Thanks NHL, I Have My Life Back

Even kids know the truth! - Richard Wolowicz

Last season was one of the most fulfilling of my hockey life. The irony is that as the season started, I lost my job. Twelve years of my life - gone in an instant. No, it wasn't just me...it was a whole department. Downsized.

I promptly immersed myself in a variety of things. Mainly, trying to keep busy. High on my priority list was hockey, just as it had always been. But now I had the unique opportunity to do something I hadn't done in a couple of decades - become a student of the game.

I studied relentlessly, likely too much according to my wife.

In preparing this article, I thought about the games. All of them. A lifelong New York Rangers fan, I watched all 82 regular season games. I watched the pre-season. And sorry, my Blue Jackets brothers and sisters...the playoffs! Yep, that adds up to about 110 games.

I have become a Blue Jackets fan thanks to the affiliation with the Springfield Falcons. How I loved my Center Ice package. Despite the hardships of last season, I still managed to take in about 60 Jackets games. Running total...170 games

And let's not forget my beloved Springfield Falcons. I splurged on the AHL Live package last season. After all, I wanted to have the ability to give you, dear Cannon reader, the most thorough insight possible into the Jackets of the future. Add another 76 games, running total 246.

My nine year old likes the Sharks. He claims it's the shark crunching through a hockey stick. So, he likes to go to Worcester to see the AHL Sharks. A few trips out there and with a late season trip to Boston, where I was 4 rows behind the Bruins bench as they crushed the hapless Leafs, that adds up to 250 hockey games last season.

Gulp.

I first heard rumblings of a lockout about two years ago. My first thought: After cancelling a whole season and building the game back up, they wouldn't dare.

How effing naive.

With all those games, it's hard to believe that I had time for anything other than hockey, but I did. Primarily volunteer work in the community. It was here that I realized that there is so much more to life than being beholden to bazillionaire owners and/or players.

I've since gone back to work. However in the meantime, I was elected to office here in town. I'm active on the board of the Springfield Hockey Heritage Society. I serve on a committee at church. Last week, I started on another committee within the local school district.

This past fall, I helped coach a team of 3rd and 4th grade soccer players. My eight year old is a second grader. They moved him up because he's got skills.

Both of my boys scored their first goals this fall. Boo Yah!

Where I really started to turn away from the NHL was watching the joy of these youngsters playing 4 on 4. It's supposed to be a "fun" league. No scoring. No standings. But everybody knows.

Then last week, after the soccer season ended, Joshua started his second season on the ice. He knows more about pro hockey than an eight year old should. That's my fault.

He doesn't care if he makes the NHL. He just wants to go to hockey practice to become a better player. He says the skating drills are the hardest, but that means in his words, "...I hate 'em, but I gotta do 'em!"

NHL how could you do this to me?

After giving you my loyalties for well over 40 years of my life. Oh yeah, and my cash.

I never liked John Zeigler when he ran the league, but dear God, in hindsight he was positively a legend compared to what the league has become under the supervision of Gary Bettman.

I was emotionally invested in the NHL for most of my life. Hell, I still tear up when I see the Rangers 1994 Cup win.

In a cruel way, I owe the NHL and NHLPA a debt of gratitude.

You have given me my life back. And for that, I'll be grateful every day for the rest of my life.

After the '04-'05 lockout, the league painted "Thank You Fans" on the ice. Many teams thought it was appropriate to skate to center ice after a home victory and raise their sticks to the remaining attendees.

It was all a ruse.

Lets be real here. If you consider the four "major" sports, the game that we love has always been, is now, and always will be a distant fourth.

This means that the owners, no matter how much they squeeze us, will never make the money of the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys. (How people have bought into the crapfest that is the Toronto Maple Leafs for all these years, I'll never understand!)

It also means that NHL players will never make the kind of money that is liberally thrown around in the other three majors. Sorry, Sidney. Sorry, Nasher. Just the way it is.

As much as I have loved the NHL, this time she dumped me.

Again.

Last time she did this, like a lovestruck teen, I went running back at the first sound of a Zamboni.

This time?

Ain't gonna happen.

No more of my money and a minimal investment of time.

I'll watch highlight clips online, if they ever get back on the ice. But under no circumstances...not another dime of my hard earned money.

What about my Falcons? It's a bittersweet time for me. The boys, once they heal, will be right back to kicking ass and taking names. No question about it. But even the vibe around The Nest is different than it used to be. Some say it's the money, some say it's other things. I won't sit in judgment one way or another, but it is different.

I was considering leaving The Cannon before the season started. Then the lockout happened and I didn't want to leave the blog high and dry, so here I am. The crew here is awesome and I am especially happy they keep me around.

As for other sports, I hear David Stern is going to retire as NBA commissioner. My deepest hope is that Mr. Bettman will return to his NBA roots and leave our game the hell alone.

I also have let my self imposed NHL spending restrictions cover MLB, NFL and NBA teams and games.

If I can get back up on my soapbox one more time, if it's really the game that you love, go to a local rink. Kids games, high school games. Prep school or college. 99% of those kids are never going to make the big time, so enjoy them while they are enjoying the times of their lives.

I'll be back at the rink on Thursday. Joshua has another practice. He says he's going to get better on navigating the traffic cones on the ice. And before I know it, it'll be soccer season again. I'm really looking forward to that. After all, I have two goal scorers in the house, you know.

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