P.J.R.: Wild carries our manhood with it in playoffs
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The level of emotion that the home team's presence in the NHL playoffs brings to the Minnesota populace in the 21st Century is quite a phenomenon for a well-experienced reporter.
It required a playoff "run'' to get folks worked up through most of the North Stars stay here (1967-93). The minimum requirements to qualify as a run were to advance to the second round and to be competitive once there.
A big reason for this was simple math:
For most of those seasons, it was much more difficult for an NHL team to avoid the playoffs than to reach them. From 1980 through 1990, it was a 21-team league with 16 advancing to the playoffs.
So, you couldn't blame the sporting public or local media for not getting worked up over a first round. If the opponent happened to be hated Blackhawks, "Dino Sucks vs. Secord Sucks,'' it was different, but mostly we bided our time, waiting to find out if the North Stars had any success planned for this particular spring.
Another reason for the amazing upgrade in playoff hype is the amount of media - established, public and social - that has exploded around us in the two decades since the North Stars left for Dallas.
As I recall, the Twin Cities dailies would send the North Stars beat reporter on the road for the first round of the playoffs and that was it. And it would be those two or three reporters offering insights and chronicling the team's complaints about the refereeing.
Starting in the mid-'80s, there was the Midwest Sports Channel (originally WCCO II), but it wasn't in every home, and it didn't offer every game of the regular season with a hometown spin as does Fox Sports North.
I come from an era of journalism when it was a sin to blatantly root for the home team. Sid Hartman got away with it, but not many others in newspapers, television or even radio wanted to be of that ilk. Now, the sin is to not blatantly root for the home team.
People with as much as a passing interest in the local sports scene are commanded by FSN, commanded by newspapers, TV and radio stations and their Websites, and commanded by their peers to be fully on board with the Wild at the first drop of a playoff puck, or to be outcasts.
Hype runs all aspects of our lives as never before, of course -- so much so that I can give you the name of the guy in charge of the tunes for the Minnesota Orchestra. It's Osmo Vanska, the third most-revered Finn in these parts behind Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula.
Yet, there's more than modern-day hype that triggers hysteria for the hockey playoffs, even for Minnesotans who have little problem ignoring the 82-game regular season.
What makes hockey different is the image of the game - the popular idea that hockey is a test of toughness. In that, hockey is grouped with football.
The other two major sports, baseball and basketball, go in another category. They are the sports where success simply makes you feel good, rather than vindicated as hardy souls.
Question: Why are so many people, especially males, still moping on a Monday after the Vikings lose a game?
Because, it's almost as if it's our manhood on the line when the warriors in Purple go out to physically confront the men in Green and Gold. And, if the Purple fails, we are not hardy, we are not as tough.
(Note: And, yeah, we also got cheated by the refs).
Same thing with an NHL playoff series - except this isn't 24 hours, this is two weeks of drama, two weeks that will leave us feeling either superior in our desire to win, in our work ethic and in our toughness to the occupants of another town or region, or we will feel weaker in those areas.
Basketball is a tough game, especially in the NBA, but it's a game where skill is the most-admired quality. That's not the case in hockey. It's a game where a magical offensive player such as Patrick Kane can get bad-mouthed for not being tough enough.
And baseball? We won two World Series in what's getting to be "way back when,'' and nobody was feeling, "This makes us tougher than St. Louis, tougher than Atlanta.''
All we felt was very good.
Hockey's different. Those marbles Colorado coach Patrick Roy talked about putting on the table? A good share of Minnesota's hockey fans feel as if they are doing that personally when the Wild take the ice in the playoffs.
My theory, anyway.
--PATRICK JAMES REUSSE.