One of the lines I so hate to hear out of an announcer - or a fan, for that matter - is "Act like you've been there before." This line, of course, comes immediately following a score by a player.
I was subject to this as a long-time Detroit Lions NFL fan (cured of that illness by years and years of Matt Millen), where All-Millennium running back Barry Sanders would shake every opposing defensive player out of his shoes before cruising into the end zone. Sanders, not a demonstrative guy by any means, would do something like this montage suggests (and yes, I know that these are college highlights...apparently the NFL isn't big on showing clips of guys flipping a ball to a ref):
Sanders was incredible. No, incredible doesn't do him justice. He was a once-in-a-generation talent. He wasn't, however, anything close to excitable. So he flipped the ball to the refs and ran to the sidelines again and again.
Somewhere in the sports lexicon, this behavior became not just acceptable but glorified. Perhaps it was a result of sports announcers faced with Sanders' velveeta behavior and trying to rationalize it to a viewing audience that was genuinely excited at what they saw. Regardless, dispassionate play became important. You had to act like you've been there before. Even if you hadn't. And the NFL got that much more boring to me over time.
I tell you all that to offer this little thought: I know nothing about Vinny Prospal. Heck, I mess up the spelling on his last name more than I get it right. But as I understand it, Prospal is on the Columbus Blue Jackets roster today for the express purpose of filling the gap left by Kristian Huselius' untimely weightlifting accident this offseason. That means that Prospal will be expected to score goals, something he's done 227 times in his 14 years in the National Hockey League.
When CBJ general manager signed Howson, the rumblings out of New York (Prospal played for the Rangers last season) were really interesting. The fans weren't Tweeting about how they were going to lose all sorts of goal production. No, they were largely mentioning how they were going to miss Prospal's enthusiasm. At the time of the signing, some New Yorker said that Columbus fans won't believe their eyes when Prospal scores his first goal as a Blue Jacket, that Prospal will celebrate like he just won the Olympics for his native Czech Republic in a sudden death overtime.
I appreciate that New Yawkers are masters of hyperbole, and that nothing ever existed before it occurred in The Big Apple, but this type of comment wasn't just coming from one person. Lots of fans were making similar comments. Interesting, I thought at the time. Prospal sounded like the type of guy who could be a positive, energizing force on a Blue Jackets roster that often appeared stocked with a lot of young kids who were being told to act like they've been there before...because they don't know any better.
There's showboating and going overboard, and we all know who does that in just about any sport. Such behavior gets a short-term benefit in the arena yet often sparks the opposition to play harder. Then there's genuine excitement of a wide smile and outstretched arms looking for fellow players to share the joy - the type of excitement that pumps up a crowd, that galvanizes a team. I prefer the latter.
A guy who is genuinely excited out on the ice is genuinely excited by nature, bringing that enthusiasm to practice, to the locker room, etc. This is the type of behavior that keeps streaks alive and (ahem, CBJ fans) helps bring teams out of slumps. It's a funny type of leadership, but it's an important one and one that the Blue Jackets probably needed for the past couple of years. To their credit, the Blue Jackets tried to get locker room support for our young, All-Star captain. Instead, we got the likes of the hard playing-but-vanilla Chris Clark, the injured ghost that was Ethan Moreau and the "just in town for a cup of coffee" Craig Rivet. While not a full captain, Prospal wore the "A" in New York while offering a different style of demonstrative leadership that could be appealing to the team.
The other aspect to playing with fire and enthusiasm is the effect that it has on your fanbase. Go look at either of Tom "Skraut" Larrow's fan videos from CannonFest 2011. How many clips show players trudging back to the bench after a goal? How many show excitement, enthusiasm and celebration? It's that sense of electricity, transferring back and forth between players and spectators, that makes sports fun - and puts rear ends in seats. (Lord knows that the CBJ need lots of seats filled.)
So I'm looking forward to seeing this Prospal guy play on the Nationwide main ice. I'm even more interested in seeing him score, because I really want to celebrate just as wildly as he does. When it comes down to it, the Columbus Blue Jackets barely have made it to a place where they can say that they've been there before. They haven't won a playoff game yet, so let's celebrate every goal that gets us to that point...and beyond.
Vaclav Prospal, can you show us how it's done?