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One Fan’s Plea September 25, 2012

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

[Coming into this post, I know that I’m already a bit late with it. Preseason games have already been cancelled, and it’s looking for all the world like the start of the regular season is in peril. Neither side seems all that willing to budge from its last round of demands, so further negotiating sessions would seem to be a lost cause right now.

I’m not going to change that with one little post on a blog hardly anyone reads, but I can’t stay silent on this any longer.

I do have to admit to leaning more towards the owners in the present dispute. They’re the ones who have to worry about whether or not their fans can afford to keep paying more and more money for their tickets. (And for this fan, that’s getting to be a very difficult decision to stay on board, given the ever-escalating expenses of entrance.)

The players do not have that concern: they want their money, and where it comes from is not their affair. Nor, in all fairness, should it be. That said, if I have a dog in this fight, it is the owners, and you may make of that bias what you will.

That said, I am still a fan of the sport, first and foremost. And it is from THAT perspective, however tinged with sympathy toward the owners, that I write the following.–CS]

To the members of the National Hockey League Players’ Association:

I already miss hockey.

Tonight was supposed to be a Capitals’ preseason game. After a long, sad summer spent wondering what might have been if the Capitals had done something differently in their season-ending loss to the Rangers, I had been looking forward to putting my game-night outfit back on, and re-acquainting myself with Verizon Center. The weather in DC is gorgeous today: it would have been a perfect night to start this season’s journey anew. Alas, it is not to be, and I grieve that it has come to this.

At this time of year, we should be seeing our younger players giving their all here in Washington, giving every last ounce of their effort for the honor of being on the Opening Night roster. Do you remember that, gentlemen? Your first Opening Night? That one day when years and years of blood, toil, tears, and sweat paid off, and you took the ice amid all the fanfare of a new season?

Do you remember?

As the weather cools, and the nights grow longer, we should all be preparing for the long six months ahead. 1,230 games should be awaiting us all right now, the long and slow, yet still exciting and gone too fast, six months of the NHL regular season. It makes winter go by that much faster; somehow the cold weather, the ice upon the ground, and the short, short daylight hours, seem more bearable when there’s hockey to be had. We should be looking forward, right now, to half a dozen servings of the Rangers and Islanders; a quartet of tilts between the Capitals and Penguins; six contests featuring the Maple Leafs and Canadiens; four servings of Minnesota and Dallas; half a dozen rounds of Original Six rivalry between the Blackhawks and Red Wings; and 18 games’ worth of the Battle of the Golden State.

How much of all of that will we miss? Will we miss a game in which Henrik Lundqvist does his best impression of a force field, and shuts out the Flyers? Will we miss a nine-point game from someone we never knew had it in them? Will we miss a young and rising superstar score a goal on his first shot? Will we miss somone playing through the pain, and still delivering a career performance? Will we miss a shootout that goes into double-digit rounds as each team looks for a hero? Will we miss the Winter Classic? Will we miss one of the final few seasons in the history of the New York Islanders?

Even though the playoffs are the ultimate goal, there are many, many moments of greatness to be had in the regular season. Do you remember that, gentlemen? Do you remember the rigors of the regular season? Those long, arduous six months of playing together, traveling together, winning and losing together, and carrying the hopes and dreams of an entire city, together?

Do you remember?

And then, when the regular season comes to a close, sixteen teams remain to challenge for the most famous trophy in North American sport. From April through June, it’s two long months of win-or-go-home hockey. The Stanley Cup playoffs have been called the most difficult championship tournament in all of sports. (Even if Memorial Cup fans may disagree.) Certainly the pageantry and passion, the triumph and heartache, are without equal. What grand moments will we miss this year? Two bitter arch-rivals getting hat tricks in the same game? An overtime series-clincher? Another chapter in yet another historic rivalry?

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a rite of spring, that magical time of year when the blizzards are over, but summer’s blazing heat has not yet set in. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are when new heroes are born. Do you remember that, gentlemen? Do you remember how hard those two months are? Do you remember how loud the arenas get, as every fan gives you their last full measure of full-throated support? Do you remember the thrill of being on the winning end of a handshake line, and the agony of being on the losing end of one?

