Friday, July 29, 2016

WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR - SAN DIEGO (J)

Continued from WORLD WIDE HOCKEY TOUR –
SAN DIEGO (PART I) in July, 2016.

During Mekkar’s heyday most, not all, arenas only had higher plexiglass above the dasher and boards normally at the far ends of the ice. That is where the majority of shots on net are taken and they appeared to be much heavier panes of glass unlike what is used in the current time. There was usually less, or none at all, glass extruding above the boards on both sides of the ice surface even with respect to the penalty boxes. As one might guess fans took advantage of this aspect in many places. They also took liberties by pouring beer and throw food, as well as, toss an assortment of items onto and at opposing players. Especially, enemy players who would be serving their infraction time in the sin bin in those days.

Mekkar experienced this phenomenon on a first-hand basis since he was a frequent visitor to the penalty box. Alf called it, “His home away from home!” Mekkar was on many occasions a target of fan wrath for that type of mistreatment. Being doused with items while doing his time in the box, waiting to get free, was a regular occurrence. Much of the time hometown security agents and police officers assigned to work that particular area during the match were reluctant to try to stop that type of unruly fan behavior. At times, they would willfully ignore the actions, laugh and snicker, or watch gleefully at the abuse against visiting players. Surprisingly, this also happened in his home rink also because of his style of play and unconcern of making people angry while the game was ongoing. Mekkar did not miss being the mark of repetitive drenching by foreign objects after his hockey career was over.

A person has to remember that hockey is a sport that has allowed fans to throw hats onto to ice. The hats are a symbol for a hat trick (three goal performance) in one game by a hometown player. Next, the hats are gathered by the arena crew and normally donated to charity. Other objects are deposited on the ice also such as an octopus for the first goal by the home club in a playoff game to signify an old standard. The tradition began in Detroit when it only took eight victories to win the Stanley Cup before the first NHL expansion in nineteen sixty-seven. These are practices and rituals that have been present in hockey for many years. [Wikipedia; The Hockey News]

Since, several arenas at that time had much shorter, and in a few cases no, glass rising from the top of the boards on the sides of the rink. Mekkar figured the excuse might have been used that shots on goal were not aimed there. Plus, it could be a quicker turn around process to convert to another scheduled activity in the venue. Younger fans, along with their families, that sat in those seats would often be seen with baseball gloves to catch deflected pucks. That is, if they could react fast enough. Mekkar thought it was mainly for their own personal protection because a wayward puck travelling at high speeds can maim a person. If that vulcanized rubber disc hits the right spot it can kill too, especially an individual who is unprepared, unaware, or not paying attention. Sadly, this instance has materialized on occasion with dire consequences for the victim.

Well, at the rink Mekkar ran into and started a brief chat with a couple of the home team equipment handling employees. He mentioned off-handedly about how his squad (the Selects) didn’t have to bring so many of own toiletries, medications, drinking water, alcohol, daily use items, knickknacks, and more on this trip. Mainly because they could find and purchase those needed items here in the city. Mekkar brought up the subject related to stories he heard from other veteran players back home who performed for various travelling national and representative squads. More specifically, when those vets played in matches in other not so modern parts of the world. He commented about team members, players, officials, coaches, and other club employees were unable to find what they needed when they required it. The little band got a chuckle out of that one and reassured him that things were plentiful here in San Diego. [sportsillustrated.cnn.com; The Hockey News]

That was a relief to Mekkar and he did compliment those employees during their exchange. These little distractions were not large considerations occupying the mind or negative issues on this tour. Mekkar said that the trip organizers, outside of the game schedule, and even more so the host teams all took good care of the visiting Selects. The teen from the arctic understood this because he helped carry out and operate similar administrative functions for a previous squad; he also played for, prior to this journey.

Mekkar was well aware that home tilts against international squads could attract more fans than non-rivalry regular matches on the schedule. The employees told him how the Mariners drew a packed house, or close to it in comparison, in a previous match versus the USSR. It was brought up that the home side played one of their best games ever. However, San Diego received the shaft along with no power-plays due to the referee bias against them. The Soviet referee was accompanying with his own squad, so go figure! They mentioned that there were no homer calls for the Mariners that night!

The good draw of these visiting teams from overseas was the reasoning for continuing to book them on the schedule. These exhibition matches were a novelty for the fans and brought in extra cash and profits. This was especially key for some of the more financially strapped clubs struggling at the gate. It was pretty much expected to be a fairly even exchange of travelling and touring teams going over to the other’s countries’ overseas and vice versa. Play games in each other’s backyard where these matches would bring in more fans and all involved would rake in the dough. Similar to dealing with tourists if you treat them well, they will probably come back. Another option, they could pass the word onto their acquaintances that also might travel there. This was becoming a regular standard, led by the World Hockey Association, all over the hockey globe. The WHA never tried to hide the fact they were truly attempting to be a world league. Well as much as they could afford, since there wasn’t the stability of the NHL. [Wikipedia; WHA San Diego Mariners Historical Site – sdmariners.htm; Playing Hockey The World Over … wha.htm; billsportsmaps.com; The Hockey News; whahockey.com; hockeyfights.com]

The arctic youngster was quite aware of this trend because he was present at a few of those events back home. That was before participating himself in a number of these special matches. Mekkar already knew about the accompanying extra local media hype before and during the attraction as he had been part of it on multiple levels. Thus, it resulted in increased swelled size crowds over the norm during the festivities and exhibition games. The North American visiting clubs did the smart thing by bring back local and national heroes and star athletes as part of the games exchanges. When they came over to Mekkar’s part of the world wisdom and profits prevailed. Former players would be included that the hometown fans would recognize. Bring the stars and fans will come! That normally meant great gains for the paying gate and regular occurrence of sellouts too! Mekkar felt that these overseas tilts benefitted the hockey industry on a worldwide basis more than anyone could have predicted.