We've talked about this in the past, but it's not a secret that I'm mildly-to-emphatically disappointed in the impending cancellation of the NHL season. I say mildly because I saw this coming over a year ago. When there was no rush to get negotiations started last summer or during the last season, I knew there was going to be a work stoppage. I also say emphatically because I loved the NHL and I love hockey. Now, I still get my hockey fix with the 3-5 days a week I spend at the rink either playing, coaching, or giving lessons. I'll probably go see the Oilers play in their odd lock-out uniforms this season in OKC. Methinks they will be good (assuming Yann Denis is half as good as last season). I can't (obviously) get my NHL fix if there is no season. The honest truth is, I'm not all that upset about it. I'm not sure that I need the NHL anymore. And that should worry the NHL and NHLPA to no end. Why? Because I'm the guy that has been doing the grunt work growing their league for the last 15+ years.
Some of you may or may not know that I spent high school and college in the great state of
slavery racism incest Mississippi. I remember watching the team I had vaguely followed (the 'Nords) win the Stanley Cup in '96 representing my (adopted via my default Broncos affiliation from my Wyoming days) hometown of Denver. I was hooked. Not just on hockey, but the Avalanche and the greater canvas of the NHL. I wanted everybody to appreciate the game to the same level that I did. Couldn't they see how awesome it was? I was now a missionary for hockey and the NHL.
I lived in a tiny town in Mississippi, but you know who got a bunch of rednecks to play roller hockey in the driveway? Me. You know who played street hockey in parking lots once I got to college (in an equally small north Mississippi college town) a few years later? me. You know who helped start, run, and manage the inline hockey league in that same town for two years? Me. I made my Mom sit across the room from me in 2001 and not watch Game 7 because she had jinxed Game 5. You know who converted my entire Alabama in-law clan to hockey fans? Me. You know who created the hockey monster that is my wife? Me. The first thing I did when I went job hunting after grad school was look up the cities that had minor league and adult rec hockey. I'd be lying if I said it didn't weigh in my decision. You know who has been a part of the Oklahoma City adult hockey league in some form since moving here in 2004? Me. You know who sat through goon CHL hockey games for years? Me. You know who insisted my son get skates when he was three? Me (on our Joe Sakic Pilgrimage to Denver, I might add). You know who volunteers and helps coach hockey in OKC because he loves the game? Me. This isn't a list of worthless accolades to pat myself on the back. This isn't a self-aggrandizing stroll down memory lane to prove how awesome I am. That is a point-by-point resume of how one guy, one SOUTHERN, "CASUAL", hockey fan plied his trade for the last 15+ years.
I apologized to people when I had turned them on to the pro game only to see a season wiped out during the last lockout. I told them it was a necessary evil to ensure the continuation of the league. I vehemently defended southern hockey fans and teams when they were/are attacked by jingoistic Canadians and northerners who support horribly-run franchises with no repercussions. I VOLUNTARILY ATTENDED AN ATLANTA THRASHERS GAME. I wore jerseys to work during Hockey Across America Weekend. I've purchased the Centre Ice Package every year since the lockout. I GAVE A SHIT ABOUT THE NHL EVERY DAY FOR THE LAST DECADE-AND-A-HALF. I carried the league's beauty, courage, and sportsmanship to every ear that would hear it in my circle of influence. I contributed to the growth of this sport in corners of the country that can't spell icing.
The observant among you may have observed the past tense utilized in the previous sentences. It's true; I don't care about the NHL anymore. My thanks for weathering the last lock-out? Cheezy, sexist ad campaigns, static or increased ticket prices, my favorite team getting blown up for cost-certainty, inconsistent penalty-calling, and the fucking trapezoid. Do you think I'm going to sit through it again for even less return just seven short years later? So that Josh "You're All Spoiled" Kroenke can tell me how lucky I am to watch a team that finished out of the playoffs (and often in the basement) 3 out of the last 5 years and that the plan is in place? So that Gary Bettman can talk about record revenue while bending over the small market teams and the PA? So that the players can blow smoke up my skirt about how important the fans are while holding out because of a personal grudge against the Commish? Screw that.
My Avalanche gear is in the closet. No annual "lucky" hat purchase for me this year. That Stastny jersey I've been pining over for three seasons? Scratched off the Christmas List. Saving up for the next road trip to Denver or Dallas to take in a game? Nope. Gonna save for an anniversary trip to Gatlinburg. Won't be seeing a Preds game to watch the awesomeness of Pekka Rinne while we're there either. I'm done with this. They can't make me care when it's so bloody obvious that whether or not I care is immaterial to the bottom line. All I can say is, don't blame me when Florida ends up in Seattle and Phoenix finally gives up the ghost and goes to Quebec. Don't bitch when Tampa Bay and Nashville have to suck from the diminutive teat of Revenue Sharing. Don't expect me to defend the unintentional comedy of discipline tzars, trades for Tom Preissing, or season-long Lil' Tanks. I won't be calling in to XM Radio shows or making fun of Kool-Aid drinking Altitude broadcasters. I'll save my $200 on Centre Ice, thanks.
I still love hockey, but the maybe-they-will, maybe-they-won't NFHL (three guesses what the F stands for, but you'll only need one) has slipped firmly into 'meh' territory for me. If there is another season lost to "labor strife," don't expect me back. Like I said, I've still got hockey in my life, but it won't be NHL flavored. What I will do is hold it against the league every time the Mrs. and I are forced to watch The Voice or Once Upon a Time or some other shit network show because there aren't any games on. And that kind of rage takes a long time to quiet. Burning may ensue. Sauce-less sandwiches may suffer. I've done my part for this game and this league. It's about damn time that somebody at the top of this shit pile do something for me and all the other fans that have stood up and represented for this league.