Up until now, I had never really given too much thought to the National Hockey League, being a lukewarm pro-hockey fan, at best. However, the tumultuous events of this past season, and especially this past week, have got me wondering about this unassuming sport.

In case you’ve missed it, the latest news is that the 2004-05 NHL season has definitely been canceled. As the New York Times has reported, League Commissioner Gary Bettman said that ESPN erroneously hinted a few days ago that an end to the current lockout was on the horizon.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, apparently. Negotiations appear to be over. The season ended before it began, and a lot of bitterness still remains between the players’ union headquarters in Toronto and the league headquarters in New York.

You might be asking yourself, why does any of this NHL business matter to me, the author? The only sports I remotely understand involve rackets, and I can’t even play those particularly well.

In fact, my inherent lack of coordination has always rather bothered me, but it has never succeeded in quenching my desire to attain proficiency in a variety of sports.

Ice hockey has always intrigued me, too. In high school, I would go to the occasional Buffalo Sabres game with my friend Matt, whose father’s company had season tickets.

Now, Matt and I did not pretend to know all of the rules of the game, but rather we got the basic gist of things. Being in the dark about certain aspects of the sport didn’t matter much to us – for some reason, I always found those Slavic faces behind the masks rather handsome, and Matt enjoyed the J-Lo music that they played in between periods. Seriously, the boy can dance, even while sitting in a plastic stadium chair.

So, what do the failed negotiations between North America’s pro-hockey players and their management say about the sport in general? To an uninvolved onlooker like me, it seems that both factions have forgotten what attracted them to the sport in the first place and have allowed themselves to become entrapped by corporate greed.

It has been speculated that a compromise would have been possible if a salary cap could have been reached somewhere in between the union’s earlier proposal of $49 million per team and the league’s previous proposition of $42.5 million per team.

Instead of solving their problems in order to salvage the hockey season for the fans, this year will remain a blemish on the NHL’s reputation, a tarnish on the Stanley Cup.

It frustrates me that so many other professional sports leagues in North America and abroad are somehow able to appease both the players unions and the leagues and management, but that professional hockey for some reason or another cannot get its act together.

Who loses the most? Surely, the diehard fans do. I also feel a little sorry for the hockey players, themselves. OK, so I know they are all millionaires, but I read a rather touching story in the New York Times last weekend about the sad plight of these millionaires. Their league is embroiled with pecuniary conflict, and most of them just seem to want to lace up and get back out onto the ice.

A lot of these players are now playing in leagues in godforsaken towns in the middle of Russia, without knowing the country’s language, culture or foods.

In an effort to keep the rust out of their game, they are choosing to live halfway across the world, sacrificing the comforts of home for the love of the game.

Can’t the players take a pay cut and just get on with things? And can’t the league be a little more accommodating? Things need to be resolved for the hockey players, who are kids at heart, and also for kids like Matt and me, who need a little hockey in our lives.

Ogorek can be reached at aogorek@campustimes.org.



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