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The NHL is dead to me. Now that the hockey strike is over and the embattled warriors from both sides have ended their shenanigans, it’s obvious that professional hockey has nothing to offer people like me.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I would sit down on the chesterfield with my brothers and a bowl of popcorn on a Saturday night to watch the original six in black and white.
Ah yes, it was a simpler time.
If I remember correctly even the Leafs used to win the Stanley Cup in those days.
Wow, that was a long time ago.
We didn’t know anything about the NHL or team owners or player reps. All we knew was that hockey was great to watch and it got even better at playoff time.
Back in the hood we used to take it to the streets where we would borrow the name of a favourite player like Mikita or Armstrong or even Delvecchio.
I was never a promising hockey talent but I used to bang pucks against the boards with my homies at the old West End Rink on Frederica Street or Wayland Park.
In those days street hockey games broke out all over the city and loud screams of “CAR” were heard every time a motorist came by and disrupted the match.
Even when we grew older and stopped playing boot hockey, that childhood passion was kept alive by watching Hockey Night in Canada, going to outdoor league games at the park and occasionally, a game at the Fort William Gardens.
It was about this time that I became a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan. It was the Guy LaFleur era. NHL Hockey was as skillful and exciting as it would ever get.
That traditional Toronto and Montreal rivalry was replayed in workplaces and schoolyards all over town.
We continued to watch with interest as the league expanded.
The owners had begun seriously chasing the almighty dollar but the hockey was still worth watching – mostly.
Somewhere along the line the game was transformed into a business.
The league statistics were less important than the bottom line.
Loyalty and love of the game became secondary.
At one time NHL hockey reflected traditional Canadian values like fair play, good sportsmanship and sacrifice but the game has changed.
Maybe our values have too.
I don’t buy the notion that hockey is somehow ingrained in the Canadian psyche or a vital part of our national identity.
Hockey is just a game, one that has recently become very nasty and brutish.
At the professional level hockey players are bought and sold like sides of beef on ice skates. Some are filet mignon and some are stewing meat.
I saw Guy LaFleur again on TV the other day. There were silver threads among the gold but he still looks like the same guy.
It was a commercial for a foot care product. He said his legs were sore.
Just like my all-time favourite right-winger, the NHL is well past its prime and should sit down to soak its tired, old feet for a while before it has no class left at all.
For its part, I’m sure the league is not interested in fans like me.
I just don’t fit the business model and what’s left of their game holds little interest for me any more.
Fortunately that old magic is still alive at little league tournaments, in backyard rinks and on those small town streets where boot hockey is still played.
But for me at least, it’s time to put the NHL on ice.
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