Oilers face boozy gauntlet

TERRY JONES, Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 PM ET

Edmonton has to be the only place in all of hockey, anywhere in the world, where players are required to walk through a bar to get to the ice.

It was one of the things Sheldon Souray didn’t like about playing here. He said sooner or later something has to happen with players coming off the ice between periods or after games taking spit and abuse from fans who have been bellied up the the bar.

One can only imagine how Rick Rypien would have handled himself here the last two years if he lost it the way he did Tuesday night in St. Paul.

It was interesting that the annual tour by NHL security to talk to players about such things made the Edmonton stop the morning after the Vancouver Canucks forward snapped and grabbed a fan by the his Wild jersey as he was leaving the ice because the fan was doing nothing more than applauding his departure with a game misconduct.

Quite rightly, Rypien has been suspended and will likely be required to miss six to eight games, and forfeit $50,000 in salary. Ridiculous, considering some of the things which have happened in hockey history, which include Mike Milbury getting two games for going after a fan with a shoe. We’ve seen players in the stands going after fans, Craig MacTavish ripping the tongue off the head of a mascot and incidents too numerous to mention that make this particular crime laughable. On the other hand, all the fan did was stand and clap.

Considering that just about every Oiler had seen the Rypien video before practice yesterday, it made a topic of conversation when the Oilers left the ice after practice past the bar where fans line up several rows deep to cheer, and on occasion jeer, them as they go on and come off the ice.

To rookie Magnus Paajarvi it’s a wonderful thing.

“It’s pretty cool,” said the Swede.

“It pumps you up before you go out and makes you feel good when you come back after the period. I really like it.”

Paajarvi is 2-0 lifetime playing at home, however, as the Oilers take the ice tonight against the Wild.

Head coach Tom Renney doesn’t think it’s cool at all.

“I sure hope we get a new rink,” was his response.

Renney, who coached the New York Rangers and had to deal with the aggressive attitudes of the fans in the New York-Philadelphia corridor, admitted he’s come close to being involved in an incident himself.

“Uh, yeah,” he said.

What prevented him?

“Twenty-three hockey players,” he said of the incident in New Jersey.

Renney said with 99.9% of the fans, it’s a good scene most nights.

“Fans love to see these guys up close. But when you have a guy half in the bag, he needs to be a couple rows further back,” he said.

Renney, who has a great deal of international hockey in his background, is an expert on how stuff can happen.

“You know where I’ve coached. I’ve got some stories. I’ve got some beauties.”

He wouldn’t spin any of them yesterday.

“Maybe at another time,” he offered.

“I’ve never seen it as an issue as long as I’ve been here,” said Jason Strudwick of the bar walk, which some players have previously suggested to be the longest mile after a particularly brutal evening.

“Sometimes, after a bad game you hear a few negative comments, but I like walking through there. It’s very encouraging. It gets us going,” said future coach Strudwick, adding it wouldn’t work in New York or Philly.

“New York has the most angry fans,” he said.

“Philadelphia fans are far worse,” said Colin Foster.

“Those fans are ruthless.”

He said dialing fans out, however, is “part of being a pro.”

But Foster says he thinks Edmonton fans are fortunate.

“It’s good for the fan to be that close to the player as long as security does their job.”

Kurtis Fraser said the bottom line is you pay your dollar, you get to holler. Or clap your hands.

“Fans are allowed to be fans,” he said. “I know I go to a game in another sport as a fan, I say some things.”

Edmonton fans have shouted a few things at the players on their way past the bar after empty efforts recently.

“Guys mentioned that last year and a year ago they heard from fans,” said Ryan Whitney.

“It’s worse when you’re at home and your fans tell you how bad you suck.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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