I don’t know what made me wake up at 2:30am that January 6th morning.
As my eyes shot open suddenly, I squinted at the clock and sighed at the thought of another night without enough sleep.
I instinctively reached for my phone and it was lit up with a message from a good friend who had some information he knew I’d want to know, even at that early hour.
“They’ve reached a tentative agreement. It’s over.”
I set my phone back down and stared up at the dark ceiling, void of reaction. The NHL lockout that had pitted the owners and the NHLPA against each other in a nasty standoff that delayed the start of the 2012-2013 season for what ended up being a total of 119 days was coming to an end. And I wasn’t sure how to react.
Maybe it was best that the two sides came to a resolution in the middle of the night, while most of North America was sleeping. No big fanfare, no #NHLPodiumWatch, no huge build-up to an “imminent deal”, only to see it slip away. But even still, it felt a bit odd to be celebrating the end of an embarrassing and unnecessary process that probably should have never happened in the first place.
My typical next step upon hearing hockey news of this magnitude would be to head to my keyboard and start pounding out my thoughts. But I couldn’t. Words failed me. The lockout negotiating process had gotten too ugly, the roller coaster became too much and I got off. It left me feeling conflicted.
Instead of being part of the reaction with post titles such as “10 Reasons Why NHL Fans Will Be Back” or “10 Reasons Why NHL Fans Won’t Be Back” or “Why Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word…and Will Never Be Enough”, I did something counter to what my head was telling me.
I sat back…
and watched, and read, and listened…
and I let the reaction come to me.
Most of what I saw was joyous. Some of it was ambivalent, even bitter. And while I absorbed this range of reactions, I realized that as a result of this work stoppage, there are no winners, and certainly no heroes. There were apologies aplenty, words that needed to be said, but did little to take away the sting. Even with a shortened season in place set to start January 19, there has been a lot of loss and damage that will take time to repair.
Over the days that followed, I saw some of that repair get set into motion by the fans themselves. Talk of #CautiousOptimism began to be replaced with #DropThePuck. Instead of debating HRR and “make whole” provisions, fans were debating what Ducks General Manager Bob Murray should do about Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and their expiring contracts.
And that was good to see.
A little less than a week later, in the later hours of Saturday, January 12, the Memorandum of Understanding was signed, signaling the final ratification of a new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA. This news meant it was finally “go-time” for the teams. The season could now commence.
The Anaheim Ducks took the ice the next morning at Honda Center in front of over 2,500 faithful, NHL hockey-starved fans and began an abbreviated training camp that has them practicing here in Anaheim until Thursday, when they then fly north to Vancouver to take on the Canucks in Saturday’s season opener.
I headed out to Anaheim Ice Monday morning to watch Day 2 of the Ducks training camp. It was the first time I had seen this team since April and I needed to see them on the ice. I needed to watch them skate, see their faces, Teemu Selanne, Bobby Ryan, Cam Fowler, newly named Coach Scotty and the rest. They looked energized. They looked happy. The temperature inside was cold. The crashes into the boards were loud. Being there in person had a big impact on me. And as it turned out, it was exactly what I needed. Nothing compares to seeing this game in person. It felt good to be back.
This short season is going to be fast and furious, a 48-game sprint to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After starting on the road for two games, the Ducks head back to Honda Center for their Friday, January 25 home opener match up at 7:00pm against the Vancouver Canucks. Opening Night features a couple of special offers, including a free “Teemu Tee” for all in attendance (awesome). And if you purchase a full price adult ticket before January 16 at 10:00am, you will receive 50% off tickets to a future Ducks game. Click here for the entire schedule and to purchase tickets.
Having never followed a shortened season before, I’m curious as to how this will play out. I think more than anything, I just want the Ducks to go out there and play with passion and intensity, like every game matters. Because it does. No slow starts. Play like the best players in the world that you are. You say you’ve missed the game and the fans. Play like you mean that.
I’ve said before that I believe this sport has a hold on fans’ hearts and souls like no other. And while this whole thing was much harder than I had expected, I never said I would leave. Because I knew I couldn’t. For some, it will take a while before they can make their way back. Some may never return. I don’t consider those fans to be haters, just as I don’t consider those who return in the blink of an eye to be wimps. You could make the argument that all of these choices are made because we love this game to our core.
As I left Anaheim Ice on Monday, my good friend asked me a simple but very poignant question.
“Are you ready for hockey?”
Yes, I am. And I’ve waited far too many months to say this…
Ducks hockey is back…drop the puck! Go Ducks!!