by Jas Faulkner, contributing editorWhile a few of the NHL faithful eschewed sleep in order to get the earliest possible word about the CBA talks, the rest of of North America stretched, yawned and blinked, fuzzy mouthed and bleary-eyed as gleeful fanatics caroled about the long national nightmare being over.
“Hockey is BACK!” some fans declared.
Didn’t I tell you so?
The high spirits from the parishoners in the stands and the ebullience of the Twitterverse/Facebook crowd had to be a relief for the league powers that be, who were probably wondering if the come casual fans would retain their rat’s tuchises and honest fat flips for other concerns.
What was the general mood in the front offices around the league?
“Relief,” answered a club wonk who asked not to be identified. ”From our viewpoint, it was never a question of the fans losing faith in us. We did our best to keep things as open as we could. We offered events to keep people coming to the arena and keep us in mind.
“For the most part it helped us stay connected to the people who support us season after season. It sounds crazy, but we have a personal connection with our fan base. They share their stories and their love of the team with us. Many of them know the front office people like they know who’s on the roster. (redacted) -thousand people fill up this arena and we feel like we know nearly every one of them.”
“As much as I love the guys, I think it was the people who walk through the front door who were let down the most by all of this. It was painful to go on Twitter and Facebook week after week and tell people we were still waiting for word about the CBA.”
Tampa Bay’s Martin St Louis was present at the behind-closed-door talks. It’s easy to reduce what happened to a back and forth volley of “What’s in it for me?” St Louis tells a different story.
“I feel sorry for the fans that they had to go through this with us. I’m aware of the business side of it and I’m aware the economics of the game. I still felt their pain.”
Speaking of the Bolts…
Like every other club in the league, they’re aware they have their work cut out for them. An insanely short training period followed by an abbreviated season that puts the onus on everyone to start strong in order to stay alive would be daunting for many. St Louis and Lightning centre, Steven Stamkos, were prosaic about what is ahead for the team.
”This is going to be a lot of hard work. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not going to be all fun all the time.”
Stamkos was one of the players who elected to stay in North America during the lockout. While many players went overseas to stay sharp, he went home, played pond hockey and worked with a trainer. It gave him a chance to spend time with family and enjoy something that he had not been able to do for a long time: celebrate Christmas at home.
Will the lockout prove to be the undoing of the Lightning? Stamkos doesn’t think so. He sees the opportunity to bond with the hand full of new players as an important part of the week to come.
“The core nucleus is the team has been together for a while,” he said. “And that’s important. It was a frustrating situation for everyone involved. The first few weeks were agonizing. You don’t realise how team oriented you are until it is taken from you.”
Bolts Goalie, Anders Lindback, is anxious for things to get underway.
“The body feels good and that’s the main thing. I’m glad to be back. I’m looking forward to training and working with the coaches.”
When asked about the condition of his knee, Lindback was dismissive of any concerns that he might not be ready to get between the pipes. ”It’s not an issue. I just have to keep going. I haven’t been on the ice for a couple of weeks it’s always hard on the body when you go on the ice and you haven been on for a while.”
Meanwhile, in Russia…
Word of the CBA resolution caused most of the wandering NHL orphans to jet home before the ink was dry on the contracts. Two forwards who have been having the time of their lives playing out East evidently felt a deeper connection the fans who welcomed them so warmly over the past three months.
Kovalchuk played for SKA St. Petersberg and Datsyuk, who played for CSKA Moscow, but seemed to have fans from all over the league. Both men played for the West, which fell to the East with a disappointing final score of 11-18. What isn’t disappointing is the fact that both gentlemen wanted to stay -according to the official statement they gave to the KHL and their fans- “to express their gratitude to the fans for displaying such sincere support and passion for the game.”
New Jersey fans are probably anxious to see Kovy return and this Winged Wheels fan will be happy to see Pasha back in Detroit Red.
Sweet Carolina! Hockey Never Felt So Good!
On January 23rd through the 26th, USAH’s National Sled Team and National Develomental Sled Teams will take on rival squads from Russia and Korea in a competition that promises to be as fierce as it will be fun to watch. This year, the four team event will take place at the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina, which is located just southeast of Charlotte.
“We look forward to welcoming Korea and Russia for the Sled Cup,” said Dan Brennan, general manager of the U.S. National Sled Team. “The fans in the triangle area of North Carolina will be treated to some terrific competition. They’ll have a chance to see some of the best players in the world.”
The US Sled Team took first place at Calgary’s international competition last year. Some powerful returning players will be making a return appearance this year: Steve Cash, Taylor Chace, Alexi Salomone, and Taylor Lipsett.
According to the good people at USAH:
FASTHockey will provide live streaming coverage for all tournament games. Those interested in watching should sign up for a free account in advance at USAHockey.FASTHockey.com.
You won’t want to miss this series!
Next week: More news from the KHL, we visit another team as they ramp up to the start of the season, and whatever else is happening where the coolest game on earth is played. This is Jas Faulkner for THW reminding you to always wear a helmet to protect that beautiful brain. See ya next week!