The worlds of politics and hockey had another awkward intersection this week, courtesy of Donald Trump. In 2015, back when Trump was still considered a fringe candidate, the Washington Galaxy mocked him by having fans shoot pucks at a caricature of his face, a stunt for which the team later apologized. Now that Trump has stunned the world by becoming president, the Galaxy invited him to drop the puck for their Opening Day game against the Hamilton Pistols.
Trump declined the invitation, but the Vice President agreed to do the honors in his place. But a seemingly harmless ceremonial ritual turned into the latest example of the partisan divide in America, as his appearance was met with protests and boos.
Prior to the game, a group of approximately 50 anti-Trump protesters demonstrated outside of Constellation Center, leading chants and holding signs with slogans like “Dump Trump,” “Impeach Trump,” and “Hail to the Thief.” Many fans walking into the arena flashed thumbs-up and expressed agreement with the protesters, although a couple of them stopped to argue. The arguments grew heated at times, but did not turn physical.
When it was time for the puck drop, the VP emerged onto the ice wearing a Galaxy jersey and waving to the crowd. As soon as his name was announced, the boos began to swell, drowning out the handful of cheers. By the time he arrived at center ice along with Galaxy C J.C. Marais and Pistols D Russ Klemmer, the booing was so loud as to be nearly deafening. Public address announcer Rob Crane urged the fans to show respect, which only made them boo louder. The VP dropped the puck, then briefly waved again and hurried off the ice as quickly as he could.
He also visited both locker rooms before the game. “We had a chance to talk a little bit,” said Galaxy D Bill Corbett. “He’s a really nice guy and a real sports fan.” Asked about the booing, Corbett said, “I mean, they’ve got the First Amendment rights, so they can do it. But it’s a real shame, because he doesn’t deserve it.”
Washington coach Rodney Reagle declined to discuss the incident, joking that “they’ve got 100,000 volts of electricity wired right through this chair, and if I say anything political, they’re gonna turn on the juice and I’m a goner. So I’m just gonna keep my mouth shut.”
Sources close to the Galaxy say that star winger Jefferson McNeely was supposed to take the opening puck drop, but that he declined to do so either out of a personal antipathy to the administration or out of fear that he would be shot. McNeely refused to confirm or deny the rumor, but said that “I’m glad to see our fans express themselves.”
For his part, the VP professed not to be upset about the booing. “I love freedom, and this is what freedom is about,” he said. “I don’t object to our citizens expressing their views. I very much appreciated the fans who had the courage to show their support.”