The National Hockey League holds several dubious distinctions. Among them are that it is the only major professional sports league that has had four work stoppages (all since 1992); and it the only one to have lost an entire season.
The 2004-2005 season was lost, in its entirety, due to a lockout. When play resumed with all 30 teams playing in 15 games on October 15th, 2005, there were eleven sell-outs. That season, attendance figures were the highest ever. I was one fan who sat out that season... not because of the lockout or the lost season; but because of the insulting marketing slogan the NHL used to bring fans back. Do you remember it? It was in a whole series of hockey commercials that played repeatedly. The slogan was: The Hockey That Matters Is Back.
As the father of three boys who have played a combined 32 years of non-professional minor league hockey, starting at age seven, and as someone who still plays hockey in my fifties, just for the fun of it, I was and remain deeply offended. Think about it... saying that the NHL is the hockey that matters more than insinuates that all other hockey doesn’t. I beg to differ. My youngest son continued to play hockey all through the NHL lockout this time, a star player on a very weak Midget team that has struggled all season in a highly competitive league. That team has only three wins in the 26 games they’ve played so far. They’ve been blown out as badly as 10-0 and 8-2. They give their all every game, and often do very well for a period or two, before being completely overtaken in the third period. In three tournaments they’ve played, they’ve won only one game. And yet last night, at a late evening practice, every single player but one (who was working) showed up. Moreover, as I watched them along with several other parents, I noticed that they were having fun... pumping their fists, slapping teammates on the back, and tapping their goalies’ pads after each goal, assist or save. And their coaches were their encouraging them and guiding them, all without being paid a cent.
THAT, Canada, is the hockey that REALLY matters... NOT the NHL. For this hockey will always be there, no matter what happens to the NHL. This hockey is more about friendship than about winning and losing. These teams will not relocate when another town offers them a tax break or a sweeter deal on rink revenue. And this hockey is absolutely essential for the NHL to even exist. Let’s remember all this, this time around. And instead of rushing off to an NHL game or sitting down to vegetate in front of a long string of them on TV, get up and go to see those who play every day at your local rink down the street or around the corner. You don’t have to pay these players anything to play. You don’t pay their coaches anything to coach. They all do it solely because they love the game.
Kevin White, MD, PhD