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Remembering a break-up is a painful experience. There is, of course, trying to figure out who was to blame for the end of the good times. There is grief, anger, sadness and even regret. The moment when your flame leaves you is the day that your life is over. Nothing else is as important as getting back together with your other half, and you will often find yourself crawling back no matter what your conscience is telling you to do.
Right now, someone – or something, I suppose – I have been crawling back to is the National Hockey League. Just eight years after missing an entire season because of a labor dispute – and the second in ten years – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and all 30 team owners locked out their teams.
My first reaction to the most recent iteration of the NHL’s labor woes was one of distress. As much as I hated to admit it, I was prepared to miss my second full season of hockey in my life – that doesn’t include the half of a season that was cancelled when I was only three.
As the lockout progressed from days to weeks, and from weeks to months, my attitude changed. Where there was once distress, there now was apathy and indifference towards those who played and managed my favorite sport.
The novelty of learning where in Europe my favorite players would be taking their talents quickly dissipated, and I could not bring myself to want hockey back.
In December, both the NHL and the NHL players association met with federal mediators. Tensions between the two sides diminished, and once again, hockey fans around the world were filled with a cautious sort of optimism.
This “cautious optimism” was immediately quashed, though, when labor talks broke down yet again. All hopes that an agreement would be made evaporated.
A myriad of thoughts raced through my head.
“Would there be hockey this year?”
“Would I face the torment of liking one of the least popular sports in the U.S.?”
“How would I cope?”
“Do I start watching college hockey?”
As much as I loved the sport, it was just too difficult to watch college hockey consistently. I didn’t have cable television, and internet streams were unreliable. In addition to that, the situation would just feel like a break-up all over again. Whenever I watched hockey, I could only be reminded of how great it would be to have my long-lost NHL back in my life.
The lockout ended a bit more than a week ago. However, I don’t feel myself rejoicing as much as I felt I would. Even after the months of frustration and “cautious optimism,” I am still a fan of one of the least popular sports, stateside.
Fans are angry and even protesting. I would love to join them, but in the end, I know that no matter how long hockey is gone, I will always come running back. I will always be the fan who blindly follows.
You may say I am weak–that I cannot stand up for myself when I am treated poorly. It is not just me, though. The attitude and culture in hockey is one of loyalty. Fans rarely venture into being interested in different sports as other sports fans might. We do not watch basketball when football ends, and we do not watch baseball when basketball ends. The only date on our calendar is the start of the next hockey season.
Sure, hockey in the U.S. may see a spike in popularity with an American win at the World Junior hockey championships. But even though many players in the tournament are NHL draft picks waiting for their chance in the limelight, many will never get there.
I am frustrated that a group of billionaires could not agree with a group of millionaires on how to split $3.4 billion. I am angry that hockey fans are treated as second-class sport-izens. I am embarrassed that, regardless of the outcome, NHL owners know that fans will return no matter the case – after all, we do pay their salary.
In the coming months, I am sure I will force all of my friends to watch hockey with me. I already plan to purchase NHL Gamcenter, a streaming service. I am already scoping out the best matchups this season. I am reading all of the season previews for my favorite teams. I dream of my team once again winning the Stanley Cup, the greatest – and most difficult to win – trophy in all of sports.
The glory of hockey is unmatched in sport, but its image is slowly being tainted by repeated labor unrest. The fans are the true victims.
Let’s ring in the New Year with some hockey, as tough as it may be.
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Patrick Fort at Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org
Great read Patrick! I’m not sure if you heard, but there is no protesting in Pittsburgh! Last night the Penguins opened Consol Energy Center for a free intrasquad scrimmage in game format. They filled the place with 18k+ hockey hungry fans who got to see three full periods, an overtime, and a shootout. What a great practice for the team with free entertainment with a positive message for hockey and Pens fans!! They are also providing free concession items along with 50% off Pens items for the first 4 games! This all starts at the top with having one of the classiest owners in sports in Mario Lemieux. The same Mario that issued a statement of apology to all fans once the lockout ended! We miss you in the ‘Burgh!