The Accidental Fan: Toto, I've a Feeling We’re Not in the Ivy League Anymore
The Accidental Fan: Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in the Ivy League Anymore
I went to my first ECHL game in December. This season, the Maine Mariners are back in Portland, affiliated with the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers. It’s been a long road to Portland and the Rangers. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Mariners were the Maine team associated with the Philadelphia Flyers and later the Boston Bruins, but they transferred to Providence, Rhode Island and became the Providence Bruins in 1992. In the ’90s, the hole in the market was filled by the Portland Pirates, who moved to Massachusetts in 2016 to become the Springfield Thunderbirds. It turns out that the current Mariners team used to be the Anchorage Aces and then the Alaska Aces. If that sounds confusing, it is! But as someone who is from Alaska and has lived in Maine, I immediately felt a connection.
If you had asked me before we went to this game who the team in Maine is, I would have said the Portland Pirates. I had never been to one of their games, but in elementary school, everyone wore their gear. I had only just moved to Maine and the concept of state sports teams was foreign to me, so the Pirates gear stood out. Going into the game this December, I knew none of this and there was a lot of discussion and Googling to figure out exactly how the Mariners were back in Maine with a fantastic new logo and very fetching jerseys.
As usual, my sports-going activity was shrouded in confusion. We were there on “Nickelodeon Night,” so the Mariners had on orange jerseys with a green splat on them. We did not get the memo about that, so I am pretty sure that for the first few minutes we were all rooting for the wrong team. They were playing the Worcester Railers who have blue and white jerseys. It’s not that I thought our color was blue, it’s just that I knew it wasn’t orange! It seems my mom and I are always at games when the players have special jerseys on, and yet we are still not used to it.
The Mariners game was very different from Bruins games I’d seen. The first thing I noticed about it was that everyone was very quiet for the entire first period, and there was barely any fighting amongst the players. That has never been my experience in Boston, where it seems that everyone is screaming even before the game starts. When the Railers scored first, there was barely a reaction, and no booing. At a Bruins game, fans will even shout obscenities at their own team. When the Mariners announcer said, “Let’s make some noise!” no one responded. Finally, one person shouted, “Go Maine!” When a small fight did break out, that was the first noise I heard from the collective crowd. After all, it is hockey. If you’re not there for the sport, you’re there for the violence.
Aside from the initial lack of enthusiasm, being at a “farm team” game has other distinctions from games at TD Garden. After every Bruins goal, when the announcer says who scored and who assisted, he says “Wooo!” and the crowd repeats after him. There was a moment where the announcer at the Mariners game tried a “Wooo,” but the crowd was not having it. Things just felt different. My mom summed it up well when she said, “This is sweet.” When I was confused, she added, “being here.” And it was kind of sweet and quaint … until it wasn’t.
At some point in the second period someone shouted, “Worcester sucks!” And after that, it was all over. The blows in the fights got harder, people got rowdier and the obscenities only got more … well, obscene. Once the players started fighting, it was like Pandora’s box had been opened. After one fight, the PA even played “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”
Maine fans were frustrated as their team was still down by the end of the second period. So, as people got more into the game, more intoxicated and more frustrated, they began the old-fashioned hockey tradition of screaming at the players. Truly though, these were the greatest insults I have heard at a hockey game. “This isn’t the Ivy League, you b—!” unloaded a man somewhere behind us when the Mariners were not doing well in the third period. Sounds unpleasant.
After overtime and a shootout, those fans went home happy, as did we. The Mariners scored twice in the shootout and won the game. After a shockingly dull first period, it turned into an exciting game with a fun atmosphere. “People were literally sleeping in the first quarter,” my mom said, to which I replied, “I was sleeping in the first period.” We have made that mistake before. My mom is a crazy hockey fan, and yet I don’t think we will ever learn.