It's been a while. I've always known ILWT to be a place where I can outlet my feelings on hockey and the Devils - and get educated responses to posted topics. For me, the lockout blues have truly set in now and that's why I'm writing.
Now that I've gone through the 3rd lockout in my hockey fan lifetime (not counting 1992), I'm getting a little tired. I think I'm actually going to stay away from the NHL for a while. No I won't bring up the millionaires vs. billionaires argument, a more persuasive reason would just be that I'm getting old, tired and angry.
I have done my fair share to promote the sport of hockey and the Devils in the state, but it might be time for me to stay away from the NHL game for a while. Some say the fans are the pawns and that we're powerless, but the only power we have is to stay away after this lockout ends. Some writers and fans have noted that we're suckers, and we'll return (mostly Canadians) and that boycotts won't work.
In the past, especially for a Devils fan, I think it has been essential that we return. Because it's small market teams like ours that can really suffer down the line if the fans don't return. If I was a Flyers or Rangers fan, I don't think I'd blink twice: I'd stay away. But then I remembered the Nashville moving talks in 1995. Combined with the uncertainity over Vanderbeek's finances, it may eventually make me come back and throw my cash around. But then I stepped back and reflected over my reactions to the previous stoppages (lockouts - whatever semantically we call them) and I tried to reevaluate this position.
1995 - Play resumed in January of 1995 and my family stayed away initially after some anger. I was a senior in high school; still young and captivated by the Devils' run in 1994 after their heartbreaking loss to the Rangers. Once the season continued on, however, it was easy to get excited again. Sometimes, I was allowed to borrow mom's car and drive up with friends. It was about an hour plus commute, but it was as much about hockey as it was about the emancipation of finally having a drivers' license and using the Devils' games as an excuse to get out with friends. And then the playoff run. And then the Cup. I forgot what the lockout was about . . . . until visiting fans occasionally reminded me. (This may be a memory gap for some, but I remember some fans chanting "shortened season" when I watched the Devils on the road or something like that during the 1996 - 2000 Cup gap. It was a jab that the Devils' 1st Cup wasn't justified because it came during a shortened season. I particularly remember this during the 2000 playoffs vs. the Leafs after we chanted "1967" at visiting fans).
2004-05 - I was so busy with other life things than hockey at this point that I barely noticed this lost season. The previous years, Devils' games were a true investment, on my own financially and time-wise. I drove to most of the playoff games in 2000, 2001 & 2003 from exit 30 on the GSP (2 plus hours one-way). Many times I would look at those Monmouth County exits and wonder how easy the "North Jersey" people of Eatontown, Asbury Park or Freehold had it (that's what everyone in Atlantic County would call Monmouth County). I was tired of where I was living, buried in South Jersey, and wanted to move up. I did get to see a young Zach Parise play in Philadelphia at the old Spectrum as an Albany River Rat though, which was nice. I got to move up North the next year and finally enjoyed a short commute to Devils' games for the first time in my life. Combine that with Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko nights, the new rule changes and I was back. A couple years later, the Rock was built and I had forgotten the lost season that I barely remembered in the first place.
The present day - Now I'm married, a dad, and I live far away again. The Stanley Cup run was doubly exhausting, dealing with a pregnant wife and a long work commute. For two nights in the first two rounds, I crashed at friends' places up north, all while my wife understood what this run meant to me. We watched game 5 of the Rangers - Devils game in the recovery room after my son was born. And my wife didn't blink when I asked to go to one game of the SCF vs. LA. This year's past run was truly a special time for various reasons.
But currently, in the fall of 2012, money's been earmarked for diapers and baby food. I have ECHL hockey very close by with the Trenton Titans and got a partial game plan at an affordable price with stellar seats. In turn, they've rolled out the red carpet for my family (I promise if I lived down here a couple years back, I would have supported the T-Devs). Now, I'm at the point in my life where I can make a stand and tell the NHL and the NHLPA that they'll just have to try harder to earn my money. Really this time. I'm old. But then I think back to the small market situation.
Like I said earlier, staying away would be easier if I was a Philadelphia Flyers or New York Rangers fan. Those owners are truly pulling Bettman's strings and their fans could boycott games and the organizations would still be fine. (Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy has called owners like Ed Snider "warmongers.") But then I think of Jersey guy, Jeff Vanderbeek losing control of the team. I think of the workers and small business owners in Newark. And then I think of what life would be without Devils' hockey. It scares me. It makes me think back to the fears of Nashville in 1995.
But because of life changes and principle, I've pretty much sworn to stay away for as many NHL games as Bettman and the NHLPA lost. That means 118 games plus whatever we lose this year (I won't count preseason, but I'm pretty mad I missed that Devils-Islanders game at the Barclay's Center). As much as I'm scared that hockey fans will stay away from NHL hockey, I'm also scared that if the fans don't send a message, the NHLPA and league will do this to us again, when I've got gray hair.
The only power I've got, is to not go, not watch and not buy merchandise. I don't know if this is the right decision, but again, I've got more convenient options at this point. I know people will speak of the inferiority of ECHL hockey, but many players on the Titans posed for a picture with my kid and me. While I am scared what the loss of hockey has done and will do to downtown Newark, I can take solace that downtown Trenton is helped by hockey here. I've also got Princeton Tigers' hockey at historic Baker Rink, which is still my favorite place to see a game. When my kid is old enough, he has the option to skate with great scholar athletes during some select Saturday evenings.
I've said I'll stay away before. Like a bad 80s movie, where the main character professes to never do something and in the next scene he is seen exactly doing what he swore off, I could be back this year or next. How could I miss Marty's last game or a night honoring him? Or team picture night of the 2011-12 Devils team who made my life so special this past spring? It will be challenging, but I don't know what the players and owners will do to me again.
It's tough. I had to pause writing this to feed my kid. But I'm not a passive fan. I'm engaged and informed and I feel the NHL has to work much harder to earn my money, that's all. Stop taking me for granted. I don't know (exhale). To the ILWT community, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts. The Devils have been such an important part of my life, but I think I've run out of options: I'm done with the NHL for a while.