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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Just Drop It' fan boycott pushed

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SITTING in a hockey locker-room, Steve Chase became the latest die-hard fan fed up with the NHL lockout.

Living in Los Angeles, Chase believed the league had squandered all the goodwill built in the area after the Kings won the Stanley Cup. His weekly pickup games with friends became his only taste of the sport he loved because of the ongoing labour strife that has dragged on for months.

So he took a poll of his buddies, then took a pledge:

"We're not coming back."

Not for good, just not after the lockout is settled. Not for a while.

Chase started the grassroots "Just Drop It" campaign that encourages fans to boycott one NHL game for every game cancelled after Dec. 21. No tickets, no TV, no merchandise -- not a minute or a penny spent on the league, punishment for what Chase believes are continuing abuses of fan loyalty.

He made a video and started a Facebook page, urging fans to click the "like" button and join the cause. More than 11,000 angry fans have joined since the weekend, a mere puck drop in the circle compared to the millions of fans who attend games, but the latest small sign fans won't again be won back easily.

"People are trying to crush the NHL," Chase said. "That's not our goal. Our goal is just to get hockey back. Hopefully, somebody somewhere cares about this and decides, 'Guys, we've got to get back and talk.' The fans are right.

"They're fighting over our money."

The days of letter-writing and 30-second phone calls to sports radio stations have ballooned to steady streams of hashtags, Facebook posts and homemade videos from fans who just want to come in from the cold of this labour battle and watch their slapshots and saves. They are exasperated over a work stoppage with no end in sigh.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby understood why fans are upset over the third lockout in commissioner Gary Bettman's 20-year tenure.

"I don't blame anyone for being frustrated with this process," Crosby said. "Everyone's got to be frustrated with the way this has gone. It's pretty easy for everyone involved to feel that way."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2012 D2

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