Register Wednesday | September 26 | 2018

This Is the End

I've tried to show that there is more to the hockey world than six-foot, two-hundred-pound millionaires.

If, by the time you read this, the NHL season has not been cancelled, it will be very shortly, likely around 1 PM today. In honour of Gary Bettman's newfound ability to make a decision, this will be the last Masochist column until such time as the NHL returns.

I'm not suspending the column because there's nothing to write about. Over these past few dire months, I've tried to show that there is more to the hockey world than six-foot, two-hundred-pound millionaires. Women's hockey, university hockey, minor hockey, semi-pro hockey, table hockey, ball hockey and hockey literature are most certainly part of "our national game," but the big leagues, the pros, the Leafs and the Habs are where it's at. So, when that particular song has been sung for the year, I think perhaps it is best to acknowledge that with inaction. To go on now would be to say to the NHL owners and the NHLPA (all of whom read the Masochist regularly, I'm sure) that their game isn't what hockey's all about, that the NHL isn't the best league in the world, that the Stanley Cup is just another trophy. And I can't do that.

I'm not suspending the column because there's nothing to write about. Over these past few dire months, I've tried to show that there is more to the hockey world than six-foot, two-hundred-pound millionaires.

If I may take on my MediaScout persona for a moment, I can point to various commentators who have sounded the season's final buzzer: Jeffrey Simpson dedicated his Saturday column, "The Nation," to the end of hockey; in the Toronto Star, Damien Cox deplored the lack of effort from both sides. Most interestingly, the Globe put hockey and baseball side by side on the front page of its sports section this weekend. While some might argue that baseball is more game than sport, there is one trait that it will always share with hockey: love of money. That's what this whole dispute comes down to.

There's something about professional sports in a packed stadium that is awe-inspiring, that sets it apart from the grassroots. Unfortunately, there's also something greedy and fake about professional sports, an aspect of which I experienced this weekend when I was in Boston. I was out for a long run (a great way to see a city) and I thought I would check out Fenway Park. What with the Blue Jays sucking and the Expos ceasing to exist, I've sort of become a Red Sox fan over the last couple of years. While I have no claim on the kind of ecstasy Beantowners felt after the Red Sox won the World Series last fall, I did enjoy the victory in a maybe-this-means-the-Leafs-will-finally-win-the-Cup way. I was pretty excited to run over the I-90 bridge onto Landsdowne Street and see the old park. Imagine my exhilaration when I noticed that a door to the stadium was open, and people were milling about inside. I had only hoped to catch a glimpse, but now I might actually be able to go inside and see the field and, of course, the Green Monster. I jogged into the bowels of the stadium, only to be quickly confronted by a man with a clipboard.

"Ah you hea fo da jahb faeh?" he asked, in a classic Boston accent.
"No," I admitted. "I was just wondering if I could take a look inside."
"No, you can't do that," he answered curtly. "There are tours across the street for ten dollars." Dahlas. I figured this would happen, but I decided to press the issue just a little more.
"Oh, well, I'm from Montreal, see, and it's very sad for baseball fans there."
"No, I'm sorry, you're actually trespassing right now," he said in a threatening tone, stepping toward me.

Okay, actually, that never happened. When the guy told me I was trespassing, I said, "Okay, sorry" and meekly exited. But I should have kicked his ass.

That's not necessary, I thought. It's one of those invisible barriers. I can't stand invisible barriers, like when salespeople tell you they can't accept a return, or when a restaurant says you can't use their washroom unless you buy something-of course they could let you use it, they just don't want to. But they never say that; they say things like "It's impossible" or, if they're trying to be polite, "I'm sorry." But they're not sorry. That kind of stuffy "official" attitude really irks me. So I decided I wasn't going to take shit from this dude. I'm a runner, pretty quick and agile, and the only other person around was a big, dense-looking guy in a Red Sox jacket. I made a break for it: I lowered my head and took off for the ramp, toward the daylight calling to me like a cornfield in Iowa.

"Hey, come back here!" the clipboard guy yelled. I reached the top of the ramp, and there it was, the Green Monster, the field, the stands, everything. When two pairs of arms grabbed me from behind, I didn't care, as I was mesmerized by the sight of it all. That didn't last long though, as I realized I was in deep shit. So I pulled one of those moves-you know, where you elbow someone in the gut and then pop your forearm up and smash them in the face with your fist? I did a double one of those and left the maroons screeching and grabbing their faces. I ran out of the stadium and back to my hotel.

Okay, actually, that never happened. When the guy told me I was trespassing, I said, "Okay, sorry" and meekly exited. But I should have kicked his ass.

The parallel I'm trying to draw is that an invisible barrier separates the NHL and the NHLPA: this idea of a salary cap. In my frustration, I would like to give Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow elbows to the gut and forearm shivers to the face, but, well, that's as likely to happen as getting into Fenway Park in February. If the players really just wanted to play, they would play for less. If the owners were really serious about "cost certainty," they wouldn't give the players such huge contracts. Both sides are greedy. All this labour dispute is doing is shining a spotlight on an ugly fact when most fans are happy to ignore it and just enjoy the show. We only want to be entertained, and this is not entertaining. Yes, this is the players' livelihood and the owners' too-though most have a number of other "investments"-but they need to remember that their job is to entertain me! Cathy Chartrand does not entertain me like Bryan McCabe does; Clint Butler is not Tie Domi; and matt robinson's words, caps or no caps, don't hold a candle to what Mats Sundin does on the ice.

So, until this dispute is resolved, I'm on strike too. Or maybe I'm locking my readers out. Who knows? I realize that this is a pathetic and useless protest that will have no effect whatsoever on bringing hockey back, but I have to do something-or in this case, nothing. Thanks for sticking it out this long, folks. Goodbye, hockey, call me when you're ready to play.

John Lofranco is a Montreal-based writer, teacher and distance runner. The Masochist appears every second Wednesday