Hockey fans across Canada are hoping the NHL’s lockout of its players won’t last long, while also bracing for the possibility of a lost season.
The NHL closed its doors at midnight Saturday and there were no formal talks between the league and its players in the final three days before the previous agreement expired.
It’s the NHL’s second lockout in seven years and the fourth work stoppage in two decades.
The last lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, making the NHL the first North American sports league ever to cancel an entire season over a labour dispute.
Fans in Winnipeg are taking news of the lockout especially hard, as they had just welcomed an NHL franchise back to the Manitoba capital last year after a 15-year absence.
Steve Taylor, a Winnipeg Jets season-ticket holder, said he doesn’t think fan support for the team will be affected, but he thinks the lockout is insulting to fans generally.
“It’s disappointing that people can start out playing a game that they love and end up quibbling over millions of dollars, and ruin it for a lot of people who pay a lot of money to go see the games,” he said.
“It’s pathetic, really.”
‘Hurts a lot’
Brandon Bryant, a 41-year-old in Toronto, said he usually hosts special gatherings to watch hockey games. That’s in jeopardy now.
“It hurts a lot,” he said.
“We live for hockey season and look forward to it during the off-season and the owners are putting that at risk now.”
In Nova Scotia, the lockout was on the minds of players, coaches and parents as minor hockey associations began conditioning camps and tryouts this weekend.
Andrew Schnare, a coach with the Chebucto Minor Hockey Association, said the NHL lockout is a hard thing for young players to understand.
“Their idols are locked out and they don’t really understand why,” he said. “They just want to watch a hockey game and follow their idols.”
Rhys Finnick, who works at the Sports Junkies sporting goods store in Vancouver, blamed team owners for the labour unrest and called them greedy.
But regardless of how the dispute plays out, he said his passion for the game will stick.
“I’m becoming less and less of a fan of the NHL concerning the business side of it,” he said.
“But I’ll always watch it no matter what. They could lock out for 10 years and as soon as they start playing again, I’m going to watch the first game.”
Exhibition games in jeopardy
Even fans in cities that don’t have NHL teams are unhappy with the possibility they may miss games if the lockout stretches on.
In Regina, Steve Leibel said he and his son have tickets to watch an exhibition NHL game there that was set for next Thursday.
“I was really looking forward [to] taking my son to the Oilers-Islanders game that we had coming here, and now that’s likely not happening,” Leibel said.
Fans in Saskatoon had hoped to see an exhibition game between the Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins next Saturday.
The first exhibition games could be scrapped next week, and the prospect of having the regular season start as scheduled on Oct. 11 is less and less likely with each day.
Businesses fear losses
Meanwhile, those who work in restaurants, bars, retail stores and other businesses that profit from hockey games fear the lockout could hurt their bottom line.
“It’s going to be a very rough year. We are going to be in the minus,” said Khalid Maskour, whose souvenir shop in Montreal features Canadiens shirts, hats and flags.
Maskour, who estimated half of his business revolves around Habs souvenirs, said a short or cancelled hockey season will take a big bite out of his sales during the winter.
Tony Siwicki of the Silver Heights Restaurant in Winnipeg said since the Jets returned last season, he has bought team gear for staff, hired extra security, and even purchased a bus to shuttle fans from his eatery to home games.
“Now we’ve got all this money out that we … won’t get back. We have to sit on it for, [in] the worst-case scenario, for another year,” Siwicki said.
“I hope they come to an agreement,” he added. “A lot of people … rely on this kind of entertainment to make money, to survive, to support their families.”
Katharine Galaher, a fan in Toronto, said the league should remember people who work in bars and restaurants that make their money off hockey games.
“They need to think of the well-being of everyone else that’s losing their jobs for the season,” she said.