By Ian Robinson
By Ian Robinson
That was close.
If the NHL lockout had gone on just a little while longer, we would have had to start talking about our feelings or something.
Taking hockey out of the lives of Canadian men is like taking dark chocolate and bitching about men out of the lives of Canadian women.
Now before you start penning sternly worded e-mails to poor, old Mike Jiggens, the very nice man who edits this magazine, I know there’s oodles of women who love the NHL.
For a lot of Canadian women, all the guys who play in their Fantasy Sex League—with the exception of Clooney—are missing their front teeth from taking:
a) A puck in the mouth
b) A skate in the mouth
c) A stick in the mouth
d) A fist in the mouth
But even those girls?
They have lives. They have other interests. They’re grownups who can shrug their shoulders and get on with things when there’s no hockey on TV.
Men don’t do that.
There was this…emptiness in the men around me.
Guys who used to congregate in one spot in the office to talk hockey would start to coalesce there…and then look embarrassed and wander off because there was nothing to talk about.
They wanted to talk.
They wanted to enjoy the company of other men.
They wanted to be together.
But the thing that brought them together was gone.
In my part of the world, that something is the shared sorrow of being a Calgary Flames fan.
It’s been a long time since 1989.
Oh you find a bunch of Oiler fans and some Canucks fans out here, too, but it’s mostly Flames. On game days, guys wear team jerseys to work, just to be part of what is known as The Sea of Red in this town.
The comedian Whitney Cummings once said that men dressing up in team jerseys to watch sports is like women dressing up in surgical scrubs to watch Grey’s Anatomy.
I once repeated that to a guy who nodded thoughtfully and said, “Makes sense. Why aren’t women dressing up like doctors to watch that show? Women are weird, eh?”
Which leads me to the conclusion that while we’re the same species, men and women are never going to understand each other.
The only people not sorrowful about the Flames are the owners…it’s tough to find an unsold seat in that old swaybacked barn called the Saddledome.
For a while there during the lockout, the guys would still congregate.
They’d talk about the labour negotiations and the intricacies of tactical moves like voluntary decertification of the player’s association which apparently is a thing that could have allowed another thing to happen which might allow a third thing to happen that once helped the NBA in its negotiations with its league.
That’s how bad it was.
Guys were learning to talk like lawyers so they could talk about hockey, if only second-hand.
Before the lockout ended, one guy I knew even joined a ping-pong league because he needed something to fill his evenings and if he didn’t get out of the house, he was going to have to talk to his wife.
And do you remember what happened when they cancelled hockey the last time?
They started running poker games on TSN and everybody laughed at first and the next thing I knew, every guy was hooked and even today, every time there’s a get-together, I wind up playing Texas hold-em for three hours.
I was terrified that this time, TSN would start broadcasting dominos and I’d have to learn how to play that.
For some reason, everybody blamed Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League.
I think it’s partly because he looks like a comic-book super villain.
The Penguin, maybe?
But Bettman was the bad guy.
I hate to break it to you, kids, but there’s a reason the owners have kept the guy around since 1993. It’s so he can be the guy you hate so you’re not hating them.
And here’s another thing.
Under Bettman, NHL revenues went from $400 million a year when he was hired to $3 billion last season.
That’s not just real money. That’s Oprah money.
Like it or not, Bettman did it.
But the reason hockey fans hate Bettman is simple if you quit thinking of hockey as a business—which it is—and start thinking of it the way hockey fans, mostly Canadian, regard it.
As a religion.
And as the Pope of Canada’s most diverse and numerous religious group, Bettman doesn’t quite measure up.
At any rate…hockey’s back and, as I write this, the Calgary Flames have just registered their third straight loss of the season.
The reason Flames fans have to share their sorrow is that there’s so very much of it to go around.