Amra Kubat (left) and Nikki Vijh, photographed outside the Canadiens’ Bell Centre dressing room on Wednesday.
Dario Ayala/The Gazette
There’s no way to accurately quantify the hockey fans whose lives have been touched in one way or another by the NHL lockout, which on Wednesday was in its 60th day.
So last Friday, heading to the Bell Centre to cover the American Hockey League game between the Hamilton Bulldogs and Syracuse Crunch, I chose to do a low-key head-count of my own by way of social media.
A day before the faceoff, I wrote on Twitter: “Thinking I might get to a spot on Bell Centre concourse an hour or so before #Bulldogs game & invite interested fans to come say hi.”
Forty minutes later, just to confirm I wasn’t joking, I tweeted that I’d confirm late on game-day afternoon precisely where I’d be about an hour before the game, giving anyone interested a chance to drop by and still get back to their seat in time for the warmup.
The meeting place wound up being in front of a white Ford – essentially an ad on four wheels – parked between the arena-bowl entry points to Sections 103 and 104.
I arrived at 6:40 p.m., half-expecting to be a crowd of one, and was pleasantly surprised to find a half-dozen Twitter followers with passion to share. Many more had tweeted and emailed me their feelings, ranging from moderate discontent to white-hot anger to resignation and apathy.
At the Bell Centre, I met students Nikki Vijh and Amra Kubat; professional musician Geoffrey Lang; federal government worker Dan Daoust and his fiancée, Stacy; and computer specialist Caroline Tardif, the high-bidder in The Gazette Christmas Fund auction to have dinner two nights earlier with myself and seven members of the Canadiens.
Alas, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman unexpectedly speaking Friday at exactly 6:40 p.m. about the latest buckling of CBA talks and a Saturday early-edition column that now required a hasty rewrite, I hadn’t the time to leisurely chat with my visitors about the lockout.
So I quickly gathered Twitter handles and the following morning asked for all – except Caroline, with whom I’d chatted at length over dinner – to drop me their lockout thoughts by email.
Nikki Vijh (left) and her friend Amra Kubat in the Canadiens’ Bell Centre Hall of Fame on Wednesday.
Dario Ayala/The Gazette
From Nikki, by Twitter, before I received her email: “I’m trying to write my thoughts on the lockout and I just keep rage writing and having to erase it lmao”
The 20-year-old from Montreal suburban Baie d’Urfé, in her second year of cultural studies at McGill, did find her voice Sunday evening:
“I’ve been tempted to just hit caps lock and repeatedly bash my forehead on the keyboard but decided using actual words might be more effective,” she wrote. “So I’d say disappointment and frustration are my overriding emotions right now. The fact that this is the second lockout in just seven years speaks volumes to the fans and personally it makes me feel unappreciated.
“I feel like we don’t matter. I’m passionate about the sport so they will never lose me as a fan but I think the disagreement between the league and PA is pretty ridiculous. It’s upsetting and frustrating that we’re potentially going to lose a full season over pure greed. If they want to salvage the dying relationship they have with their fans, they better come up with an agreement soon so we can at least get some games in this season because any hockey is better than none!
“It’s unfortunate we’re not able to see our Canadiens in the Bell Centre but last night made me realize there is a bright side to this lockout: more exposure for our baby Habs! Record attendance last night just means that we’re all still passionate enough to support the Bulldogs. Anyway, it felt great to be back. …”
Earlier in the day was received the following from Amra, a 16-year-old Grade 10 student student at St. George’s School of Montreal. She’s a native of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina who arrived in Canada 16 months ago and became friends with Nikki, a fellow Habs fan, through Twitter:
“I am really disappointed that there is no more hockey and it’s a shame that the league and players can’t come up with an agreement so we can have the game back. I was really looking forward to a new season so that the Habs could fix up last year’s disappointing one and, of course, I was looking forward to more hockey since I am a relatively new fan of the game.
“However, it was nice to finally watch some hockey again last night. As I was walking downtown before the game, Montreal felt alive again. Unfortunately, it was a rough evening for our baby Habs with Blake Geoffrion’s injury and a 4-1 loss. I wish him a fast recovery.
“Looking forward to the next Bulldogs game here in February, unless the league and players put the key to the lock and the Habs start playing again.”
The emails of Lang and Daoust ran considerably longer, but both expressed a deepness of sentiment.
I publish their letters below and welcome brief comment and photos at my address below (only by email, not by Twitter); all will be considered for but not guaranteed online publication. Full name, age, hometown and occupation of the letter-writer are required.
It’s safe to assume that passions uniformly run deep among fans who are missing their NHL fix, no matter that we’ll never be able to firmly grasp just how many are pained by its absence – and how many simply couldn’t care less.
GEOFFREY D. LANG, 55, Montreal, professional musician
On Twitter: @geoffreydlang
Hi Dave. It was good to see you pre-Bulldogs game on Friday, thanks for letting us know your whereabouts!
