Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No hockey? Put me on ice

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What with the turmoil in the Middle East and the scandal surrounding those topless photos of Kate Middleton, the last thing we need to deal with today is more bad news.

But, tragically, the unthinkable has happened -- McDonald's is opening vegetarian restaurants. No, sorry, what I actually meant to say here is the National Hockey League has locked out its players. Again!

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say this constitutes a national disaster, even more horrifying than the sweater vests Stephen Harper wore in the last election campaign.

In this country, this is the time of year where, with summer on its death bed, with winter bearing down on us like a hurricane on the Gulf coast, Canadians traditionally find comfort in the fact that, while we can no longer toast our pale and pasty flesh at the beach, we can spend the next 10 months lying on the couch in our den watching hockey and wondering whether Don Cherry is more than a few clowns short of a circus.

But now, thanks to uncaring forces beyond our control, we are being denied our birthright. As we stand in absurdly long lines at a Tim Hortons this morning, we are forced, as a nation, to ponder a life without hockey. What exactly does this mean for the approximately 35 million people who make their home in the Great White North?

Well, firstly, it is painfully obvious the latest lockout means complete and utter devastation for a sacred Canadian tradition -- the office hockey pool. The innocent Canadian worker will no longer be able to while away the hours in his office cubicle pretending to be the manager of a fantasy hockey team.

What impact will this have? It likely means productivity will go through the (bad word) roof and Canada will almost immediately overtake China and the U.S. as economic superpowers. But at what price, people? At what price?

Without hockey to obsess over, Canadians will need to find something else to fill the emotional void. The hugely popular international sport of cricket seems like the logical replacement, making for some fun water-cooler conversations:

First worker: "See the match last night, Jim? Muttiah Muralitharan really cocked one off the splice in the gully! Talk about a dibbly-dobbly!"

Second worker: "You bet, Bob, leg before wicket, eh? The batsmen really played bakerloo to that grubber. Out for a blob if you want my opinion."

Third worker (bursting into tears): "OH GOD I MISS SIDNEY CROSBY!!!"

A world without hockey is going to take some getting used to, kids. The worst part of the lockout is no one else in the world cares the way we do. Oh, sure, they have hockey teams based in the U.S., but let's face it -- American sports fans would be more upset if they cancelled televised bowling.

And you know the crowds in the Middle East aren't feeling Canada's pain. Sure, they might be a little bit more sympathetic to our plight if they woke up this morning and discovered the entire protest season had been scrapped, but that's not the point.

The point is we are living in a time of upheaval. Hockey-mad Canadians will have to find ways to fill the hours they normally spend staring at their big-screen TVs and chugging beers whenever silver-tongued analyst Pierre McGuire utters his favourite phrases, such as "big body presence" or "Whaaaaamo!"

Call me a dreamer, but maybe -- just maybe -- for once we will turn off our TVs, climb off our couches, look deep in our hearts and hold meaningful, non-hockey conversations with our loved ones.

Now that sounds like a bit of a sticky wicket, eh?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2012 A2

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