Let’s get one thing straight: I haven’t accepted Gary Bettman’s “apology” to the fans. Anyone with half a brain knows it’s a hollow apology, but hockey fans everywhere are flocking back to the NHL now that the third lockout in Bettman’s tenure is finally, finally over.
We’re getting a short season and we’re all content to drink the Kool-Aid in one way or another no matter how much we might complain. Because hockey. Even my adamant stance that I was broken by a lockout so soon after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated crumbled at the first promise of road trips and beer and David Backes.
I can’t give up this sport; more specifically, I can’t give up the NHL. It’s not going to be the same for me as it once was. My home team relocated to Winnipeg — something I still feel a lot of frustration about — and the following year this lockout happened. My relationship with the NHL is tenuous, but my relationship with hockey remains steadfast.
This sport has brought me close friends and kindred spirits, and given my dad and I common ground. I met the love of my life at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. I can’t give up something that has brought me joy, even if we are currently going through a rough patch. I’m not coming back because of the league, and I’m sure as hell not coming back because Gary fucking Bettman apologized. I’m coming back for those road trips and for all the friends I’ve made along the way.
I’ve told myself several times since the Thrashers relocated and since this lockout started that I was done with hockey. But that stupid grin on my face the entire time I was in the Hockey Hall of Fame last week told another story. I may be a kid from the South, but this sport worked its way under my skin the second I heard Ilya Kovalchuk unwind a slap shot back in 2003. It’s not going anywhere.
It helps that I’m not just an NHL fan anymore. I have the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators as a home team now, and to anyone who says that’s “just not the same as the NHL” I’ll tell you that’s the whole point. The NHL — no longer in my back yard — is now an excuse to travel, to see new cities all over North America. But I still have a home team and I know they aren’t going anywhere.
It was weird to realize how seamless the transition from “I want nothing to do with this league ever again” to “fuck yeah St. Louis/Nashville/Raleigh/DC road trip!” was. As soon as my friends started talking about all the games we’re going to go to, my reservations melted away. I still think the NHL is bullshit; I still think watching multi-millionaires and millionaires squabble over who deserves more millions is a three ring circus. But I’m not in this for them and I don’t even care that I’m going to be giving them a relatively small amount of my money along the way. I’m in this because I love hockey and all the people I know through it, and we have a damn good time.