I have to tell you – it was great to be back at the Bell Centre again to see hockey. But it felt a bit like the “kissing your sister” scenario; you’re going to the NHL arena see pro hockey (sort of).
I, like many of us, grew up a Habs fan. I vividly remember seeing my first game at the Forum in the spring of 1968 (just before the renovation took place), having to peer around the vertical support beams that ringed the arena. I’ve cheered them since, having lived and died with every win and loss – especially in the playoffs, when I was in my teens and 20s.
As an adult, I still look forward to every game. As a professional musician, there are many instances when I’m out working at the same time a game is being played, so I look forward to getting home (at whatever hour) to watch the game that I’ve pre-recorded, fast-forwarding through the commercials and intermissions (except for Coach’s Corner), many times fighting sleep to get to game’s end.
Segue to the Lockout 3.0.
As a hockey (not just Habs) fan, I’ve watched the quality of the NHL game diminish on many levels. The median player talent level has been diluted through expansion; the ever-evolving rule book has softened the game’s intensity and the NHL’s attempt to ‘”grow” the game is misguided.
(One of the fundamental prerequisites to grow anything is that the environment has to be fertile enough to support the growth. Last time I looked, the desert’s environment is not great for growing much – including hockey.)
Dictionary.com defines “commissioner” as: “a representative in charge of a department” and “an official chosen… to exercise judicial authority.” Common terminology could also include “leader,” “director,” “boss,” etc.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is presiding over his third lockout. Unfortunately, it seems pretty clear that Mr. Bettman is not leading for the greater good of the NHL (in particular) and the game (in general).
What everyone directly involved with this dispute seems to forget is that the business of professional sports – in this case hockey – was developed for one reason, only: entertainment.
To succeed in the entertainment business, there’s only one major requirement: a devoted and loyal fanbase.
For the majority of us hockey fans, our eyes have glazed over with the fine details of the millions vs billions. I, for one, am very aware that the NHL owners and NHLPA are negotiating for their own livelihoods, which anyone and everyone is untitled to. However, the one commonality that the two sides have shared from the outset – and will always continue to share – is the need for regular folks to hand over their money, hard-earned or otherwise, to keep all of them in business.
The real gold sits with the currently disappointed and/or frustrated and/or angry fans, most of whom will be ready to dole it out again once (if?) this lockout is settled. To that, I say: “shame on us.”
Do I miss watching Habs games when I return form work at 2 a.m? Not as much as I thought I would…
DAN DAOUST, 25, Ottawa, federal government worker
On Twitter: @habsfansince87
I was raised a Habs fan, plain and simple. My father was a fan, his father was a fan. My fiancée has become a fan, much to my family’s delight. Growing up, there were only two seasons: getting ready for hockey season and hockey season.
As a kid, when it was game night, my parents would make sure they were home early from work so dinner would be done and we could catch the pre-game show. We never wanted to miss a minute of Habs talk, as it was hard to come by living in Ottawa. We would sit ourselves on the coach, put on RDS or CBC and hide the remote; no one was going to change the channel!
We never missed a game, it was the family tradition. I would put on my road-hockey goalie gear, stand in front of the TV (wearing my jersey, of course), and pretend to be Patrick Roy making saves, diving all over the living room.
Those childhood memories mean so much to me. Hockey was my life, my hobby, my obsession. It made me happy, sad, laugh, cry, and throw things at the TV … sometimes all in the same night!
Fast forward to now – I’m 25, engaged, a home- and car-owner… and little has changed. I still rush home from work to start dinner so my fiancée and I can catch all the pre-game talk. We put on our jerseys, start a fire, grab a beer, and we’re ready to go.
But now, that has all changed.
In one seemingly long, unending argument, the owners and players have taken away my life, my hobby and my obsession. Hockey talk at home and work is all the same topic: when will the season start? How much money do the owners want? Aren’t players overpaid? It’s not about last night’s big game, not about the big Habs win over Toronto or Boston, not about Don Cherry’s latest rant against P.K. Subban… It’s just “when will they play hockey?”
I’m constantly reminded that hockey is a business. The players, owners and media all repeat that rhetoric daily to whoever will listen. But sadly, that’s no consolation. Business or not, I don’t have my Habs. Yes, MY Habs. The team I have poured myself into since I was old enough to pay attention to a TV. A team I would watch at midnight during a West Coast game on a school night, or noon on a Sunday in mid-June. A team whose jersey I would wear to school or work after every win. A team I would travel two hours, at least once a year, to go see, and not complain at all if they lost. A team whose history and statistics are so engraved in my brain that I didn’t leave room for much else.
A team that has literally broken my heart.
Please, owners and players, get a deal done. Play for that kid who wants to watch every game after school with his dad, play for the people who may not be around next winter. And not to be selfish, but play for me.