So here I am, basking in the late September sunshine, relishing a 27C day. That can only mean one thing — it’s hockey season!
Oh God, no! Didn’t it just finish last month? Or does it only seem like it?
I’ve actually grown to kind of hate the National Hockey League. I hate the grossly inflated size of the league. I hate the way the league has attempted to graft hockey onto any geographical area and arena that will have it. I hate its random, nonsensical approach to discipline for violent acts. I hate the fact the hockey season is spread out over three earth seasons. I hate the fact it only gets interesting when winter is on the way out.
But mostly, I hate how hockey has gone from pastime to obsession, obliterating everything else in its path. Take right now, for instance. Training camps are underway, and already the floundering local rags have devoted hundreds of thousands of words, gallons of ink and God knows how many trees to detailing the minutia of the Edmonton Oilers. From now until they are eliminated from the playoffs, the Oilers will be on the front page of the Edmonton Sun and Car Ad Daily a bare minimum of 100 times. The Edmonton Journal won’t match the Sun’s obsessive coverage, only because it doesn’t have the space. But today’s paper still managed a front-page picture of an exhibition game, and the paper’s only local sports columnist (Canada’s only sports columnist who has no opinions on anything) actually devoted his column to how much promise the Oilers show — after one exhibition game! Every game will be televised with the worst kind of small town ‘hooray for our team’ boosterism usually reserved for Texas high school football. Edmonton hockey fans will fill Rexall Place for every game, paying whatever the team asks for the right to sit on their hands and watch a thrilling tilt between Edmonton and arch rivals, Phoenix, then go out to their frozen cars in -30C weather and spend 40 minutes in the parking lot. They’ll pay whatever it takes for a beer because, hell, they’ve got wads of Fort Mac cash in their jeans, and they’ve got to spend it on something.
I’ll admit that I might get mildly interested in the Oilers sometime around February. I say February because, despite the fact it’s my birthday month, it is the dreariest, shortest-but-longest month of the year, and I always need something to distract me from the spirit-sapping tedium of an Edmonton winter. I hope they’re good — or, more importantly, entertaining. But otherwise, I don’t really care. I don’t care if the Flames are better than the Oilers, I don’t care if Toronto is lousy (although that would be my preference), I don’t care about Montreal, or Ottawa, or Vancouver, or Nashville (they still have a team, right?). Maybe joining a hockey pool would rekindle my interest in the NHL. But that would require actually paying attention to the league and the players, and that sounds like too much work.
I wish I enjoyed the popular obsession with the NHL. In this town, you can carry on hours long conversations with complete strangers if you casually mention the Oilers. But I just can’t bring myself to care about a billionaire’s plaything and his millionaire pawns. Wake me up when — if — they get to the playoffs. By then, it will be spring again.