April 28, 2009
Whether or not you believe the letter New York Rangers GM Glen Sather made public about his concerns for security at the Verizon Center was "silly gamesmanship and ridiculous behavior," one can reasonably expect there to be a tighter leash on the Washington Capitals fans seated behind Coach John Tortorella for tonight's Game 7 after Game 5's suspension-level chaos.
One guy who won't be there: Ron from Nevada, a 57-year-old man that Sather specifically mentioned in his open letter to Gary Bettman:
Because of the way the glass is installed, the patron sitting behind Coach Tortorella (the gray-haired, bearded man in the white T-Shirt) could literally scream into the coach's ear. According to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay, one patron was screaming at the team, in graphic language, about whether Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship. This was within earshot of several children seated nearby. Several other fans also made repeated homophobic remarks. Moreover, Mr. Ramsay reported that he and other bench personnel were spit on by one or more "fans" as they yelled through the gaps in the glass.
Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog caught up with Ron for his side of this still-simmering controversy, and discovered that some of Sather's gripes were accurate ... while others were not.
For example, we can finally put to rest the question of whether or not Tortorella had a beer dumped on him. Because it was Ron from Nevada's beer that hit him.
Steinberg reports that Ron is a Capitals fan going back to the Cap Centre days in the 1980s. He was in town with his family on a business trip, and attended Game 5 before heading back home.
Ron confirms that there were some rowdy fans in his section tossing some harsh taunts at the Rangers bench before they were reprimanded by arena staff. His part in the incident started when he decided to engage Tortorella in some smack talk. From the Bog:
"I leaned in to the little crack [in the glass], and I didn't yell and scream, I just said it very calmly," Ron told me. "I leaned into the crack and I said, 'Nice job coach, your guys put up 15 shots and your [slang term for cats] couldn't even put in a goal.' And then he just went crazy."
From his days in the Cap Centre, Ron said he was accustomed to coaches spritzing rowdy fans with water bottles, and when Tortorella turned, that's what he anticipated. But he said Tortorella crossed a line by soaking him with water.
"If it had been just a little squirt I would have just laughed it off, but he just went crazy and darn near emptied that bottle on me," Ron said. "After he emptied that bottle on me I just threw that beer. Well, it was half a beer....And it just went crazy from there."
According to Ron's account, Tortorella rose up to throw the bottle at him. Ron ducked, and the bottle hit a female fan seated behind him. Tortorella grabbed the stick and the two men stared at each other, with Ron not saying much besides "You want me, I'm right here," and things of that ilk.
Ron from Nevada also claims that he never spat at the Rangers bench, and that the half-a-brew was the only beer he had consumed all day, despite TSN's claims to the contrary. Seriously, doesn't this commentary deserve some kind of public apology?
So in the end, we have an NHL coach squirting a water bottle at a fan; a fan believing that he was squirted too much, so he chucks a beer; and then the NHL coach responds by hurling a water bottle into the stands, hitting a woman in the face.
Again, there's no justification for a professional coach or athlete or executive to assault a paying customer in a situation like this. None.
But we scanned and scanned and scanned Steinberg's piece and couldn't find any of the following words or phrases: "Ejected," "kicked out," "escorted away by arena security." We've seen fans sent packing for dumping a beer on another puckhead before, let alone a coach.
So load up on beer tonight, Caps fans in the lower bowl. Evidently, it's a shootin' gallery down there on opposing players and coaches, without fear of repercussions from arena security.
Hearing another side to the story, maybe Sather had a point after all.