At dinner in Philadelphia last night, I kept glancing up at one of the big screen TVs showing a rebroadcast of the festivities that surrounded the 2012 NHL Winter Classic. The station was showing a long run of introductions of former players from the teams that would play the “real” game that day in Philly, the Flyers and the New York Rangers.
In short order, I saw Bobby Clarke and Mark Messier come out for interviews, dressed for play in Flyers and Rangers sweaters, respectively. The cameras showed fans of each franchise standing and applauding their heroes of yore, and that’s when the impact of this year’s labor dispute hit me like a skate blade to the shin.
By seeing those former players, each fan was reminded of all the games they’d watched or heard over the years, fathers and mothers telling sons and daughters how they were there at the Spectrum or the Garden when such and such happened. And those sons and daughters will be able to tell their children and grandchildren about how they sat outside on a cold January day back in ’12 to watch the Winter Classic.
But there will be no Winter Classic this season for anyone to remember, and as we near the new year it’s looking like there won’t be any games, period.
I’ll survive a winter without hockey, just as I survived earlier times without baseball or football during labor squabbles. And I will come back to hockey whenever the millionaire players settle their issues with the millionaire owners. I love the game too much not to return.
But as each canceled game comes off the calendar, there are that many fewer fathers and daughters taking in a game together and that many fewer mothers and sons at breakfast the next morning checking the scores.
Hockey won’t lose me — it’s too deeply imprinted in my psyche. But it will lose many fans for the future, and it does so at its own peril.