On September 15, 2012 the NHL officially locked out its players. From then until January 6, 2013 life really sucked for hockey fans everywhere. We had our twitter timelines open 24/7 hoping to see Dreger or McKenzie announce the end to the hellish work stoppage.
Instead, all we read about were the players being stupid and the owners being stupid, knowing we did nothing wrong except fall in love with a silly game and the silly boys who play it for lots of money. We had to keep ourselves occupied in other ways.
For fans in Phoenix, and on Long Island — the lockout became even scarier because the Coyotes and Islanders were sitting on the relocation hot seat.
The hockey world was just a year removed from the NHL just up and ditching Atlanta (again) and heading to Winnipeg — tail between its legs.
Winnipeg has welcomed back their Jets and the fanbase there has been an amazing re-addition to hockeydom, but whats often forgotten in the kerfuffle is that there were hockey fans in Atlanta, and they just got robbed.
It wasn’t their fault that hockey re-invaded Georgia after the 19 years after the Flames up and left for Calgary. It wasn’t their fault that the NHL teased them with 12 years of the coolest game on earth just to leave for Winnipeg.
It wasn’t fair to Thrashers fans just like it wasn’t fair to Jets fans that their team was taken from them and sent to Phoenix.
And now its not fair to the beautiful fans in Phoenix, who have spent the past half-dozen seasons on the brink of Seattle.
As a New York Islander fan I felt the same nauseating nervousness that Coyotes fans continue to feel. In fact, I’m sure the Islanders situation — as screwed up and unexplainably evil as it was — is not half as bad as what the Coyote fans are feeling.
Just imagine sitting, waiting, just knowing that at any moment, your heart can get ripped out of your chest and there is nothing you can do about it. Wait ’til next year isn’t a statement of hope, it is a time bomb attached to the outer wall of Nassau Coliseum or Jobing.com Arena
Every day the team doesn’t get closer to a deal feels like a day wasted. The hockey media licks their chops just waiting to pounce on the next sign that your heroes are moving to a different time zone.
The Islanders were once considered the jewel of Long Island. They were the first franchise other than the insanely successful Montreal Canadiens to win four Stanley Cups in a row. They won 19 playoff series in a row (think about that for a minute 19!). The only reason they didn’t win a fifth cup and 20 series in a row is because this dude Wayne Gretzky was coming into his own.
(Just an aside, I know I speak for all Islander fans when I say watching the man who traded away Zdeno Chara, Todd Bertuzzi, Olli Jokinen, and Roberto Luongo in their primes giving HOCKEY ADVICE on national television is like this.)
In 2000, the Islanders were temporarily saved by Charles Wang. He bought the woeful Islanders and in the second year of the Wang Regime, the Isles were in the playoffs for the first time since ’93. The Islanders lost a classic seven game heartbreaking series to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it was allegedly only the beginning as the re-emergence of the once-proud franchise had begun.
Unfortunately that pulse flatlined and the Isles could never find a way to recapture the 2001-02 magic and never really threatened to make a run deep into the playoffs.
After the 2005 Lockout, the Islanders had trouble developing a new generation of Islander fans. The Dynasty fans were getting older and moving off island, and for the ones who stuck around, the Isles were so far removed from those happy teams it was hard for them to translate their passion to the youth who had seen no signs of life.
Most Long Islanders saw nothing attractive about spending money to go see the terrible Islanders play at a place that the media told us was the worst arena in sports.
Dubbed Nassau Mausoleum by the mean, the Islanders were the butt of every NHL joke out there couple that with the advent of Twitter and it was a nightmare for Isles fans.
Wang held fast though, sticking to his vision of building a new complex that included a snazzy Coliseum. He called it The Lighthouse, and it was grandiose. He wanted to include a shopping center, a minor league ballpark, and residences at the site. Stupid, corrupt politicians thought it was too good to be true. So The Lighthouse went as far as all things dubbed too good to be true by politicians go, nowhere.
With Wang’s dream shattered and his pride badly wounded, he began shopping the Isles around. All of a sudden Islander fans were losing sleep.
It got especially grim after Long Island politicians clinically thrust a final dagger into Wang’s ego, by letting the people vote on a new tax to refurbish The Coli.
Things were bad. Really bad.
After the 2011-12 season the Isles were still struggling and we had just three years to figure out how to save our team. And then the stupid lockout happened.
We sat and we waited as Charles Wang and his cohorts kept quiet.
Finally, on an unassuming October morning we were saved and the Islanders mess got cleaned up in a not-so-horrible-way, they were moving 30 miles west to the shiny new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And Brooklyn is ON Long Island.
This also meant that for the first time ever, Islander fans could take a train to the game! This is a good thing!
We are still going to have to say goodbye to Fort Neverlose, and that sucks, but the Isles will still be around playing hockey and we will get to go see them if we want.
Unfortunately for the poor fans over in Arizona, we don’t know how much longer the Coyotes will stick around. And that sucks too, because it is not their fault. The NHL came into Phoenix guns blazing, some people fell in love, and now they may have their hearts broken.
Life is already hard enough. That is why we embrace sporting culture. It gives us an avenue to walk down to forget about work and stuff. We should be able to count on sports to be there for us, but here on Long Island and a country away in Phoenix that wasn’t and still isn’t the case.
The coda for the 2013 NHL Season has been special so far. After the agony of the lockout, National Hockey League fans deserve the riveting hockey we’ve been seeing over the past two months.
The Stanley Cup Final has been the cherry on top of the “I’m Sorry” sundae the NHL and its players have served to fans after tormenting them months ago. Three games already decided in overtime, shutout one game, 11 goal thriller the next, and now the Blackhawks are one win away from hoisting Lord Stanley . The game is shoving every reason why we fell in love with the sport in the first place right in our faces. Beautiful chaos on ice, it should never be taken away.
That’s why when you are taking in the remaining games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, keep the poor souls in Phoenix in your thoughts. They love this game just as much as the rest of us and they deserve better.
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