Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fuel for the Fire...

The “Save the NHL” day (Caps –vs- Panthers @ 1 pm) was close to what I expected. We passed out 65 signs before the game and it was like handing out hand warmers to those in a living hell. We may switch the message on next year’s Night Out. It was quite evident that people weren’t interested in “The No Hit League” or “Bring Back the Tradition” signs. However, people zeroed in on the “Fire Gary… Save the NHL” signs. And if they didn’t take one, they at least thought it was amusing. Some people had no clue who Gary Bettman was. My brother and I fielded about a dozen “Who is Gary Bettman?” questions. I guess that shows what types of hockey “fans” are coming to the games these days. So next year, we’ll shoot for a “Fire Gary Bettman” Night Out or maybe organize a third period walkout. At least most people can agree that Gary Bettman has killed the game of hockey… at least from a fan’s perspective.

The game itself was lifeless. I didn’t expect too much being that the Florida Panthers were in town. Their team is a bottom dweller when it comes to toughness. It translates to passionless play. You could hear a pin drop throughout most of the game. The arena was half full with the usual absentees in the corporate 200 section. Other parts of the arena were empty too, mainly the 100 section and huge chunks of the 400s. I can’t imagine what the Verizon Center would have looked like if it wasn’t Kid’s Day and tickets were discounted for youngsters.

I sat next to an elderly couple and they were curious as to what our signs were about. I told them and she nodded and surprisingly responded that the Caps used to have a loyal following but those fans were no where to be seen these days. I agreed and told her that you used to be able to anticipate a game and that I couldn’t remember the last time there was a rivalry in hockey (actually it was ten years ago between the Red Wings and Avs). As the obstruction calls mounted up in the first, we would look at each other and shake our heads. The countless calls, some beyond absurd, killed the flow of the game for the fan. I almost lost my cookies when Donald Brashear was whistled for bumping the goaltender. Chris Gratton later got called for hooking because he hit a Cap and his stick got wrapped around the player from his momentum. This is all too sickening to watch as players are sent to the penalty box time after time for penalties that shouldn’t be called… and I say this for both teams as well. Whatever happened to “hockey tough?” I personally can’t see how any fan could stomach a game like that today. It was boring, emotionless, and passionless. It’s like a new game all together.

The worst part of it all was that we brought my 55 year old father to the game. He took us to our first hockey game when I was 8 and my brother was 10. He hasn’t attended a game in over 5 years. He was adamant that we leave after the second period was over. In his own words, “This is boring. The guys don’t hit anymore… it’s like their scared to or something. The penalties kill the flow of the game. I can’t watch this.” We left. On the way down the road, he said, “Now I know what you are talking about Matt.”

It’s all a shame. A fan told me before the game that the game is better now than ever before. I told him that there are countless people that disagree with him… they just don’t attend games anymore. Indeed, when you look around the Verizon Center, you have to admit there is something wrong. I’m done going to games myself… I won’t be giving a red cent to the league until they remember that hockey is a “tough” sport with “tough” players. I won’t be giving them another red cent until I hear that there is a rivalry brewing. And I will continue to post articles on that display that the “new NHL” is garbage and is alienating a huge following… the traditional and average hockey fans. The “new NHL” is lifeless… it lacks emotion… it’s killing the sport. They had better figure out a way to fix it before it dies all together.

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