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Zdeno Chara bleeds, Canadiens fans cheer, everyone lectures on ‘staying classy’

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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NBC

Despite getting a recent run from other cities when it comes to postgame arson, Montreal Canadiens fans still epitomize all that's wrong with hockey fandom in the eyes of many. The self-entitlement. The language politics. The hasty running of players out of town. The hysterical reaction to issues significant and myopic.

The inappropriate booing of anthems and cheering of injuries.

It's no surprise, then, that hockey fans and media crowded the same soapbox on Wednesday night to lambaste some Habs fans for having l'audace to cheer when Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara was hit in the face by a Tomas Plekanec clearing attempt.

Here's how the situation played out in the Bruins' 4-3 shootout win over the Habs:

The "stay classy, Montreal" tweets and messages were fast and furious after the incident, which was expected. (As were a few Philadelphia-based "SEE, IT'S NOT JUST US!" laments.)

Cheering an injured player is a tactless, deplorable act … until you consider the context of Wednesday night's fan behavior. Until you realize that, as fans of a contact sport, we're cheering injuries every night.

Two interesting reactions to this Wednesday night from the Bruins, via James Murphy of ESPN Boston. First, Chara:

"I can't control what the fans are going to do but it's disappointing, I guess," said Chara, who took stitches on his chin to close the gash.

"It's nothing to do with sport and even what happened previously with our two teams but that's something I can't control and that's all I have to say," Chara added.

Then, his coach, Claude Julien, who used to manage the bench in Montreal:

"It's an opposing rink and he's been booed before so it doesn't really matter," Julien said. "I've seen worse here. I've seen them boo the American national anthem when I was here so sometimes it's disappointing but it's all about passion. Sometimes they care so much that maybe they don't think what the right thing is always to do but that's just the way it is."

The player says "it's nothing to do with sports." The coach — a spectator himself — says "it's all about passion."

In this instance, I agree with the coach.

Had I watched Zdeno Chara pummel my team into oblivion for years; had I watched his superhuman efforts in the postseason eliminate my team on the regular; had I seen him put one of my favorite young players on a stretcher last season and skate by without punishment from the NHL … I would have cheered his injury.

In the moment. Without consideration that a player might have lost an eye or been concussed. In that moment, in that rivalry game, with that player having been felled, my reaction would have been to cheer.

A Scott Stevens hit that injured a player made me cheer. If Tom Brady is sacked by a 300-pound New York Jets defensive tackle and remains on the ground, I'm probably going to cheer too, and he never ran anyone into a stanchion.

Full disclosure: If my team has been getting the shaft all game from a referee and he accidentally gets crunched in a bodycheck, I've been in the chorus of sarcastic cheers that followed.

It's part of my fandom. If that makes me a classless, insulting scumbag, then I'll carry the membership card. There's too much politically motivated hypocrisy on fan behavior for me not to be honest with you.

You're paying money, spending hours and emotionally connecting with a sport in which one side is trying to physically punish the other into submission.

[Video: Rangers goalie stops Zdeno Chara with stunning save-of-the-year candidate]

We cheer fights in which one player is leveled with a right hook, the cathartic adrenaline rush filling the arena. Jay Beagle was injured quite badly in that fight with Arron Asham last year. Looking back, the reaction from the crowd and the player might seem abhorrent. In the moment — at a sporting event — it's everyone reacting to the entertainment programming they're paying to watch, and are emotionally invested in watching.

With hindsight, rational thought and human consideration will weigh on the minds of the fans that cheered Chara's injury Wednesday night. (And let's reiterate here that it was some fans in Montreal, and certainly not the majority.) If I cheer an injured player and he ends up really, really injured, I feel terrible about it. Like, "where do I send the flowers and the apology card" terrible.

But in the moment it's a different story. In the moment … sorry, I can't morally object to Montreal Canadiens fans cheering a Zdeno Chara injury, given their history and given their rivalry.

It happens everywhere, whether it's a cheer for a player taking a puck to the face or a crowd jeering because they believe an injured player is embellishing to earn his team an advantage.

Please recall the solemn, stunned silence in Boston last June when Mason Raymond was flat on his stomach, Bruins fans unaware that he wouldn't be back on the ice for four months.

"It's nothing to do with sport…"

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