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article imageOp-Ed: Home is where the heart is; Saturday still Hockey Night in Canada

By Eve St-Cyr     Jan 22, 2013 in Sports
The 60th season of Hockey Night in Canada launched with a record-breaking average of 3.3 million viewers for last Saturday’s Toronto-Montreal game, making it the most watched regular-season Prime East game ever on the network. Did anyone say 'boycott'?
I've never really been a big "fan" of anything. I'm usually more of a casual supporter when it comes to things like sports, or bands, or whatever else may be in fashion at the moment. Yet, somehow, hockey is different. It’s a family thing, to me.
Most Saturday nights, when I was little, would consist of sneaking into the living room and finding a way to position myself between the television and my father, lying a few feet away from the screen and absorbed with watching the game. Surely, my interest in the sport began as a clever ploy to postpone an early bedtime, but with time it became much more than that. It was a chance to spend quality time with my dad, a bonding moment; something that seemed intrinsically part of my French-Canadian heritage. I must have been about 4-years-old the first time my father took me to a game. It was at the old Forum, in Montreal, where the Canadiens laced their skates from 1926 to 1996. It was there that I first discovered my profound disdain for steamed hot dogs. I can still hear the roaring of the crowd that came with every goal and penalty, I can also easily recall my first nervous flinch as the puck slammed against the nearby windowpanes, and how proud I was when my father let me stand up in my seat, because I couldn’t see properly, and my feet dangled too far off the ground.
I must say, I’m happy hockey’s back. And while I understand the moral principle behind the campaign to boycott the NHL season this year, I simply can’t do it. Watching hockey has become one of my social traditions, because it always makes me feel like home, regardless of where I am in the world.
Of course, I’ve also had my share of disappointments over the years, like paying a hundred dollars to see the Habs play the Canucks in Vancouver only to walk out early on an embarrassing 7-2 defeat, or purchasing my first Canadiens t-shirt, with Guy Carbonneau’s name on the back, a week before he was fired. I wasn’t proud to see the Maple Leafs play a sloppy Montreal season-opening game last Saturday, but it was still better than the past 3 months of lockout anxiety over 'not having a season at all'.
Looking over the public complaints in favor of a complete or partial boycott of the 2013 NHL season, I found that many fans had expressed what they perceived as a “lack of respect” on the part of franchise owners and players for their loyal fan-base. Common was the idea that the wealthy and influential were taking the game hostage, and that it was the little guys that were suffering. Supporters wishing to remind the big shots of the NHL "who they are playing for." On various social media sites, the public protest echoed this sense of entitlement, as if professional sports, due to their immense popularity and the importance that they hold in people's lives, were no longer supposed to operate on a business model. Rather, they have become part of a larger social contract, where partisans see themselves as stakeholders in the management process: “we are the 7th player on the ice,” reads the NHL Fan Union Facebook page, “and we deserve a voice!” Granted, I agree that 20, 000 screaming fans do make or break the atmosphere in an arena, and that a handful of struggling teams might not survive a season full of empty seats, but when did the NHL become a democracy? When did we decide that professional sports organizations needed to earn "our trust and our loyalty"? What kind of long-term relationship do fans expect with their teams when every year, as a number of them invariably drop out of the Stanley Cup playoffs, we are confronted with the fact that a majority of hockey fans are actually fair-weather supporters; inclined to chant the hymns when times are good, and quick to cast off their jerseys when times are bad.
There will only be 48 games this season, which leaves little time before April 27th for teams to rack up those precious points on the scoreboards. And while I don't disagree that Janne Mokkonen, the 21-year-old Finn who made headlines in North America with his YouTube video and online petition to end the lockout, made a valid display of denouncing NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for much of the resulting intractability of this Fall's negotiations.
The bottom line remains that Canada's infatuation for its unofficial national sport is about a passion for the game, not money or politics. An idea that resonates in our imaginary with a picture of kids playing on an impromptu ice-rink in the backyard; and which provides a cultural space for children to find their heroes, whether they be skating across the screen or cheering in the seat next to them.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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