers. It is as smart has having your friends burn down your house because it is your birthday."

Then again, such behavior is nothing new for Edmonton hockey fans. Following the 1990 Stanley Cup victory, the riot that occurred in Edmonton made headlines across the country.

Nor is it anything new for Albertan hockey fans in general: during 2004's legendary Red Mile celebrations in Calgary, public urination and defecation posed serious problems for law enforcement. During this year's celebrations, numerous fans were arrested for hurling objects at police officers.

But just as Oilers fans have set the bar higher inside the arena, they have done the same in the street. Following the Oilers May 12th elimination of the San Jose Sharks, two fans were stabbed in a Whyte Avenue bar. Partiers in the street blocked an ambulance from accessing the scene, forcing police to remove the victims by cruiser.

What is happening on Whyte Avenue is entirely unacceptable. Just as a line was crossed with the infamous 2001 Canada Day riot, so has it been crossed with this. Sadly, it may take an overhand right from Georges Laraque -- or maybe even Dave Semenko himself -- to smarten some of these idiots up.

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