As all the images and stories come in from those in our area affected by Hurricane Sandy, sometimes I wonder, “How many of these people are hockey fans?” In the chaos of trying to rebuild homes and mend fractured lives are people who need some happiness and something to enjoy, an escape, if you will. Hockey could have been there. In a larger sense, I think of the people who all they had to look forward to in their busy lives was what game would be on tonight. Hockey could have been there. I think of all the kids and young hockey players whose only dream is to lift the Stanley Cup above their heads one day. Hockey could have been there. Instead, we have millions of people who have found something else to fill the void with, as the sport of hockey once again has slipped into complete obscurity without so much as a mention. It was always a niche sport but was steadily gaining popularity, just like it was in 1994/95 when the first lockout took a half a season. Every time hockey seems to be on the rise, a dagger is thrust through its heart, dishearteningly enough, by those inside of the organization. What’s that old, famous saying? Something like, “All great civilizations fall from within“? I suppose that quote can apply to a business as well, with the NHL being a grand, tragic example.
Had it not been for friends reminding me what game would have been played on a certain night between my New York Rangers and their opponent, I would have completely forgotten that the sport of hockey even existed: “Hey man, the Rangers would have been playing the Devils tonight!”—that’s what I mean. This is very discouraging for me, a life-long fan, even more so that it took me until nearly December to realize that we would have been a quarter of the way into the 2012/13 season. Sure, I’ve been pretty busy, but not more than normally, when the Rangers or a good matchup on television would have served as a welcome relief and escape at night in the middle of a hectic schedule. Whether they were playing well or not, it was always something to look forward to. During the last lockout, I could not get it out of my mind. It wore on me every single day until finally the season was cancelled officially. Maybe it was because I was lost and could not understand why there was no hockey. Well, I’m not a child anymore, and have now been able to wrap my mind around the greed from both sides that has allowed them to steal our favorite sport from us yet again. This time, sadness is replaced with cynicism, and I honestly feel that should the lockout end at right this very second, with the season announced to be starting next week, I would not be able to bring my excitement level up to the same spot it was last season. How sad is that?
When games return, will we watch them? Oh, of course we will. Let’s not kid ourselves otherwise. But will we actually be into them? That’s another story. Will fans come to games in the same numbers that they used to, with ticket prices going through the roof with no sign of lowering? Another good question. Normally, I would be surprised that no crazed fan has taken some kind of violent action against a certain commissioner and/or his office in the middle of all of this, but I suppose that just like myself, anger has been replaced with disillusionment. Would it shock you to find out that not one fan I have talked to was actually surprised there was another lockout? These things are supposed to come as anger-inciting shockers, not just, “Oh, there they go again.” That in itself shows you the confidence people have in the National Hockey League. That was the feeling that lingered mildly for the last few seasons, where every time, in conversation, all roads would somehow lead to, “You know, the CBA is expiring in 2012. I wonder if there will be another lockout…” Had there actually been confidence in this organization, there would be no monotonous wondering, but a surefire automatic assumption that whatever needs to be done to prevent another lockout will be done. No questions asked. After all, these people cannot do it to us again, can they?
And here we go. Sure enough, they did it. The billionaires arguing about the salaries of millionaires while the majority of the fan base, the reason for their existence in the first place, struggles to get by in this economy. Yet they have always remained loyal. The question now, though, if and when hockey ever resumes, will be to ask, “How loyal?” How long before we have to start comparing being a hockey fan to having battered wife syndrome, where we allow ourselves to keep getting smacked around yet come back for more. That’s what it will be like if arenas fill to the brim on the opening nights when the NHL resumes. The indication to the billionaire owners that they can keep on doing this to us and not have to worry, because we are so stupid, we’ll just keep coming back and giving them our money. That’s the only true protest we can give them. We won’t stop watching the sport, but we can stop attending in person.
I never thought I would ever say this and mean it, but I just don’t care anymore. It’s simple: if they don’t care about us, why should we care about them? This is directed at the commissioner, the owners, and yes, the players and NHLPA director Donald Fehr, who would be the most hated person in Hockey World if Bettman did not own that irreplaceable title. Not once have I heard mention of the fans and trying to get this done for them, by anybody involved. Let them babble and fight each other in their little meetings and accomplish nothing except an inflation of their own egos while we all suffer. Shame on them, and again, shame on us for caring and thinking it would be different this time. By now, we have all found something to replace hockey with, or have forgotten about it all together. That’s what they deserve. Not our sadness, or pity, nor even our disgust. Nothing that acknowledges them as human beings. They deserve to be ignored and shunned out of our lives so they know how badly they have truly hurt us.
We know hockey will return eventually, it’s just a matter how of badly damaged the form will be. When games do resume, all I ask is for the NHL to not paint those ridiculously patronizing, “THANK YOU, FANS!” signs all over the ice and boards like they did after the last lockout. Talk about insulting. Talk about pretending to be sincere in the most fake way possible (How about free tickets? There! That would show us they care, but alas, they would lose too much of the Almighty Dollar doing that). I do not want to see any mention of fans or thanks or anything along those lines. Why should they bother? You ignored us then, so ignore us now. If you really cared about us, there would be no need to thank us for sticking with you. Just go about your business and cast us aside…like you always do.
Hockey could have been there.