What is acceptable behaviour from a fan? Is it okay to give up on your team? It’s a fairly grey area, and the actions of one frustrated Edmonton Oilers fan in a December 21st game against the St. Louis Blues have sparked a lot of controversy. The Oilers clocked up their sixth loss in a row on a horrible losing streak that included three shut outs. It was unquestionably a bad game – for whatever reason, Edmonton was letting in shots that really should have never gotten in, allowing people near the goal far too often.
I hesitated to comment on the incident, but was swayed when almost a week after the fact Don Cherry referenced it in a Coach’s Corner segments. Additionally, since I was lucky enough to be back in Edmonton for this game, I heard a lot of comments from Oilers fans with opinions that were across the board. It’s a seemingly minor incident that seems to have sparked a lot of discussion.
A lot of the controversy came from coach Dallas Eakins’ condemnation of the fan. He interviewed after the game that “that’s about as bad as it gets for me…I understand and I respect our fans, but that’s a bunch of bull-crap to me….whoever threw that jersey on the ice, is out. They’ve given up. They’re a quitter. We don’t want that here.”
He continued by speaking of the Oilers’ performance this season, saying that “we would be severely dumped on if we totally started mailing it in and giving it nothing. We’re not going to do that here and for some fan to show us all that he quit, he’s done, he threw in the towel…. I think that says volumes about the individual.”
So who was the individual who sparked such a storm of opinions after tossing a Hemsky jersey out onto the ice at Rexall Place? Media reporting after the game identified him as Curtis Goyetche, a 29 year old construction worker who resides in Spruce Grove, Alberta. Goyetche identifies himself as a die-hard Oilers fan: “The Oilers are the only thing I care about when it comes to sports. It’s the only sports team I’ve ever followed in my life. I’ve been an Oiler fan since I can remember.” He continued that while he’s “loyal to the home team, good or bad,” the way the game against St. Louis unfolded just pushed him over the edge as his frustration reached a boiling point. “I just felt I had to do something,” Goyetche said, “I was just fed up. Frustrated. I was just being a passionate fan making my own statement, I guess. It just happened.”
It’s an understandable sentiment, and I’ve run into quite a few people who commented that they might well have done the same thing if they were in Rexall Place for that game. There were some fans that agreed with Eakins’ condemnation of the gesture, such as James Caron, who commented that “it’s a disgrace to the colours. That’s terrible. You can’t do stuff like that.”
The controversy made me think about fans in general – Don Cherry joked that a Boston Bruins fan who tossed his jersey on the ice after a game wouldn’t have made it out of the stadium alive – but also specifically about Oilers fans. It’s an interesting city. Eakins commented on the nature of Edmonton residents, characterizing them as tough, hard-working individuals. Cherry likewise stated that “the best fans in the world are in Edmonton.”
I know first-hand that Oilers fans are fiercely loyal – and our history gives us merit for that. Back in the Gretzky era, we were nearly unstoppable. I think a lot of the frustration from fans isn’t necessarily because of all the losing – every team faces losses. It’s because we’re losing and we don’t know why, or we’re giving up goals when we shouldn’t be, when they’re not even spectacular opportunities yet still manage to get in the net.
A fan after the St. Louis game told the media that “this team has enormous potential. I can’t understand where everything they do wrong comes from,” while another fan, Mitch Ferguson, added that “we’ve got the biggest team full of young superstars – we should at least be able to get two or three goals.” Ferguson is right – we have a couple young players who, at their best, have a nearly superhuman ability to get the puck to each other. There is just something that’s not coming together in the situation, and both fans and Oilers players are struggling to figure it out.
It should be included that Eakins addressed his condemnation of the fan, and acknowledged that he was a bit rash in his comments: “I think what happened was my passion for our logo, which is the same as a country’s flag, a family (coat of) arms, it was clearly on display. Did I take it too far? I probably did. But I do not take kindly to our jersey ever being on the floor.”
The Oilers have thankfully been doing a bit better since their loss against St. Louis, but it’s definitely an interesting thing to consider. While fan frustration is understandable, I disagreed with the gesture mainly because of the players. I know a losing streak is tough for any fan to stomach, but I don’t think the way to turn things around is to show the Oilers players that you’re turning your back on them.
Even a week after the incident, the media is talking about this jersey toss. Would the reaction have been different in another city, for another team? Would you ever toss your jersey onto the ice to express your frustration with your team’s performance? There are definitely a lot of questions to consider, and elements to the story. After two wins and one loss post-jersey toss, the Oilers will face the Phoenix Coyotes on December 31st.