It’s Friday night, I’m at home watching... nothing. Well that’s not true. My wife is playing a Wii game while I sit here with a beer typing my blog. I’m reminded once again of the fact that there’s not NHL hockey on my TV, and the pain that it brings hockey fans.
I’m seriously concerned of the long term impacts that it looks like this lockout will have. I’ve adjusted my outlook as the lock out has gone on. Each time we have a situation similar to yesterday, I get more and more depressed and my start date for the season goes further and further backwards. I’m thinking that right now, the NHL and NHLPA are very close to canceling the season. Both sides are singing completely different tunes, and it just doesn’t look good.
Now, I’m not going to blame a side here. It takes two to tango, and neither party right now has even gotten up to ask the other side to dance. Both sides are to blame. Period. Neither side is willing to put aside their egos to make the compromises necessary to get a CBA in place. Neither side is going to get everything they want. It’s called, compromising. That seems to be a foreign concept for the NHL.
I worry about the sport. I’m a fan of hockey, and I have been since I was a little kid. Thanks to my grandfather, I’m the diehard hockey fan I am today. It started with a table top hockey game, and tickets to a Sabres vs Canadians game at the Aud when I was about 6. I still have the game, and am always open to a challenge. My wife knows better, and won’t play me anymore. I still have great memories from that first game at the Aud (Buffalo 5, Habs 3) Side note, my wife just asked “You remember that?” I responded, “It was my first game!!!”
Some of my fondest memories surround the game of hockey. From watching the “May Day” goal on the plywood floor of my parents house (remodeling project) for my Mom’s birthday, to my first game ever at the Aud, to panicking about getting the satellite dish installed so we could watch the Eastern Conference Finals in the 90’s, to SUNY Fredonia hockey games in college, to Amerks games, hockey has played a huge role in my life, as have the Buffalo Sabres. As I look at our Xmas tree, I see Sabres ornaments throughout the generations. I’m even wearing my Perreault t-shirt as I relax (and hoping my wife got me some French Connection stuff for Xmas). To which she responded “I did not.” Hockey and the Buffalo Sabres has always been a huge part of my life.
However, no matter how much fun I had at AHL games, or Fredonia games, nothing compares to the NHL. The NHL is just different from all other styles of hockey. I go to Amerks games for love of the game. I even went when the Amerks were affiliated with the Panthers. I will be honest, now that Rochester is affiliated with the Sabres again, it’s easier to get my wife to go. Many of our nights has been spent discussing the lockout. While we love Amerks games, it just doesn’t compare to an NHL game.
The worst part about this lockout, is the negative impact that it has on the fans. I remember after the last lockout, returning to Buffalo for their second home game against the Bruins. For those of you who haven’t been to Buffalo for a hockey game, capacity at First Niagara Center is 18,690 (and yes I knew that off the top of my head). I walked into the arena, and grabbed my seats (they were half of what they are priced now). As the puck dropped, I realized that the arena looked fairly empty. Capacity that night, 12,000 and change.
I went to a game a month later against the Habs. Habs games in Buffalo are interesting because it always feels like half of Canada shows up for the game. I expected a larger crowd. I was right. 13,000, and change.
Then, Buffalo fans started realizing that the Sabres had a good team and were actually doing something. By the time I went around New Years to a game, the arena was filling up.
What would have happened had Buffalo not strung together 2 decent seasons back to back following the last lockout? Makes you think doesn’t it?
So why did I babble on and on about memories earlier? Well the good come with the bad ladies and gentlemen. 7 years ago, is not distant memory. That’s recent memory. With the exception of the young fans aged about 13-14 and down, we all remember how it felt in 2004-2005. I can speak for myself the frustration I felt when I watched the announcement that there would be no season. I’m sure several other people can as well. We all remember, it’s the first time an entire season was ever cancelled. It was the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded. Well, we’re cruising for that happening all over again.
For the not to diehard fan, this may be the end. Imagine the frustration and the struggles teams had getting attendance back after 2004-2005. I don’t see it being easier if this season goes down the drain because this will have been the 2nd time that this has happened in less than 10 years. A stigma will be pushed onto the players and the owners, and fans won’t want to pay exorbitant prices to return to arenas to watch the game. High prices and the lockout will be extremely damaging to the NHL.
Me? I’ll be back. I love hockey way too much to just walk away from the NHL, and more importantly the Buffalo Sabres. Even when the team is struggling, I’m there. My dad constantly asks “Why do we keep going to watch this team?” (more so after the last 3-4 seasons). Mom then convinces him to get tickets. Why? It’s because we love the team and the game. On game day, he’s cheering just as loud as anyone else at the arena, because he loves the game.
This is all moot. It doesn’t matter what type of fan you are in the end. While the players and the owners try to figure out ways to distribute billions of dollars, and complain about it, the fans suffer and lose interest. Us diehard fans, we’ll be back once this ridiculous mess is resolved.
But for a lot of fans, this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back if another whole season is lost.