NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Twitter: The extra player

Barrage of tweets making NHL negotiations high-profile

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Twitter just may be as big a player in the NHL lockout as Gary Bettman or Donald Fehr or Sidney Crosby.

From agents like Twitter savant Allan Walsh spreading his version of CBA gospel, to media shuttling their columns and takes around the world with the click of a button, to fans venting on a minute-to-minute basis, there is no hiding during this lockout.

Information is spread worldwide with stories leaked and arguments waged all right there in the open for us on our Twitter feeds. Never has a high-profile labour negotiation been carried out in such a public manner.

Friday morning, the Free Press invited hockey fans to jump onto my Twitter feed and open up about all things lockout.

The response was immediate and kept up a rapid-fire pace all day. Fans had beefs with both management and players and solutions and demands. The suggestions and rants kept pouring in.

While the propaganda and analysis can be both riveting and aggravating, the most passionate and meaningful discourse on this subject has been that of the fans.

From Gander Bay to Transcona to Miami to Los Angeles, hockey fans have taken to Twitter to let their thoughts be known on this squabble.

From ridiculous theories to prescient solutions, Twitter has it all. Fans poking players and players poking back. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, another storm blows up on Twitter.

Here in Winnipeg the lockout has struck a different chord for us than the last one did back in 2004-05. Many watched with muted interest, wondering if a new deal would make our market viable once again. On the ice, we had the AHL's Manitoba Moose and Randy Carlyle's crew took a run deep into the Calder Cup playoffs.

But we didn't have much to say in Winnipeg. This time, many feel frozen out once again ,but now they have a voice and the entitlement to join the fray.

Trevor Grimm (@hockeyoffside) summed up what many Winnipeggers are feeling these days.

"I don't feel sorry for owners/players. But I feel bad for Jets fans, great fans who get 1 year of hockey, then this? #wfplockout."

The Free Press offered a forum for exchange and then got out of the way for the most part as fans from across the globe used one of our Twitter timelines and our website to give their side of this story.

While it's important to document the back and forth between the owners and the union, the effect this stoppage has on the ticket-buying public will eventually be the most important angle of them all. Last time, the fans came back in traditional markets but didn't return all the way for less fortunate franchises.

This time around, when hockey does return, the fans can mobilize themselves through social media such as Twitter. They've always had a voice, but before it was harder to hear them. Now they can join together across the continent to send their message.

Twitter can be a barometer of the moment's emotion, but it can also be a forecaster. And as Chad Wassing (@chadvector) says, the NHL, its players and the Winnipeg Jets should be careful.

"I only started following hockey again last year. I have no problem slipping back into not caring again."

Pay attention Messrs. Bettman and Fehr. Your fans are speaking.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2012 C1

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Updated on Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 12:38 PM CDT: adds cover it live box

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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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