On Saturday night, the TD Garden crowd booed Kessel mercilessly when he returned with the Maple Leafs to face the Bruins for the first time since being traded. The crowd booed just about every time Kessel’s stick touched the puck. The booing didn’t last long, though — every time the puck hit his stick, it squirted away just as quickly. Kessel had a rough night (minus-3), and the Maple Leafs got trounced 7-2 by the Bruins.
Sports radio hosts have been debating whether the fans booed him because he asked for a trade out of Boston, or whether his flashy style just didn’t fit the Bruins’ philosophy.
Some have argued that the crowd should have appreciated that he gave his all while in a Black and Gold uniform. He did what he was here to do: score.
Kessel posted 36 goals and finished with 60 points last season. His production steadily improved in each of his three seasons in Boston. He endeared himself to the fans when he publicly embarked on his courageous battle with cancer. Therefore, one talk show host concluded, it was classless for fans to boo him.
Nonsense. All of it.
The fans booed Phil Kessel for one reason: It was fun. Being in the arena on Saturday night, I certainly got a kick out of it.
Kessel is on a rival team now. Booing a rival team or player is the equivalent of cheering for your team. Was that the reason he had a poor game? Probably not. Either way, it didn’t hurt the Bruins.
In fact, Bruins players themselves seemed to enjoy the crowd reaction. When asked about it after the game, Blake Wheeler, who says he speaks with and texts Kessel regularly, realized it was nothing personal and even chuckled that he “hopes they do it again next game.”
The atmosphere at the Garden was electric. The booing no doubt had some part in that. Of course, the Bruins’ assault on Toronto and Shawn Thornton's going toe-to-toe with Colton Orr in the early moments certainly played a role as well.
This was not a personal attack on Kessel. Most Bruins fans liked him and what he brought to the Bruins while he was here. Many fans wish he was still here. The fact is, he’s gone and trying his best to beat the Bruins, and any clean thing the crowd can do to help make sure that doesn’t happen is a good thing.
This is the same town that boos Johnny Damon every time he comes to bat in a Yankees uniform. Damon played a major role in bringing a championship to Boston. I don’t remember him doing anything in a Red Sox uniform that warranted getting booed. He ran into walls, ran into people and hit clutch postseason home runs. He never asked for a trade and, in fact, wanted to remain in Boston but couldn’t agree to terms. Yet, he gets booed every time he comes to the plate.
Bottom line, he plays for the rival team, and it’s fun.
They play the game, and we watch it for entertainment. Booing the away team “just because” is about as clean and fair as it can get.
So Bruins fans, on Thursday night, have some good, clean fun and feel free to do your part.