Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lockout bickering casts pall over what we love about the NHL

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Donald FEHR. Gary Bettman. Steve Fehr. Bill Daly. Twitter. Players in suits. CBA. Escrow. Revenue share. Compliance buyouts.

If you're numb, as the cool kids say, I feel you.

Not having the NHL these last few months and being forced to watch CBA negotiations with the same intense gaze normally saved for a playoff race, it's been easy to forget what's actually being missed.

Friday morning, while working on a year-end "best stories in sports," column, I googled Ondrej Pavelec's save-of-the year and got a reminder of what's on the shelf.

Sitting in my little home office trying to block out the strains of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse blaring from my daughter's bedroom, Dennis Beyak's call of the play gave me shivers.

Back on Feb. 21, in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Jets goalie Pavelec flashed his glove into the air and snared a sure-goal off the stick of Jakub Voracek.

The first thing I noticed was the life in Beyak's voice as he called the play on TSN Jets. Beyak is the consummate pro. The best in his business all have a sixth sense. Without knowing something big is about to happen, they feel it.

Beyak's voice has just a touch more edge as he describes the Flyers moving the puck in the Jets zone and the intensity heightens as the puck gets closer and closer to the crease.

By the time Pavelec pulls off his little miracle, Beyak is in full throat.

Moments such as this, are what we are being robbed of right now. I'd forgotten this.

My focus throughout the lockout has been to view every issue through a Winnipeg paradigm. How will changes to the CBA effect the Jets organization and its ability to compete in the NHL, has been my top concern.

Silly me. Certainly the CBA and how it pertains to the Jets is important. It can help ensure the long-term viability of the franchise and entrench the NHL in Winnipeg. That's important.

But so is the hockey. The games. The pure joy of watching the best players in the world compete on a daily basis.

Full disclosure, covering the NHL for a living is incredible. A dream come true. I miss it.

I got into this business to write about hockey. My ambition was to cover an NHL team. Life landed me in Winnipeg after the NHL left and I happily covered the Manitoba Moose in the IHL and AHL for over a decade. It was a paid apprenticeship with hockey professors like Randy Carlyle, Craig Heisinger, Claude Noel, Scott Arniel, John Ferguson (Sr. and Jr.), Mike Keane and Bruce Southern teaching daily courses. I loved it.

Having the NHL return was like finally being granted partnership in a law firm. The cases and clients just got a little more important. But it was still hockey.

Now it's gone and instead of being assigned to cover games, the beat has moved into boardrooms and banks. This isn't meant to come off as a whine. I'm still working and still getting paid. It's all good.

But for a moment on Friday, I was able to put myself in the shoes of a fan. It sucked.

Part of being a reporter requires a dispassionate view on the proceedings. We turn our inner-fan off. The combination of being a little out of practice and the electricity in Beyak's voice caught me off guard. It was riveting, and then, surprisingly, I sensed that tingle of emotion that makes watching sports as a fan so incredible. I felt the joy and excitement fans pay to feel.

It's what spectator sports is all about. It's what drives the economic engine. No emotion would quickly result in no season tickets, no TV deals, no corporate sponsorships and no billion-dollar revenues to fight over.

Players and owners can forget this as easily as reporters. No matter what they say right now, both are guilty of putting the fans second. Their own needs have come first in this fight.

The fans, however, are like the children of divorce. Forced to watch the bickering and to bear the emotional scars.

The fans will come back and they will feel again. But that doesn't change what the players and owners have done to them. It's been shameful.

Fans will forgive and forget. But one has to wonder if they'll ever feel the same again. Who could blame them if going forward they held a little piece of their hearts back?

And wouldn't that be the biggest shame of all? Cheering with only half a heart.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 0

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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