January 9, 2013; New York, NY, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the National Hockey League lockout during a press conference at the Westin New York in Times Square. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back at the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout

Am I the only one that kept my word? Am I the only one that made good on my threats?

Let me back up to last September. Remember last September? The countdown to September 15, when the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement expired? How no one knew what was going to happen and neither side met before it expired? Remember how infuriated it made you feel? This sport is your life, part of your sole existence, and the sides refused to meet.

The “start of the season” came and went without more than a handful of unsuccessful meetings. Morale among fans was low. Fans that went through this back in 2004 were already cursing up a storm and threatening to not come back to the sport. We had been through this once already, and many of us had been through it twice, going all the way back to 1994.

What made this lockout hurt the most was how close the two sides seemed to get time and time again. It gave us false hope that maybe things would get solved and we would only lose a month or two of the season. And time after time, discussions evaporated almost instantly. It was painful. It was disheartening. And most of all, it was infuriating.

I threatened to not even watch the season if it ever came back, but I rescinded that after I said it, knowing I would cave. I loved the sport too much to not watch it. People at work asked me every week what I thought about the whole situation and I told them that I just couldn’t care anymore. The NHL and the NHLPA had broken my optimistic spirit. And it was freeing, really. I didn’t have to care anymore. I didn’t glue myself to Twitter for the latest rumor of meetings.

But it seems to me that as soon as they announced hockey was back, everyone was celebrating. Everyone was buying jerseys. Everyone was buying tickets. Everyone was going to games.

Everyone, it seems, except me.

May 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Members of the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings shake hands after game seven of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. The Blackhawks won 2-1 to win the series four games to three. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

I did not buy any tickets to games. I did not go downtown. I did not even buy anything Red Wings-related. The last NHL product I bought was a Red Wings decal for my car back in August, well before the CBA expired. And I still haven’t put it on my car, waiting for the off-season to start so the season would officially be over (and now I have to figure out where the heck I put it).

Out to lunch with the people at work in early October, I found myself zoning out and glancing around the restaurant. And I saw Jimmy Howard sitting at the bar next to Justin Abdelkader. They left too fast for me to say anything to them (and they left with Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen). But just the glimpse of them had me aching for hockey. As I watched them leave, I made my vow of not supporting the league for this season. They should have been playing hockey. I should have had my sport back. You can’t always get what you want.

You can tell me that I should support what I love, that sticking to my word was a betrayal of the greatest sport, and that’s fine. You can think that all you want. I saw it as refusing to support a group of money-mongering owners that wanted to squeeze and extra few cents. Billionaires fighting with millionaires, and the former throwing fans to the side like they meant nothing, like they weren’t one of the bigger sources of revenue for them. The Production Line felt the same way as me, and I think they put it best:

“Since not even two weeks ago, when I claimed not to give a shit in the least, the parties looked like they’d gotten close to a deal, I found myself wide-eyed and optimistic, even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t. What should have been a laughable “of course they aren’t” moment upon the realization that this optimism was misguided was more of a disappointment and disbelief. Those aren’t attributes of a truly apathetic hockey fan. They’re indicative of someone who WANTS the game back, and HOPES the spark returns.

But like a jilted lover, there comes a point at which you’ve got to pick your head up, be strong, and throw the guilty party out of your life so that you can begin to heal and re-evaluate what’s most important in your life.”

They treated us like crap and expected us to come crawling back. I chose to ignore them for a truncated season and enjoy my sport from a distance. And it didn’t matter what I did in the end because people came back. In droves. In sold out arenas. Revenue climbed faster, fan attendance increased. All those people who sounded like me during the lockout, who swore they wouldn’t return if the season came back, they came back happily.

I remember looking at my Facebook feed the day the new CBA was announced. Everyone was so excited and talking about how they were ordering tickets to games as they typed. All the people who just weeks before had said they wouldn’t support the league anymore were suddenly clambering over each other to get the next set of tickets.

So was I right for sticking to my threat? It saved me my time, it saved me a heck of a lot of money (because I always go to at least four games a season), but it didn’t do much in the broader picture. Staving off buying anything didn’t affect anyone’s revenue.

In the end, it didn’t make a difference. In the end, all it does is show how much we need this sport, how much of it is our life, and how much we will be worrying in a few years when this CBA expires and this whole dance starts over again.

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