Last night was supposed to be the Blue Jackets’ home opener against Vancouver, but as we all know there is no NHL hockey to be found. So, in defiance of the removal of professional hockey from my life (and thanks to the fortuitous need to travel to Connecticut for work) I added a night to my travel plans to attend the Springfield Falcons‘ game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. I was excited to see so many Blue Jackets prospects in action, and I was excited to see some real live hockey. I fully anticipated to return to you here with a full recap of the game, the Springfield experience, and how our boys are doing. That piece is coming, but last night, I found I had to write something else first.
As I lay in bed, unable to sleep, I realized it was adrenaline that was keeping me awake and I realized it was because I had finally gotten a hockey fix. It’s been 196 days since we last saw hockey in Columbus – when James Wisniewski had the GWG and Shawn Hunwick took the ice for the final two minutes. We left a dismal season behind with the very beginnings of hope for what could be. Since then, recent months have been a downward emotional spiral that has us all mired in the never ending battle of egos, dollars and words.
As fans of the game, we’ve experienced false hope, and ridiculous highs and lows with every calculated word that comes from the NHL and NHLPA. Many of us have come to a place of frustration, if not downright anger, at the (lack of) negotiations. We don’t have a voice in the process, we desperately want one and we, including myself, have voiced outrage at “Hockey”. Some of us have even said we’ll never go back…no more tickets, no more team, no more NHL support. And I was starting to understand that emotion, even identify with it, until I went to a hockey game. Then I fell back in love with the very thing that has treated me so badly of late.
It wasn’t until I stepped off the concourse of MassMutual Arena and passed into the actual bowl of seats leading down to the ice that I remembered why we care so much – why I just can’t quit hockey. When to comes to being a fan we want to, however briefly, be part of the game of hockey. That’s all. We don’t care how much the players make, or what HRR is or who is in charge of this or that union. We want to see players that we’ve come to think of as our own. We want to scream and yell and celebrate goals and jeer bad calls. We want to watch men move in ways often more graceful than dancers on the narrowest of stainless steel blades at breakneck speeds. We want to see a slapshot goal from the point. We want to feel awe at the amazing last second kick save that denies a goal. We want to have an opinion on this player or that player. We want to talk about line combinations and roster depth. We want to marvel at the guy who sacrifices his body to block a shot. We want to wear a hockey sweater with pride and discuss “game worn” or “practice”.
For a glorious three and a half hours last night, I didn’t think about people named Bettman or Fehr or salary caps or lockouts or even All-Star Games. I didn’t worry about who we might lose to free agency if the season is lost, or how our momentum will resurface after months off-ice. All I did was sit and get wrapped up in the amazingness that is HOCKEY. You guys, this game and the culture of hockey is great – no, it’s better than great, it’s ridiculously wonderful. And what’s awful is that the current state of things has made us forget that – or at least place that love and connection far from the reach of our hearts and minds. Not 20 minutes after leaving the arena, I was greeted at the hotel by “what is that you’re wearing? A hockey jersey? I thought that was cancelled” and headlines that brought threats and innuendo of this or that back to the surface. The bubble was burst, my “let’s get back together” date with hockey was over with a resounding thud.
As I lay in bed last night, and couldn’t sleep, I wondered how long it’s been since the decision makers in this CBA stalemate have been to a hockey game. How long has it been since they felt the cold air rush their cheeks? How long since they screamed for their team? How long since they instinctively leapt to their feet in reaction to a game-winning goal?
I think it’s been too long. And I think that’s the problem.