With the NHL lockout pushing into its fourth week and having already wiped out the first two weeks of the season, I wanted to mention another victim of this sad, frustrating process. I have grown weary of reading, day after day, how badly both the players and the owners want the lockout to end and get back to playing hockey. Despite this lip service, days go by with no meetings between the two sides, and those that are held end with seemingly little in the way of discussion. As "the greatest fans in the world," it is clearly being taken for granted that we will understand and accept that this. As adults, many of us may understand that collective bargaining is a difficult process. However, a great many fans of the NHL are not adults. As a parent, I have been left to explain these economic "realities" to a 7-year old, who knows only that his beloved Flyers aren't playing when they should be. I'm certain that I'm not the only parent in this unfortunate situation.
My son plays hockey on a team of fourteen extremely enthusiastic 7- and 8-year olds, all who show amazing dedication to the sport they love. Later this season, they are scheduled to play Mites on Ice at the Wells Fargo Center, sharing the same ice as their role models and heroes. Because of this lockout, it is increasingly likely that what would have been a cherished lifelong memory will soon be replaced by a bitter disappointment that they don't understand and certainly don't deserve. I understand that in the larger scheme of things, a bunch of disappointed kids is just not that important to the NHL, but I submit this:
My own love of hockey stretches back over thirty years, to when I was seven or eight years old. I imagine the same can be said of many current fans, as well as season ticket holders across the NHL. Today's Mites on Ice are likely to be the fans and season ticket holders of the future, but their childhood NHL experience is shaping up to be very different from mine and that of most fans my age. I submit that the NHL is doing irreparable damage to the very future of the league they say they are trying to ensure.
For the last month, I have heard countless hockey experts and insiders predict that this lockout will end in time for the Winter Classic in January. This is when the NHL will really have "something to lose." I believe they lose something every time a disappointed group of kids get their deposit money back for a thrill of a lifetime event taken from them. They lose something every time a young hockey fan turns to basketball, or lacrosse, or NASCAR, or any other sport with a season underway. They lose something every day they allow the stars of this great game to fade from the short memories of tomorrow's season ticket holders. It's bad enough to take for granted the continued support of fans whose love of hockey is already ingrained. It's downright shortsighted and presumptuous to assume the future support of young fans whose impressions of the NHL are soon to be as much standoff as Stanley Cup.
By the time they're old enough to start contributing their hard earned money to the NHL coffers, they may no longer want to.
Thanks for reading...