Our long national nightmare is over.
No doubt you’ve heard by now – the information reached even those living under that figurative rock – that the National Hockey League is back, the league and its players’ association having agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement 113 days into a lockout that drove most hockey fans to the brink.
At best, it was an exercise in frustration, as TV highlights were swapped for clips of miserable-looking reporters huddled in the cold outside hotels, awaiting even a morsel of news.
At worst, it was the most unnecessary stoppage in the history of pro sports, as millionaire athletes battled billionaire owners for months, only to reach a deal that many pundits say could’ve been struck in September.
And the fans were pawns in it all, waiting, waiting, waiting for their precious game to be returned to them, like a ball that’s been lost over a neighbour’s fence.
But it’s back, that ball returned, and in the time it takes to drop a puck, the fans who’d previously been outraged were overjoyed.
Gone, mostly, were threats of ticket-buying boycotts or jersey-burnings or angry 140-character proclamations on Twitter stating the NHL had lost them as fans for good.
Sure, there are some who will follow through on threats to leave the league behind, but most will come back. They’ll shell out for ticket packages and jerseys again, for $6 arena hotdogs, and $30 parking spots.
They’ll come back in droves, because they always do.
Fans barely batted an eye in 1992, after a 10-day midseason players’ strike threatened the beginning of the playoffs; the fans came back for the lockout-shortened season of 1994/95, and they even returned after the last work stoppage, in 2004/05, wiped out the season entirely.
Noted philosopher George W. Bush clearly wasn’t speaking with hockey fans in mind when he once proclaimed “Fool me once, shame on you. You fool me, can’t get fooled again.”
Not in Canada, Dubya, where those burned jerseys are always replaced by shiny, new ones and the reign of the Last Angry Fan is a short one.
And don’t think for a second that the NHL, headed by every fan’s favourite punching bag, commissioner Gary Bettman, doesn’t realize it, too.
He knows as well as anyone that a few platitudes directed to the fans will be enough.
The anger always fades.
Case in point: a CTV.ca story last week in which upset fans – angry enough to vent to national press – vowed to boycott the first 10 games of the upcoming 48-game season.
Ten games. That’ll teach ‘em.
This isn’t to suggest fans shouldn’t come back if they so desire, nor should they necessarily feel like schmucks if they do.
Fans are fans, unabashed, and after being without the game they love for months, who is to say they should punish themselves further with a boycott? For the sake of proving some greater point which, in all likelihood, will go ignored?
This is the part where I admit that I’ll be back, too.
It’s a delicate balancing act, juggling fandom with feelings of betrayal, and it isn’t something I necessarily feel great about it – like a parent rewarding a child’s bad behavior – but on Jan. 19, when the games begin, I’ll be there in front of the TV.
Will I buy tickets and jerseys and spend my hard earned money to support my favourite team? Maybe not. But I won’t be boxing up a basement full of memorabilia and tossing my Henrik Sedin jersey into a box to send to goodwill, either.
I’ll watch. I’ll cheer. Coaches will be second-guessed, failed power-plays will be loudly panned, beers will be consumed. High-fives will be plentiful.
I will be, for better or worse, a fan once more.
Fooled again, indeed.
Nick Greenizan is the sports reporter at the Peace Arch News.