By now everyone has had time to absorb the announcement of the NHL lockout. To some it feels like déjà vu, to others it’s a completely new feeling. To me it brings back memories of my first season as a hockey fan. Yup, you read that right, my first full season as a hockey fan was during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. A lot of people are surprised when I say I’m not one of those kids who has been watching hockey ever since birth. I had caught a few games on TV with my dad the season before the last lockout, but it wasn’t until the 2004-05 season that I went to my first game. My dad got tickets for a Rochester Americans game through work and we started going to games after my entire family got hooked on the sport. I remember loving the fast pace of the game, and all of the fights. I also remember some of the players who I got to watch play that year. Players like Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Paul Gaustad , Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Chris Thorburn all wore the red, white and blue; while Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, Chris Neil, Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec were in town with their respective teams almost once a month. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when the NHL season restarted the following fall, it all sank in. Now, I was watching all of those players, plus more, play on TV in the NHL. I couldn’t believe it. Guys I got to know the previous year were now on my TV playing in the big leagues.
I’m going to admit right now, I’m more of an AHL fan than an NHL fan, the main reason being that Rochester has an AHL team, but there’s another reason too. One of my favourite things about the AHL is how accessible the players are. Don’t get me wrong, the NHL does get their players out in public, but I feel like AHL teams somehow make it easier for the fans to get to know the players. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve built some strong relationships with some of the players when they have played in Rochester, and to me it’s such a surreal feeling when you get to see someone you know get to play in the NHL. To this day, I still find myself yelling “CHRISSSSSSS” whenever Chris Thorburn now of the Winnipeg Jets skates across my TV screen. It’s been years since I last spoke with him, but he was the first hockey player I got to know and I have the 2004-05 lockout to thank for that.
As weird as this is to say, the lockout isn’t a horrible thing for me. I’m actually looking forward to get to see some big name NHL players take the ice here in Rochester, and wherever I travel to see the San Antonio Rampage play this season. Although it would be nice to come home at night, turn on the TV and watch some NHL games, I’m going to make the most of this lockout and enjoy the hockey still going on in the other leagues. Hopefully, minor league teams will take advantage of the lockout and use this time to get even more people interested in the sport of hockey. It happened to at least one person during the last lockout, so let’s see it happen to more.
In a strange way, I guess it’s only appropriate to say thanks to Gary Bettman for locking out the NHL once again. It brings me back to my hockey roots, and makes me realize how different my life would be if I hadn’t gone to my first hockey game during the last lockout. I really am lucky for everything that the sport of hockey has done for me in the past few years, and I can’t even begin to image how different my life would have been if there would have been a NHL season in 2004-05.
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