They've become as synonymous with Vancouver Canucks home games as blue sweaters and Swedish twins: The Green Men, merry pranksters of the penalty box, mocking opposing players as they sit in the sin bin with props, pantomimes and acrobatic taunts.
Against the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they used a cardboard cutout of Vince Vaughn, Chicago fan, to mock Duncan Keith(notes); in Round 2 against the Nashville Predators, they moved on to Carrie Underwood, wife of Preds center Mike Fisher(notes).
While their prop comedy is safe, it turns out someone in the NHL isn't a fan of their other antics. The league has informed the Green Men — who go by the monikers Force and Sully — that they're no longer allowed to touch the penalty box glass or perform handstands to distract the visiting team's players.
"It's a liability thing," Sully told us by phone on Monday. "Even though I've been doing them for a year and a half, and I'm sort of an expert on them."
Sully said that a Canucks official informed them of the crackdown, passing along the edict from the NHL. "The Canucks have our backs. The NHL didn't want to call us personally, so they had the Canucks do it for them."
The Green Men believe it's the Nashville Predators, the Canucks' foes in the Stanley Cup Playoff Western Conference semifinals, that ordered the ban on certain antics. Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun reports that "a Predators spokesman denied any complaint was lodged."
The Green Men, who are traveling to Nashville for Games 3 and 4 against the Predators, don't plan on targeting the NHL in their newest taunts.
"I don't know if we can go after the man," said Sully. "We're going to adhere to what the league is saying. But we're not going to shut it down completely."
While the Green Men modulate their routine, their fans in Vancouver have stepped up with "Save The Green Men" campaigns … even as one prominent Canadian broadcaster celebrates their restrictions.
First, a quick primer on what it is the Green Men do so well:
Glenn Healy, a former NHL goaltender, is a commentator on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada." He discussed the situation on Saturday (video here), and criticized the Green Men's antics:
"No one's owning up to the fact that the league has looked into getting rid of these guys. We've simply had enough of looking at their rear ends and their crotches when players have to go to the box. And as a result … eh, day, their daddy owns the seats so they're allowed to be down there, but they've been more than a pain in the neck to almost every team that's played here.
"So, from that standpoint, the league is looking into 'you can't touch the glass, you can't stand up'. It's probably not appropriate to do a handstand on the seat and to make faces at the players that are in the bench."
"We've had enough. It's about the game, it's about the players, it's not about guys doin' handstands. And the league's looked into it and they're going to make amends."
Sully said Healy was off-base. "I don't think he represents the fan base. He covers more Leafs games than Canucks games working for the CBC, so I guess he's not used to seeing that sort of fan base," he said.
"He works in the entertainment business, and that's all we're going for. We're trying to entertain the fans and give the fans a good time. We're not trying to hamper the game. Glenn took it personally, it seems."
So have fans of the Green Men. Their Facebook page, home to 84,125 followers, has been lit up with messages of support for the spandexed pranksters. A protest site, "Listen up NHL, the Fans have Rights — Support the Green Men" has started. A rally in support of the Green Men has been organized for Saturday, May 7 before Game 5 of the series against Nashville:
Show up in green! Green shirts, green wigs, green face paint, or even a green Superfan Suit for you brave ones! Bring signs that say "Go Green Men Go!". It doesn't matter if you are attending the game or not - be there Vancouver!
Will it be like the end of "V for Vendetta," when thousands of disaffected Londoners show up in Guy Fawkes masks to protest the government? A sea of Green Men?
"I'd be down with that," said Sully.
The Green Men have also put out their own "History Will Be Made" video that focuses on what they feel is at the heart of their antics: Entertaining the fans.
So much like with the octopus tossing ban in Detroit and a Vancouver car dealership prohibited from putting "Go Canucks Go" on its window, the NHL comes across as a petty killjoy, willing to crush the enthusiasm of fans to soothe the trivial complaints of others. The same Debbie Downers that believed water bottle showers for abusive fans needed to be banned have now turned their draconian response to human emotion onto the fans themselves.
Sully sees it as something else entirely: an attack on the Canucks' home-ice advantage.
"It's always been our thing that we get into the players' heads. But with this thing, now we know we actually are making a difference," he said.
"Clearly, this shows there's a home-ice advantage, and the NHL is trying to take that out of the game."