Devils fans hate the Rangers.
Aside from the Stanley Cups and the consistently fantastic goaltending and the general thrill of rooting for a team that almost always seems to outpace expectations, hating the Rangers is the best part of loving the Devils. It’s something we all share, something we know about each without ever needing to say it (although we do say it. We say it a lot, and at as high a volume as the situation allows). Hating the Rangers is our birthright and we enjoy it immensely.
Or, we did. I can’t speak for anyone else, but these days I just can’t hate my team’s biggest rival the way I used to.
The spark went out of my capricious hockey hate when I started leaning about all the hockey teams that have earned my disdain through legitimately loathsome behavior. The Los Angeles Kings tried to shield domestic abuser Slava Voynov from punishment at every turn, and continue to maintain ties with him. The Nashville Predators knowingly signed and promoted sex criminal Mike Ribeiro. The Chicago Blackhawks’ treatment of rape allegations against star forward Patrick Kane is well-documented and discouraging as hell. This list, of course, is nowhere near complete.
How am I supposed to wallow in glorious hatred of the Rangers, whose only notable crime is being a doted-upon area rival, when other teams harbor rapists and abusers? At a time when I’ve begun to hate the NHL itself for cause, how much passion can I spare for a franchise just trying to win hockey games.
I’m sure there are some nasty skeletons in the Rangers’ closet, and that someone will try to make a gift of them to me in the same way a cat drops a dead mouse at its owner’s feet. Please don’t. I don’t need another dead mouse. There’s no joy in hating a team for being an actual scourge on society.
People have also gleefully shoved the Devils’ skeletons in my face in an attempt to crush my passion on the topic of sexual assault and domestic violence in the NHL. That’s not going to work, either. Learning about my team’s transgressions made me sad and a little sick to my stomach, but it neither shamed me into silence nor obliterated my love for an organization that has brought me decades of joy. It lessened my joy, so kudos to the messengers for that, but it didn’t destroy the memories nor the excitement of what could be to come.
The irrational love, if somewhat diminished, still remains. Without the accompanying irrational hate, though, my fan experience feels incomplete. I might talk trash with a Rangers fan or take a little extra pleasure in seeing the Devils beat the guys in blue, but there are at least three non-conference teams I can’t bring myself to cheer for when they play against New York. Rivalry-wise, I’m going through the motions.
I want hockey players to stop assaulting women because I’m a decent human being and no more assaults would mean no more victims. I want the NHL and its teams to do something about abuse and abusers for the same reason, and also because it would help combat some of the entrenched sexism and misogyny currently festering in the league (and in most pro sports). There’s a long list of reasons why I want to see progress in this area, and most of them boil down to trying to make the world to be a better, safer, kinder place. But down at the bottom of that list, after all the noble causes and positive aspirations, is the desire to rekindle my wholesome hate.
I want to hate the Rangers again, lustily and with abandon. I want to revel in their failures and boo their stars. I want there to be no doubt whatsoever that if the Rangers made it to the Cup finals I would whole-heartedly root for the opponent, no matter who it may be.
I’ve lost that hating feeling. I just want it back.