Do you remember?

And then, there’s the Stanley Cup. 35 pounds of triumph, and a beautiful testament to the passion of what I believe to be the greatest game on Earth. And it’s not just the joy of lifting it: there’s the knowledge that your name will be inscribed upon it, to be remembered as a champion for as long as hockey is played. Winning the Stanley Cup means that even if your statistics are someday forgotten; even if at some future time, the world doesn’t remember your first goal; even if in years to come, people can’t quite pick you out of a crowd; even then, once your name is on that Cup, your victory stands for all time.

And it was for the chance to win that Cup, that so many of you began your careers. Those long road trips to away games; those early-morning skates; all those drills; the entire experience of growing up at the rink; it was all about winning the Stanley Cup someday. You began your careers, so many years ago, with dreams of winning the Stanley Cup. Do you remember that, gentlemen? Do you rmember seeing your childhood heroes raise that Cup, and promising yourself that you wanted to do the same someday? Do you remember working hard at the rink when people doubted you, knowing deep down that this was the price of chasing your Stanley Cup dream? Do you remember all the sacrifices you made growing up, in order to have a chance to lift that fabled chalice?

Do you remember?

Gentlemen, it’s about hockey. It’s about winning. And it’s about the Stanley Cup. Do you remember?

I understand that you are trying to make as much money as you can during your most productive years. I understand that you know your playing days can end at any time, and that you want to earn all you can in however long God gives you to play. Most of you are earning an entire lifetime’s worth of income during your playing days, and you want to make every last minute count. I understand that; I really do.

But gentlemen, look what it’s come to! How many of you are playing in leagues that you’d never consider playing in, if the NHL were in session? How many of you are making less money now, even less than what you would have made had you agreed to the owners’ last offer? How many of you have had, or expect to have, family trouble because you’re playing somewhere your loved ones aren’t? And who among you won’t win the Stanley Cup this year if you sit out the entire season? Even more, who among you may be missing the only Stanley Cup championship he ever would have won in his entire career?

Gentlemen, I understand that you want to earn as much as you can. I get it. I sincerely applaud each of you for your success–that you get to earn so much for doing what you’ve always loved. I give you my sincerest congratulations on that. Not everyone gets to do do what they love in life, and you are each and every one to be commended for having risen to the highest level of a fiercely competitive sport.

But I will say it again: gentlemen, it’s about hockey. It’s about the Stanley Cup. Do you remember?

I would be willing to bet that for each and every last one of you, your first hockey dream growing up was to win the Stanley Cup: it wasn’t to earn scads of money. Put yourselves back in your younger shoes, and answer this question for yourselves. If someone had come back from the future and told you when you were young that you could make good money playing professional hockey, but that you’d never, ever win the Stanley Cup, no matter how hard you tried, how many of you would have stuck with the early morning skates, long road trips, and endless drills?

Gentlemen, you have each and every one been given the gift of a lifetime: to be able to play at the highest level of the game you love, in pursuit of arguably the most famous trophy in sports. Why, then, do you insist on throwing it away because you can’t get paid enough to do something you already love?

We should not have to be sitting here at the end of September, with preseason games already cancelled, discussing proposals, acronyms, percentages, and revenue splits. It’s annoying. It’s infuriating. And it’s boooooooooooooooooooring.

At this time of year, we should be talking about amazing prospects, training camps, and the final preparations for a new NHL season. Instead, we’re talking about who gets to make more money in one year than some Americans will ever earn in a lifetime. You’ll have to excuse me if my sympathy is less than total.

I should be getting dressed for the game right now; but here I am, in front of my word cruncher, trying in vain to convince grown men who are doing what they love for a living, that they really ought to keep doing what they love: i.e., playing in the best hockey league on the planet, in pursuit of the most prestigeous trophy in sports.


Do you remember?