As a life-long hockey fan, am I prepared to deal with the likelihood that much, perhaps all, of the NHL’s 2012-13 season will be lost because of the senseless standoff between the billionaires and millionaires?
Have I got a contingency plan ready if the nightly games on the big flat screen are replaced with something else?
Am I able to accept the fact online fantasy hockey leagues will be out of business, forcing my fantasy team Maple Leafs Forever to the sidelines?
Though reluctantly, I respond “yes” to all of the above.
Okay, as was the case in previous shutdowns of the sport, I’ll miss the action terribly. There’s no point putting it in any other way. I’ve always watched Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday evenings and, in recent seasons, the many games on The Sports Network and other sports channels.
Unlike some upset fans I’ve been talking to in recent days – the ones who claim they’re already disgusted enough that they won’t return when the games return – I’m not going to go that far. I’m not going to pretend I’ll shut off my interest permanently and forget what the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and other teams are doing. I know I’ll be back immediately. Get the players back on the ice and I’ll be among the first to get back in front of the tube.
I’ve been a hockey fan for far too long to take a stand and say it’s over and done with. I’ll come crawling back, even if it’s the wrong thing to do.
Nonetheless, if the present shutdown – forced on the hockey world by the greed of players and owners alike – goes on for months and, heaven forbid, the entire season, we’re going to have to find other attractions to keep occupied. No point sitting in a corner twiddling our thumbs.
I’ve already made plans. For starters, my wife and I have our usual season tickets for Symphony Nova Scotia, something that’s always provided a few pleasant nights out of a long winter of hockey. Another thing I look forward to is attending our six-year-old granddaughter’s hockey games in Cole Harbour. Watching the little gals and guys playing the game the way it’s meant to be played is the real fun side of the sport.
My own plans aside, what are fans in Pictou County going to do if the Crosbys, Ovechkins and Kessels aren’t in their living rooms?
Fortunately, there are plenty of good options in that part of the province.
There are the Pictou County Weeks Crushers in the Maritime Junior Hockey League, always a competitive and entertaining team if I must say so. There are the Pictou County Scotians in the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League. And, for a long time, there have been the Weeks Major Midgets in the Maritime midget circuit. And don’t overlook the many, many novice, atom, peewee and bantam kids playing in the rinks around the county. If that’s not enough, it isn’t far to get down to Antigonish to see the university version of the sport.
Yes, there are lots of things to do, lots of opportunities to support local teams, and there’s no better time to do it than in the days and weeks when TV hockey has gone black.
As Canadians, hockey has always been a big part of our fabric. It’s not an interest that can be turned on and off easily. It gets in the blood and remains there for a lifetime.
Think back to your childhood and recall how you got caught up in the game in the first place. I know my love for hockey began at a very tender age, when my father used to take me to games at the old Arena in downtown New Glasgow. All these years later, those experiences still hold an important place in my memory bank.
There was no TV back then, of course, but we could still follow our favourite NHL teams. Foster Hewitt’s voice on the radio kept us well informed as the Leafs became an important part of our lives. For others, they could do the same in following the Canadiens or another of the teams.
You’ve probably noticed how Leafs fans like myself make a habit of discussing the past. That’s mainly because the team hasn’t won a championship since the NHL was a tight little six-team family, when there was no such thing as standoffs between owners and players.
But back to the present.
If you’re anything like me, the faces you’re getting tired of seeing on the daily sportscasts are those of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, his deputy Bill Daly, and union boss Don Fehr. And I always thought looking at Don Cherry and his sports jackets was as bad as it could get for hockey fans.
There’s so much money, so much greed, in hockey today – and all professional sports, for that matter – that I just can’t sympathize with either side. I can’t blame just one side for the stalemate either. Owners and players alike have caused this to happen, as they did in previous work stoppages.
Another thing that sickens me is how quickly star players are willing to turn their backs on their NHL teams – and fans – and head off to countries like Russia, Sweden and Switzerland to play games. It makes you wonder just how much they really care if and when an agreement is reached.
Whether you’re a Maple Leafs supporter, a Canadiens fan, or a die-hard for another franchise, I’m sure you’ll agree a shutdown of the NHL – at least from an emotional standpoint – affects us all.
When there’s no NHL, we all miss those heated Leafs-Habs debates that arise over morning coffee at Tim Hortons.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached by email at email@example.com