By Matt Laurin
Oh, the fall. It’s the best time of year for sports fans.
Trails are filled with runners and bikers, skiers and snowboarders check the forecast for any sign of snow, while golfers look for lost balls underneath yellow and brown leaves.
Sunday, a day relegated for yard work and household chores, once again belongs to the National Football League. In only three weeks, once confident fantasy owners now desperately search the waiver wire to fill gaping holes in their roster. Girlfriends and wives collectively tune them out.
Canadian Football fans wear extra layers to games – or in the case of Roughrider fans, thicker watermelons – as Toronto makes preparations to host the 100th Grey Cup. If you are Blue Bombers or Tiger Cats fan, you are unfortunately not invited…
The marathon that is the Major League Baseball season is coming to a close, with several exciting playoff races thanks to the addition of a second wild card. The New York Yankees cling to a lead in the AL East as the surging Baltimore Orioles look to win the division for the first time since 1997. In the NL, the Washington Nationals are heading to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile in Toronto, the only thing more embarrassing than the Blue Jays 2012 campaign was the recent actions of shortstop Yunel Escobar.
And then there is that other league… yeah, that one. The one where they can’t figure out how share 3-billion dollars, at the expense of the fans. Yes, the beloved (and sometimes despised) National Hockey League is headed for its second work stoppage in the last eight years.
Hockey fans with once great expectations for their favourite teams now face a grim future consisting of UFC reality shows, poker highlights and “Movie Night in Canada.”
With locked out players already heading to Europe in droves, the implications are ominous. Vancouver Canuck fans will have to wait another season to win the Presidents’ Trophy, only to be humiliated by a real hockey team in the playoffs. In Alberta, Calgary faithful will have to sit it out another year before watching the Flames barely miss the playoffs, and the Oilers will likely have to wait until 2014 to secure another first overall pick. In Winnipeg, Jets fans impatiently wait for the opportunity to wear their new Olli Jokinen jerseys (good luck with that), while the suits in Toronto can at least take solace in knowing they don’t actually have to go to their seats halfway through a period. The side show that is the Montreal media scrambles to write columns without a non-French speaking coach to berate every two seconds. And in the nation’s capital, where optimism is at an all time high, most people still have not taken notice that the Ottawa Senators exist.
But they can’t lockout the kids.
In arenas across Canada, dressing rooms are filled with young men and women who play hockey for one reason – because they love it. They are the future stars of the next great lockout. They have hopes and dreams of one day playing professional hockey overseas, in cities they cannot pronounce, wearing jerseys with more corporate logos than a race car.
But before they go on to realize their dreams of being locked out, you have the opportunity to watch them blossom as young hockey players. While television networks hustle to fill major gaps in programming, junior hockey teams are going about business as usual. The NHL’s blunder is junior hockey’s blessing.
I had the opportunity to cover the Fernie Ghostriders last season, and as a hockey nut, it was amazing. It wasn’t just the high level of skill and competition, but the tangible excitement in a very personal atmosphere made it an experience you just don’t get at the pro level.
You need hockey. Junior hockey needs you. So instead of cursing the ineptitude of the NHL, you should head down to your local rink and cheer on the up and coming stars of the sport we are so hopelessly attached to. Because before you know it, they will be taking their talents to the likes of HC Slovan Bratislava.
And here’s the kicker – you will never see Gary Bettman tell you how “far apart the two sides are.”