Monday, December 20, 2004

Hockey: is our State Religion on hold?

I just have to say this...


That's right, at about this time, the NHL and the NHLPA are at a standoff.

Actually, right about now it's a Mexican standoff, since the two warring factions are now faced with the wrath of the media, the fans and players in other leagues who have ice dreams of facing off for the Stanley Cup.

Hockey is what keeps up Canadians talkative around the water cooler. That's right, Yanks... go ahead with your NFL, MLB and the NBA... up here, hockey isn't just a sport: it's a religion.

Like any other religion, you have your practioners and choirboys (Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr), the ushers (also known as "referees"), the novices (rookies), the high priests (Gretzky, Lemieux), the saints (Bill Barilko, Tim Horton, Gil Perreault, Guy Lafleur), the cathederals (Maple Leaf Gardens, le Forum de Montréal, Madison Square Gardens), the laymen (Ray Bourque, Mike Bossy, Theo Fleury), the popes (Pat Burns, Toe Blake, Roger Nielson, Jacques Lemaire), and even a prophet (the Man Himself, Don Cherry!).

There's a congregation (the season ticket holders), tithing (ticket and concession prices), the singing of hymns (Oh, Canada and the Star Spangled Banner) along with the amens (Na Na Naah Naah - Hey Heyy... GOODBYE) and of course the holy sacrements (the entry of players, the dropping of the puck).

Hell... the sport also has its own inquisitors - can you say Bob Probert and Tie Fuckin' Domi, kids?

But today, the practitioners, the laymen, the inquisitors, the choirboys - the lot are locked out due to a contract dispute with powers that be led by Gary Bettman - a former NBA exec who is still trying to get a grip on what hockey - our religion - is all about.

Like all other contract disputes, this is all about money and job security. It isn't as if the practicing clergy is starving - they're gettng paid quite decently for their troubles. But hockey is a game that causes lots of injuries, and the cost of fixing up whatever ails the clergy keeps going up.

The porblem is that neither the clergy and the powers that be could see eye-to-eye as equals. Both parties claim that whatever they propose would be in the best interests of the sport, the fans and the players. Yet there stand these two hulking rocks of Gibraltars saying, "Fuck you - your proposal sucks cock" for the past few months, without mention of compromise, concession or consensus.

In the end, everyone loses, with the fans losing the most. Because without hockey, our winters would be without purpose or meaning. There would be no water cooler conversations or barroom philosophising, nor would there be any point of reference or inspiration for hockey players young and old, since anything normally shown on CBC Saturday nights act as dream sequences, with body checks, hat tricks, power plays, short-handed goals, penalty killings and fighting - err... creative conflict management.

But at least the Saturday night hockey widows would be able to spend some more quality time with their loved ones.

Whatever the liabilities or benefits there may be, these two warring factions should get their shit together and learn to come to a decent consensus before it becomes too late to start a decent season.

Luckily, the smaller leagues are starting to fill the void left by the NHL. If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of shinny pessimism, it would be in form of the AHL, QJHL, OHL and all the other leagues. But the average Canadian NHL fan is spoiled and jaded - he wants to see the stars now, not under development. And this is where the NHL and NHLPA should take a small step back and survey the damage left by the this lockout, simply because they are hurting themselves by depriving the fans their sport by litigation,

That's all... and there you go.

No comments: