There’s a noise that I love. It’s the sound of a hockey player taking the ice. Under the strength and edge of a stainless steel blade, the ice crunches. It’s like no other noise – it’s not a scrape, it’s not anything that can be replicated in any other way. When I hear it, it simultaneously brings up feelings of excitement, awe and competition.
The sound of blade taking to the ice means it’s time for hockey. It means R-Bar is packed and my favorite usher is at the ready at the Arena. It means hoping for the boom of the cannon and wearing a hockey sweater all evening long.
The sound of a skate on a rink means that I know how much work has gone into performing that one simple act of a proper hockey stride. It’s a sound that is forged in years and years of hard work. It sounds something like a car driving over freshly fallen snow. But – unlike freshly fallen snow, the ice is far less forgiving. As we have learned, so is the business of hockey.
Today we stand as fans of no game. Owners and players are locked in a battle of words, PR impressions, and complex financial dealings. It’s hard to understand it all. It’s hard to find compassion. The oft quoted “billionaires battling with millionaires” rings hollow. The focus is lost on those who suffer perhaps most significantly: team employees, arena workers and local businesses. As with many battles, those who face perhaps the most significant struggles have the quietest voice and are poised to suffer the consequences of others’ choices.
We are told to have perspective – we are told this is just a game. We are told to ignore the daily updates and press conferences – we are told this is how negotiating works. But fandom is rarely based in rationality and logic – and all that is understood right now is that we have no exposure to a game that we desperately love; a game that we often use to, however briefly, escape all that is the “real world”.
The pain of a Blue Jackets’ fan is particularly acute. The 2011-12 season will stand as the lowest of the low. It will forever be the year that defines “worst case scenario”. We sit poised to begin anew – with a new roster, the chance to host an All-Star Game and, perhaps most importantly, games that are not part of 2011-12. As a hockey fan in central Ohio, we need hockey. We need it to remove the sting of the cursed year that was. We just want to move on.
But we cannot move on. We are stuck. Held hostage by posturing and the refusal to negotiate. You see, it is hard to understand how, two parties who both claim to want hockey can choose NOT to find a way to play the game. It seems to defy the rules we were taught as children – work it out. It’s difficult to comprehend how professionals who work so diligently to excel at their profession can pass days and weeks without progress. It’s hard to understand why people who specialize in a game of inches watched summer ebb and flow before beginning the process of such a difficult negotiation. I find myself backing neither “side” of the debate – rather, I’m just confounded that we ended up here. We are stuck, not in the welcome chill that is an ice rink, but in the cold hard reality that this is about dollars and cents – and not much else.
With all that being said, as fans, we just want hockey. We want to enjoy the game we love. We want to cheer on our favorite team and our favorite players. We want to jump to our feet with every deke-a-licious goal and scream in outrage at every penalty. Bettman may be right – as fans we love this game too much – a lot of us will probably come running back at the first opportunity. But we just might bring with us a heart that is slightly more broken.
Right now – for fans the only way to keep the faith while we wait this out is to believe. The only way to believe is to see signs of progress. I hope (soon!) for the noise of bargaining and negotiation and final pen to paper. This is the only way we will get to that sound that I love so much – the sound of a hockey player taking the ice, the indescribable crunch and scrape.
We wait. And the ice remains silent.