I’m a New England girl by birth. I may have left the area in 1991 for warmer environs but I still have the heart, some would say the attitude, of a New Englander. That tends to mean being direct and to the point at times, no frills, especially when it comes to sports. We expect our sports to be raw. No holding punches. No creature comforts at our venues. No sugar coating allowed. Or at least it did when I was a kid.
Growing up I was more into baseball and basketball. Go Celtics! Bird, McHale and the Chief ruled the court. Strong sometimes violent rivalries played out on the TV screen and you loved it. What action, what strategy! If you didn’t like it or were being too girly, then dad was very happy to watch on his own! The Red Sox…this was still during the doldrum years, The Curse. Yet we fans still stuck with them and all the choking just when you thought maybe this year they had a real chance, if they could just.stick.it.out! Painful to watch and experience. Yet you dealt with it and wore it like a badge of courage. I have to say I wasn’t into football with the Patriots so I didn’t bother dad. Dad wasn’t much a hockey guy unless the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup finals. If he did watch the Bruins, I always felt I had to keep wiping the blood or ice from my face because it sure felt like it was coming through the screen at times. I also never ever recall seeing cheerleaders or fluffy team mascots during a Bruins match!
Flash forward and I’m living in Jacksonville, Florida. Back in the early 2000s, after having been there a few years, the local non-pro hockey team came back into existance. They were called the Barracudas. I went with a friend of mine to have an alternative to the usual “Girls Night at the Bar”. She and I were highly anticipating feeling the cold rink tempered with the heat of the action on the ice. We wanted to see good old fashioned hockey, great skating mixed with the throwing of some punches. Afterall, how many hockey players do you know of that still have all of their teeth?
That first season didn’t disappoint. The crowds were rowdy and enjoyed the action. We interacted with the guys around us. Once they got over the initial shock of two girls not only electing to go to a match on their own but swearing like sailors and drinking beer not martinis, they let it all hang out. The team mascot, Barracuda, was a sorry looking specimen. A bit on the skinny tattered looking side. His face had streaks of fake blood smeared on it. He riled up the crowd by walking around with the other team’s mascot (a stuffed doll usually), a noose and a tiny baseball bat. Let your imagination be free to explore what he did with all of those props. Oh and let me stress there were absolutely NO CHEERLEADERS!
So far so good at this point. What could go wrong with this picture? Have you noticed that it seems that so many events once haven for adults only have now become “Disney-fied” and kid friendly? I thought it might be due to living two hours north of The Mouse but it seems to be happening everywhere. That second season opener of Barracuda hockey was an example of this Disneyfication and it made me not believe my eyes.
Here we are at the second season opener, same friend and I. Both curious about the reported changes to the team due to new ownership. The beer was still few in selection but cheap for large amounts. The hot pretzels were still lukewarm…nothing changed there either. Then we noticed a strangely large amount of families walking around with not just one but several kids. And may I note that the little buggers were already crying before the parents could locate the seats. WHAT THE F! WAS GOING ON??? It turned out it was – you guessed it – the dreaded FAMILY NIGHT!
Who the heck has family night at a hockey match? I don’t recall any official labeling of a Bruins match being a family night growing up. If they had one then a big stink wasn’t made over it. Here it was all big colors and happy activities going on in the stands. And poor Barracuda, he had been morphed into a child-friendly plump plush killer mammal. No more blood smears or nooses as props. No more mini-bats but those dang air inflated bang sticks that kids love to bang and bang and bang. Not always targeting their family members either.
We thought maybe our seats would be safe. They were cheap and you really couldn’t see the action up close. Wrong. Thankfully we were in the final row of our section but in front of us was a family of five! Jumping and yelling and dad already showing signs he wanted to blow. Mom trying to corral the kids while dad began to detach. Or so we thought he was detached.
Trying to make the best of it and the beer, my friend and I decided to speak the way we normally did at a hockey match. There were actually some younger guys diagonal to us. So some trash talking was starting to be exchanged with laughs. But then we got lectured by the dad for our foul language. I reminded him that he had elected to bring his children to a hockey match not me. He went off in a huff dragging his daughter with him. Surprisingly, his wife turned to us not to chastise but note that she hadn’t wanted to bring the kids along. She wanted to be drinking beer too, not chasing after the kids. “He’s just upset because he knows I was right…and he wants a beer.” I believe she even told us to have fun and let go. However, the thrill of the night was already suffering from the changes being experienced up in the stands. The final straw? You guessed it, the new owners had the brilliant idea to include CHEERLEADERS.
I was shocked when I heard the announcement to get up and give a nice friendly greeting to the Barracuda cheerleaders. I believe my mouth was hanging open in disbelief after the light show started. My friend and I turned towards each other and there was some swearing exchanged. You have got to be kidding me! This had to be a joke? Just like there “is no crying in baseball”. There were no cheerleaders in hockey. Or at least there shouldn’t be! What the heck kind of cheers do you come up with anyways?!? Don’t ask because I’ve shut them all out of my memory from shock that night. Oh and what made it even more horrible, the girls came out that first time in heels…on the ice… So not only were they inept at dancing in sync but then they started falling. Limbs flying every where! It was a complete debacle.
My friend and I tried going to another match or two that season but the thrill was gone. The cheerleaders were still there but had smartened up. They now wore sneakers and the staff put down carpet for them to cheer on during the breaks. We tried going on different nights, ones not promoted as family night, but slowly the stands started being top heavy with families. The young college boys and even those old sports codgers that can drink beer with cigars stuck out the side of their mouths had given up their territories. It had happened. The one final adult only bastion had fallen to the family friendly craze. Primitive hockey had been Disney-fied.