By Michael Caples -
Last Sunday was a good day for hockey fans.
Everybody – including yours truly – woke up to discover that the top professional hockey league was back in business. The NHL and the NHLPA had finally stopped their petty arguing, and it was time to get the show back on the road.
It was an exciting day. Personally, I was thrilled to throw on my 2009 Winter Classic hoodie when I left my house for some pond hockey, because the NHL’s return means new hope for seeing an outdoor game in our state. The fact that the NHL season would be saved brought a sense of calm, as well – we, the hockey fanatics, wouldn’t have to deal with the collective embarrassment of another “season not played” carved into Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Yet as the day went on, and I followed the news and the tweets and the Facebook posts, I grew a little frustrated with the words I was reading. The frustration continues to grow each day.
Hockey is not back, everyone. Hockey never left.
As we have voiced all along, hockey never stops. The NHL closing its doors on us once again did not mean that your nearest rink closed its doors, as well. I was still at a rink almost every day, despite that rink not being Joe Louis Arena (with the obvious exceptions of the high school games and the Great Lakes Invitational). College and junior hockey was, and still is, alive and well. And nothing can compare to the enthusiasm displayed on the ice by young hockey players.
Heck, the World Juniors alone should have served as the perfect example that hockey lives on, no matter what.
The people in charge of our highest league of hockey have disappointed us. But the one thing we can’t let them take away is the spirit of our sport. The NHL is crucial to hockey’s growth, yes. And I am in no way saying we should turn our backs on the pros, either; I will be welcoming them back with open arms (well, actually with a tape recorder and a laptop, but we won’t get into details).
But I ask you to avoid the phrase “hockey is back” because hockey never left. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the people that loves hockey as much as I do. Make sure that the message you deliver to your friends and family is that you are happy that the NHL is back, but that the NHL can never take hockey away from you.
We will be thrilled when the Red Wings are back on FSD. We will be thrilled when we tune in to Hockey Night in Canada. And when the playoffs begin, it will be like Christmas morning for us.
But we’re not going to forget about the hockey that got us through the dark days of the lockout. Nor will we stop paying attention to it. Because our junior teams, our college teams, our high school teams, our youth teams, they aren’t going anywhere.
Welcome back to the party, NHL. You are just a part of a much, much larger hockey community. And we’ve been having fun all season already.