Canadians miss lost season, but still cherish game's past

The Nhl's Lost Season

Canada Reaction

February 17, 2005|By K.C. Johnson | K.C. Johnson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

TORONTO - Leave it to a 17-year-old to most eloquently capture the meaning of hockey in this country, feelings that faxes and counterproposals and salary cap figures can never touch.

"Being Canadian, hockey is in your blood," John Jenkins said yesterday afternoon. "You walk around here, you see the faces and names you loved when you were growing up. You see the statistics you memorized.

"Hockey is a part of our life from the time we're born. I remember my Dad used to watch it with me every Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. When I was a small kid, we had a pond. It's something I've always known. And now it's not around. It's pretty sad."

Jenkins, from Okotoks, Alberta, said these words as he stood inside the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he visited with his father, Jim, on a day as dreary as the news from the NHL's labor negotiations.

"I just can't imagine southern Ontario without hockey for a whole season," said Harley Stacey, a Maple Leafs fan from nearby Stoney Creek. "I feel both sides are being extremely greedy. The amounts of money they're arguing over, I just can't relate to that."

Stacey came to the Hockey Hall of Fame with his wife Della as part of their vacation. The building served as an odd oasis on the darkest day in league history.

The Stanley Cup gleamed upstairs. Trophy cases housed mementos from some of the most historic moments in NHL history. Everywhere, photos showed players smiling and happy, offering something for almost any fan - if there still are any.

Hockey didn't die yesterday. The business of hockey did. That's why people still attended the Hockey Hall of Fame. That's why people still posed with the Stanley Cup.

"The spirit of hockey is here," said Jim Jenkins, a petroleum engineer. "You can see the legends here and what was important to them. Unfortunately, it's become a game about money.

"But I think this [cancellation] will help the NHL refocus. By refocusing, hopefully they will look at the roots of hockey and why they're in the game. Sure, money's a part of it. But it shouldn't be the only reason. There has to be a love for the game. Somewhere along the way, they've lost their way."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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