When athletes attack: A brief history of fights between players and fans

Imagine, for a second, that you get some great tickets to a sporting event – hockey or otherwise. You decide to give the other team a clever tongue-lashing, perhaps thanks to a healthy dosage of booze or a long day at the office. It seems like a light hearted good time – after all, isn’t this why you’re at the event instead of watching from your couch? – until, of course, you notice (far too late) that a professional athlete is charging in your direction like a wayward locomotive.

What Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien did last night wasn’t expected, but it was far from unprecedented … and it was nowhere near the most dangerous (or comical) incident of its kind. Let’s take a look at some of the most unforgettable moments in which “fan-athlete interaction” became more like a contact sport, in hockey and beyond.

Boston Bruins take on Madison Square Garden

This one takes us all the way back to 1979, when multiple Boston Bruins stormed over the boards to pummel a handful of New York Rangers fans. You can see the video here and while it’s not of the highest quality, it really captures the primitive mood that must have been in the air that night. Bruins captain Terry O’Reilly was actually the first person over the boards, but our very own commentator Mike Milbury gets most of the attention for beating a fan with his own shoe.

(Shoes definitely make my top five list of “most humorous objects someone can use to pummel a fan.” Vuvuzelas and foam fingers are in a two-way race for the gold medal.)

The Ron Artest Melee

Few nights in sports left me slack-jawed quite like that incident between Ron Artest, the Indiana Pacers and fans of the Detroit Pistons back in September 2004. Artest went from playfully relaxing on an announcer/scorer’s table to rabid dog mode in a split second, charging into the crowd with frightening gusto. The rest of the staggering violence and uneasy tension comprises one of the ugliest evenings in NBA history. See for yourself in this stunning video. It’s basically an HD-remake of that Bruins-Rangers fans brawl.

Tennis player Monica Seles gets stabbed

Seeing Seles get stabbed by a nutty fan shook me up enough as a kid that I think that I repressed the memory to some extent. Let’s face it though; I’ll never forget the sight of Seles collapsing to the court while holding her stab wound. (Here’s a link to the video, though it captures the disturbing aftermath more than anything else.)

A handful of baseball brawls

Usually baseball-related violence is exclusively related to bench clearing brawls (or one-on-one battles, such as that indelible image of Pedro Martinez throwing ancient manager Don Zimmer to the ground). Yet you have to think with the sport’s long history coupled with the law of averages (162-game seasons = plenty of opportunities for altercations) that there would be some moments. I think former Texas Rangers pitcher Frank Fransisco might take the violent cake for throwing a chair at some fans, though.

Tie Domi, John Tortorella and the art of the water bottle squirt

It’s about time the Philadelphia Flyers’ “passionate” fan base made an appearance, right? While Domi’s water bottle squirting incident ended in a far more malicious way than Tortorella’s, both moments are refreshing bits of entertainment.

Anyway, those are some of the most memorable moments of “interaction” between fans and athletes (and one coach). Chances are pretty strong that I missed a big one or two, though, so feel free to share some other famous incidents or one of your personal heckling recollections in the comments.

And, please, make sure you’re a safe distance away from highly trained (and sometimes highly irritable) athletes before you serenade them with your witty one-liners.

Welcome Ryan Johansen to the trade rumor mill

Ryan Johansen
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Well, this kind of seemed inevitable — there are now trade rumblings involving Columbus center Ryan Johansen.

This evening, TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed that teams have been calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen about the talented pivot, adding that one team classified Johansen as being “softly” in play.

More (transcribed from video):

“That doesn’t mean [Kekalainen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?’ However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’

“What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line — so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”

The incident Dreger referred to occurred during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, in which head coach John Tortorealla limited Johansen to just 13:52 TOI — his lowest total of the season.

It’s the latest incident from what’s already been a tumultuous year; not long after getting hired, Tortorella told the reigning All-Star MVP he was out of shape.

Johnansen was then away from the team for a pair of games dealing with an undisclosed illness. During that absence, the Dispatch reported Johansen had been hospitalized this summer because of an accelerated heart rate.

All this, of course, came one year after an ugly contract dispute at the start of last season, during which the Jackets and Johansen’s representation engaged in a public spat before agreeing to a three-year, $12M deal.

‘John leaves a lasting mark’: NHL announces Collins’ departure as COO

John Collins
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One of the driving forces behind the NHL’s growth over the last decade is moving on.

John Collins, who’s served as the league’s chief operating officer for the last seven years, will be leaving his post to embark on a new business opportunity.

More, from the League:

Collins, who joined the NHL in November 2006, had been COO since August 2008.

“John leaves a lasting mark,” said Commissioner Bettman. “His energy, creativity and skill at building strategic partnerships helped drive significant revenue growth for our League. We are grateful for his many contributions and wish him the best in his new endeavors.”

Said Collins, “I’m grateful to Commissioner Bettman for his leadership and friendship over the past nine years. He had a vision for extending the reach of the NHL and supported us completely as we set out to make the game as big as it deserves to be.

“The NHL’s future is filled with promise and potential and I will admire and cheer the League’s successes to come on the global stage.”

Collins, 53, was regarded as one of main presences behind a number of the NHL’s most successful initiatives, including the Winter Classic and Stadium Series, the HBO 24/7 collaboration, the relaunched World Cup of Hockey, Canadian and American television deals and partnerships with companies like SAP, Adidas, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and GoPro.

During Collins’ tenure, the NHL was twice named “Sports League of the Year” by the SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily — once in 2011, and again in 2014.

Jackets activate Dubinsky, Wennberg from IR

Andy Andreoff, Brandon Dubinsky
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Columbus will have some reinforcements up front when it takes on the Devils tomorrow in New Jersey.

Brandon Dubinsky, who’s missed the last six games with an elbow injury, and Alexander Wennberg — who’s also missed the last six games, but with a foot ailment — have both been activated from injured reserve, and should be available for selection on Wednesday.

It wasn’t all good news for the Jackets, though. Defenseman Cody Goloubef and right wing Rene Bourque were placed on IR.

The biggest return for Columbus is Dubinsky, who had four goals and 11 points in 16 games prior to getting hurt, while averaging nearly 19 minutes per night.

That said, getting Wennberg back is key as well; the former first-round pick has been plagued by injuries recently but showed well during his rookie campaign in ’14-15, with 20 points in 68 games.

Alumni rosters announced for Bruins-Habs at Gillette Stadium

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The Winter Classic Alumni Game is back this year, scheduled for New Year’s Eve at Gillette Stadium between former members of the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins.

Today, the NHL announced the rosters and coaching staffs.

Famous ex-Habs that will take to the outdoor ice include Larry Robinson, Guy Carbonneau, and Mats Naslund. Behind the bench will be Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Demers and Guy Lafleur, among others.

The home side will counter with Bruins legends Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, and “Nifty” Rick Middleton, while Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, and Derek Sanderson will be among the coaches. (Quite a trio of personalities right there.)

Here are the full rosters:


NBCSN will broadcast the alumni game nationally in the United States, while Sportsnet and TVA Sports will have it in Canada.

The 2016 Winter Classic will be played the next day (on NBC).