Hockey’s back, but the poison remains

By: Peter Epp

My boss, a huge sports fan, told me that he would be taking a good long break from the NHL now that they’re finally getting back from theirs.  “When the child does bad, you spank ‘em,” he told me. And since he can’t fit Gary Bettman or Evander Kane across his knee, I guess he’ll just avoid his TSN Jets channel and not buy any Dustin Byfuglien bobble heads for a few more months. And I guess if enough people do likewise, we might see even more groveling from Gary before the year is up.

But as nice as it is to see Gary say things he doesn’t mean, I’m glad my boss can’t fit me across his knee either. Because I don’t agree with him for a second.

The NHL and the NHLPA aren’t bad kids who should be disciplined. They are what they are; they always have been, and they always will be. And if we’re only disgusted because of what we saw in the lockout, then maybe we’re the ones who need more discipline.

Hear me out. I’m a huge Jets fan. Like you, I cried at the Jets “funeral.” I still count Ed Olczyk as the most inspiring public speaker of all time. I danced with Gabe the last time I sat under the queen in the old barn. I partied on the streets with the rest of you on 5-31-11. In fact, I’d like to think that it was my “Portage and Main” chant that kept the party rocking when the cops moved us out of The Forks.

The Return of the Jets narrative is one of the most compelling things I have ever, or will ever live through. It’s one of the few times in any of our lives where we’ll actually live the Hollywood ending.

But there’s still a truth colder than Portage and Main and more disconcerting than a Johnny Oduya breakout pass: the NHL owners and players did not suddenly become a disgusting pit of bottomless greed when the lockout hit. They always have been — or, at best, they’ve always been part of a system that always has been. And they always will be a part of that system, because this is NHL hockey. The lockout didn’t momentarily bring out the worst in the enterprise. It just bubbled to the surface long enough for us to really notice it.

It’s the same thing I should’ve realized when Todd Bertuzzi plowed Steve Moore’s face into the ice in ‘04. Bertuzzi — even though we all treated him like one — was not an exception. He was what ruled. He was the Canadian star with the vendetta that we all cheered for, right up until the moment we were reminded of what we were actually cheering for.

If we can’t say it now, when can we? We’re not cheering for some pure product that occasionally messes up. NHL hockey was, is, and will always be about our willingness to spend disgusting amounts of money to see (among some other things, yes) blood. In fact, I wish I’d been man enough to admit that because of the blood. But since that didn’t really affect me personally, I waited until a lockout ruined my TV-watching plans. Now if only I could be man enough to actually stop watching because of it.  Until then, see you at the game — whatever the cost.


Peter J.H. Epp teaches teens to read literature, write creatively, act boldly, talk politics, think harder about their religion, and generally hone the skills that don’t pay the bills.  When he’s not harping on professional sports, he can be found fervently enjoying its many redemptive qualities.  

You can follow him on the streets of Gretna.  Or just email him at