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Trouble Bruin in Beantown

You almost had me fooled, New England.

I had almost adjusted to the missing 'u's in my favourite words, almost came to like the extra color on your flag and almost gotten over not being able to drink here despite being old enough to drive a car to a voting station with a gun in my hand, a cigarette in my mouth and army enlistment papers in the glove compartment (you should try it sometime).

And after over two years here, I had almost found myself rooting for one or two of your teams.

But then, in three hours, you threw it all away.

Last week, a Torontonian friend of mine from NYU met me in Boston to enjoy some good Canadian fun at a Bruins-Leafs game.

Now, I'm a pretty casual sports viewer on the couch, but at a live game, I step it up a few notches. If you've ever been annoyed by that guy with the blue clown wig who stood up and shouted at every play that favored his team - or country - well, that was me.

So, naturally, I expected the boos and subpar insults hurled my way by some hoodie-wearing teenagers when I took my nosebleed seat at last Thursday's game. Someone referred to Canada as "America's nutsack," an unamusing and in any case anatomically inaccurate crack, unless Americans' genitals are on their faces (I think there's a compound word for that).

I also expected the poor-quality heckling on the part of Bruin fans, one of whom reacted to a penalty call by shouting, "Tripping? I did not think that was tripping! Play fair, refs, play fair!"

And, of course, I expected Canadians to have a good night on the ice. So when Boston took an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Bruins center and proud Canadian Patrice Bergeron, I politely reminded the aforementioned hoodie-wearers that it was actually a Canuck who "scoa'ed" the goal they were applauding - in the Toronto-Dominion Banknorth Garden, no less (oh, you didn't know what TD stood for?).

But what I didn't expect was the reaction I received. This genital-faced kid of maybe 17 bumped me with his chest, grabbed my blue wig - the purchase of which, I should add, sent money to cancer research - and hurled it 20 rows down, using both F-words along the way. I returned to my seat dejected, only to see Boston light the lamp again 31 seconds later.

My friend and I had already planned to move closer to the ice after the first period, but that confrontation effectively sealed the deal. On the way out, a security guard asked me if I wanted him to throw genital-face out of the arena, but I just asked him to keep an eye out for trouble - it's not the Canadian way.

As we left, my friend and I reflected on how juvenile and abrasive this abrasive juvenile had been, but also had the opportunity to consider his actions in a broader social context. Aside from the scoring, the biggest action of the first period had been a brutal open-ice hit by Bruin defenseman Dennis Wideman that horizontalized Leafer Matt Stajan and stopped the play.

The crowd responded to the hit by erupting into a "U.S.A." chant.

Irony aside - Wideman and Stajan are both Canadian - what interested us was that the crowd never chanted "U.S.A." for a skillful goal or a beautiful save; instead, the most patriotic chant was reserved for violence - and there was plenty more of that to come.

By the start of the second period we had moved to the lower bowl and were less than 20 rows from the ice. The crowd warmed up to Canadian band Arcade Fire's hit "Wake Up," and the puck was dropped a few minutes later.

But just 20 seconds into the period, Bruin Milan Lucic delivered a crushing check to Toronto's Mike Van Ryn along the boards, instantly shattering an entire pane of acrylic glass. It was an impressive hit, but what few seemed to notice was that the bulk of the shards fell on a woman seated in the front row.

Even from my seat across the rink, I could see a red streak form across the woman's forehead. But the fans just a few rows back of her - along with the rest of the arena - cheered on their player, seemingly oblivious to the poor woman and the blood dripping out of the gash on her face.

Big and Rich's "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" played from the speakers as the woman was sent to a local hospital, and the uninjured fans nearby were moved to some of the arena's thousands of empty seats.

The show of indifference and lack of compassion must have fired up the Leafs, because after the glass was fixed they scored four unanswered goals to win the game 4-2.

The hecklers mostly kept their mouths shut for the rest of the game, save one portly man who grew so tired of our standing and clapping that he told an usher we weren't sitting in our proper seats. Luckily, the man was drunk enough that the usher didn't give much weight to his complaint and instead just smiled at us as we applauded our victorious team.

We walked out of the Toronto ... Garden beaming, and received some expected flak in the overcrowded subway station. "You suck!" someone shouted at my friend. "You don't even know me!" he replied.

But as we filed through the automated glass gates, things got a little rougher. The "you suck" guy pretended to trip on something and bumped my friend in the back with his chest. My friend asserted himself and called the guy out - "Why would you do something like that?"

But just as we could start to feel some uncomfortable tension in the air, a mammoth of a man wedged his leg in between both of them. At first we were worried he was stepping in to back up the Bruins fan, but we quickly realized that he was actually trying to protect us. He shoved the aggressor aside with his rear and followed us through the gate.

This man was huge and clearly drunk, but in a BFG sort of way. Eyeing our Toronto jerseys, he offered to accompany us home to make sure we didn't get into any trouble. We politely resisted the offer, but when he asked us where we were headed and we told him Harvard, he smiled and showed us his Harvard ID - it turned out that our pudgy protector was a staff member at a computer lab there.

The three of us squeezed into a subway car that was clearly over capacity. But just before the doors closed, two groups of about five friends each - including the aggressive Bruin fan - shoved their way into the car.

The entire car was almost face-to-face. Our burly friend positioned himself in between us and the two posses, anticipating what was to come. It appeared that someone in one group bumped someone in the other group, and within a minute of the doors closing, one-third of the car had erupted into an all-out brawl, with barfight-style punches to the face.

Our friend could have taken any of them easily, but he spread his arms and shielded the rest of the car from the fight. Women and elderly folks from the dangerous side of the car ducked under his arms and stood with us, and anytime the fight crept closer to our side he would give the group a big push back with his trunk. He even took one combatant aside and convinced him not to punch back because he wasn't bleeding, even as blood trickled out of a cut beside his eye.

By the time we reached Park Street, our new friend had broken up the fight and protected everyone on the car from harm - all with a goofy smile on his face.

In exchange, we let him tell us all about his cross-continent trip to visit as many halls of fame as he could, passing through Niagara Falls - "that's quite a crevasse you've got there."

I had grown bitter toward the city of Boston at the game and in the subway, but this man made me rethink my image of the region - until I learned that he was from St. Louis, Mo.

So, New England, suffice it to say that you've lost a future fan, a loyal supporter and a devoted wig-wearer. The siren song of your successful teams and illustrious history will not draw me in, for I now know how sharp the Massachusetts Bay rocks really are.

I cheered for the Rams last week.


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