When you attend a sporting event you almost expect to see something wacky. But how wacky is always subject to the particular event.
However, one thing that is always certain (almost certain) is that the fans are rooting for the players playing the game.
Well, there’s one exception.
Two years ago, almost to the day, on February 12, 2017, a group of fans appeared at the Islanders game in Brooklyn, against the Avalanche, dressed as NHL referees.
On the surface it appeared to be a goofy stunt by roughly two dozen fans. When my editor at the time got wind of their appearance he sent me to investigate.
Upon my arrival at their section (204), I was greeted by a group of early 20’s fans who professed their love and devotion to the referees of the game; specifically Eric Furlatt and Chris Lee.
The ring leaders, Max and Chris, explained to me that their group’s mission was to support the referees since nobody else did. After all, it’s common tradition in hockey — as well as all sports — that fans BOO the referees when they blow or miss a call. Nobody cheers when they make a correct call.
Max and Chris informed me they wanted to expound the ideas of good sportsmanship and fair play.
Personally I thought they were just goofy fans who wanted a moment in the spotlight. But I was wrong.
Fast forward to November 5, 2017, it was a new season, but the story remained the same.
The Colorado Avalanche once again made their once-a-season trek to Brooklyn to take on the Isles. And once again the wacky Fan Refs appeared. Only this time, they had over 200 people in their group.
Once again my editor sent me to their section (this time they were sitting behind the goal at the far end of the rink) to get their story. And once more I complied.
With their group having grown so much, Max and Chris told me they wanted to make a difference. They wanted to not only support the referees, but they also wanted to get the rules changed to protect the refs more than they currently were. They even had signs reading, “Wow That’s A Good Call” and “Protect The Refs!”
And just like the first time around, the Isles won the game. The first time was by the score of 5-1. And this time the Islanders won 6-4.
Now let’s get to today, Saturday February 9, 2019.
The Islanders hosted the Colorado Avalanche in Brooklyn and — stop me if you’ve heard this before — once more the Fan Refs showed up. Only, this time, they had over 350 people in tow.
So, once again I made my way over to their section (they were back in 204) and I was greeted with a rousing cheer of remembrance, like I was an old friend. But this time, there were more reporters than just me who made their way over to these eccentric fans.
As one Fan Ref from Idaho told me, “this is my first time doing this but I’m glad I’m here. In Idaho we don’t have an NHL team, so I just root for the referees.”
“We want to preach fairplay and good sportsmanship,” said Barbara, an Isles fan from Brooklyn, who was connected to the founders of the group via their Facebook page and the fact that several of her co-workers are also in the group.
As Caroline, a hockey fan from California (she does not have a rooting interest in any one team) told me, “as much as this is about supporting the refs, it’s also about the overall experience. This is my first hockey game and I’m having a great time!”
“It’s a really spirited event,” said Alexa, a mid-20’s girl from Connecticut who is another hockey first-timer.
With so much praise for the founders of the group I had to find Max and Chris and ask them, ‘what’s next?’
Their answer: “we want to grow this to the point where it’s nationwide. We want to have this in every arena across the NHL. And we’d even like to be able to grow this to the point where we can be the majority of the crowd at a game, perhaps even the whole crowd.”
Those are some lofty ambitions and after doubting them the first time, I’ve learned my lesson and wish them well.
Besides, the Islanders won the game 4-3 in overtime, to move to a perfect 3-0 when the Fan Refs appear. At that rate, the Isles will happily welcome back the Fan Refs; as long as they keep bringing them good luck of course.