Last week, one of my co-workers (a Flyers fan) sent this video to me and a Capitals fan in our office with the subject line: "Just because our hockey highlights are few and far between these days..." Watching it was bittersweet, but I was shocked that the actual play wasn't the reason I was smiling by the end of the video.
It was play-by-play voice Brandon Astle's enthusiasm.
I watched it again. It wasn't the final seconds of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't scored in a sold-out arena (or even half-filled). No, it was an exclamation of unbridled awe for a magnificent play that was executed to perfection. I could feel Astle's excitement in my bones. The passion injected by any play-by-play voice is such a stark contrast to the journalists who populate press row. Instead of getting fired up at every great play, journalists will calmly type away on their laptops, void of any emotion that could be deemed unprofessional in the environment (obviously a generalization, but you catch my drift). It's a standard followed by much of the mainstream media not only out of respect for those also in press row, but for the integrity of journalism and the notion that journalists need to be emotionally removed from their stories. In sports journalism, bias is taboo.
I remember the first time I was in the press box for the 2011 Winter Classic, the "don't celebrate goals" warning stood at the forefront of my mind. I didn't want to look like the rookie I was; I wanted to blend in with the other seasoned press vets. When Evgeni Malkin scored, the lack of reaction from the press felt so unsettling, even though I knew it was (or wasn't) coming. I, of course, couldn't contain the "yes!" I hissed, accompanied by a small fist pump before controlling myself. As quickly as I lost control, my face turned stone cold and I channeled my excitement to Twitter instead, scolding myself for breaking the cardinal rule. Now that I look back, it really wasn't a big deal.
But that got me thinking: is it absolutely necessary to maintain a professional façade at all times when reporting or announcing a game? Don't get me wrong, I understand why there are rules of decorum in place and followed as religiously as a hockey player is superstitious. But the extent the rule is followed seems slightly counter-intuitive in some cases.
For example, fast forward to Feb. 25 of this year. The Pens had four goals on the Lightning when Malkin, possessed by the hockey spirit of Mario Lemieux, skated from the Pens' blue line and slipped the puck in the net as effortlessly as dropping a dirty tissue in the garbage. A few of the fellow bloggers I sat with, myself included, flew back in our chairs, totally electrified by the display. We were abuzz as the rest of Consol Energy Center erupted at the goal. But I remember as I looked down the row of reporters, I saw little movement aside from our little blogger nook. Again, it just felt...odd. How can you not outwardly react when a goal like that is scored?
Even excluding the "swallow your emotions to look professional" side, sitting stoically when Malkin scores that filthy goal doesn't make me any less biased than a fan who raised his hands in disbelief, yelling "Holy cow, what a move!" Anyone with any kind of sports insight could see that Malkin was in another stratosphere as he dangled down the ice. Appreciating the play doesn't necessarily mean favoring Malkin or the Pens; it means I have eyes and heart full of hockey-love that is near impossible to contain.
Bias is hardly the issue; any hockey fan should be able to recognize Malkin's mastery in the play. Why not enjoy a moment that will surely be shown on highlight reels for years to come? Sports journalists should never have to forcefully hide the passion that (hopefully) fuels their work. Doing so can literally feel like the fuel is taken out of the fire.
Maybe it's time I stop caring so much and just allow myself to be honest with my love of hockey. By no means does that honesty have to be disruptive to those trying to do their job, but it doesn't have to be smothered by a phony attitude of indifference, either.
There's a passionate hockey fan in all of us and I know Feb. 25 won't be the only time my passion takes over my poised demeanor. And I don't think it's a terrible thing.