On Sunday, August, 7th, the hockey world joined Pittsburgh Penguins fans in celebrating the birthday of Sidney Crosby, the now-grown-up Kid who saved hockey after an asphyxiating lockout. Crosby's presence and immediate impact in the NHL forced hardcore and casual fans to look away from their own lives and into his magical world conjured by hard work, finesse and boy-next-door personality.
At the same time, Crosby is at the center of the hotly debated topic concerning female fans in the NHL and the assumptions on their intentions. As Pens fans, we already worship the ice on which Crosby skates, but there are those who see a picture of Crosby's defined lower body and "aw shucks" smile and suddenly, the desire to "tap that" becomes all they care about. And I mean all they care about.
We are all familiar with this kind of female fan. The puck bunnies, a steady group of women who watch hockey but with the hopes of a hot and heavy moment with a hockey player more than anything else. As aggravating as the group is, they are there and they won't be going anywhere anytime soon as long as players like Crosby are around.
But this isn't about them. Puck bunnies are their own thing; lady Pens fans, I say to you this: don't let hockey fans' image of them change how you represent yourself.
There has been an ongoing fight between female hockey fans and how they want to be viewed by the rest of the fan bases and League. If you're a hockey fan and aren't ashamed of your love of the Pens, then you will have nothing to worry about regarding how you're seen.
Random note: I understand the issue encompasses more than female Pens fans, but since we're on Pensburgh, I'm going to spend a majority of time focusing on our team's fan base, not the entire NHL.
First order of business, hockey and the Pens are our top priority. Not the fact that Kris Letang cut his hair short or Crosby looks smashing on the cover of Pittsburgh Magazine. We all live and breathe by the 82-game season that dictates our lives, just like any male fan. This is because we're fans first; gender shouldn't have anything to do with that.
To take an over-quoted line from Herb Brooks, "The name on the front [of a jersey] is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back." We have no business calling ourselves fans if it isn't about the hockey.
With that out of the way, we're still women. Any straight woman with eyes will see the attractiveness present on the roster and yes, there will be drooling here and there. Once again, we're red-blooded women; it's just going to happen, just like we know guys do the same thing when looking at pictures of tennis star Anna Kournikova and United States women's soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo.
This is where the "problems" arise. Women will start to fawn over videos of Crosby working out and some male fans might call them out because of it. Then the women will fight back with a "well I bet you go gaga over the cheerleaders in the NFL" response. Women get overly defensive which is where the true problems lie.
I don't see anything wrong with either behavior. Girls can drool over solid-bodied hockey players and men can drool over the lithe bodies of tennis players. Ladies, if you want to have the same treatment men receive, then you shouldn't have to defend yourself so fervently. You can keep your focus on the hockey and still enjoy the view so be comfortable with your fandom and don't let a few ignorant morons force you to think you need to do more to "prove yourself." Just ignore, ignore, ignore. Actually engaging in debate with these people will only make things worse.
The same goes for the puck bunnies. Instead of sitting behind your computer criticizing them, just leave them alone and let them dig their own graves. Attacking them will just allow you to dig your own. Eliminate the phrase 'puck bunny' from your vocabulary and you will lessen the chances of it being used to describe yourself.
However, speaking up isn't always a bad thing. For example, the NHL released a line of "Champagne Jerseys" that wasn't accepted kindly. It was great, the female fans knew exactly what they wanted took a stance about it. The whole idea of a different jersey was silly to me because what kind of a fan would prefer that to an authentic looking jersey? But, to each their own and the jersey still sells to this day, though I have only seen a handful worn in the Pittsburgh area, thank goodness.
Another monstrous topic that drew claws was the establishment of the Ice Crew last summer. Today, the Pens announced the new team and I have seen two types of reactions about the crew: disapproval and indifference. I empathize with both.
My initial reaction was the first because I didn't like the dress code which made cleaning ice into a beauty contest (this is no offense to those who tried out and by no means am I trying to insult them). It didn't make sense that the Pens were bringing on a gimmick that has been used in newer hockey markets to bring in more interest to the game and keep the fans pumped—something the Pens clearly don't need. To this day, I still don't like the idea of the Ice Crew because it's so not traditional of Pittsburgh sports and I'm a big follower of tradition.
Ultimately, complaints have fallen on deaf ears and we have them again this season, but I feel like my disdain toward the crew has dropped some. Why? Because, in the end, I'm there to watch the Pens which is where the indifference mentality comes in. I have made my stance against the Ice Crew and I will stand by it, but I won't let it get in the way of what really matters. By constantly arguing about the Ice Crew, it can make a fan look like they care more about what happens after the whistles rather than in between them.
I'm not saying back down from your stance on the issue, just don't lose sight of why you and the other 18,000+ fans are in Consol Energy Center in the first place. Your love for the Pens should always be what defines you and that is why being a "true fan" is genderless.
In the end, I ask that female Pens fans to not worry so much about what others think of them and to stop trying to forcibly fight the stereotype. If some random guy wants to make the assumption that you're only watching hockey for the big behinds and manly muscles, go on a tangent about how much the Pens' penalty kill made you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
That will shut him up faster than any other defensive approach.
Just be a hockey fan and people won't even care if you're a girl or guy. Own your love for the Pens and don't give people any reason to think you're anything but a true fan. The rest will then fall into place.