January 9, 2013

Steve Solloway: Hard to thaw a frosty feeling

PORTLAND - The NHL lockout is done. After 113 days, its owners and players association made peace. Victor Morrison heard the announcement and Tuesday had one of his own.

"I won't spend one dollar on the NHL this year," said Morrison, leaving his seat behind the Portland Pirates' bench to take a walk between periods of Tuesday's game with Worcester. "Not one dollar. This is my hockey team, right here."

Morrison is just one hockey guy from Saco. He doesn't care if he's a protest movement of hundreds or thousands of fans who won't easily be wooed back to NHL arenas.

He's drawn his line in the NHL ice, so to speak. One man. That's his peace.

"There's talk on Facebook of a boycott. I feel that way, too," said Morrison. "For what's left of this season."

Judging by the apologies issued by NHL teams on their websites, there's recognition of the mood of the powerless and the disenfranchised.

That's you and me, buddy. As important as pawns.

After weeks of thumbing their noses at fans, NHL owners suddenly have turned solicitious, saying how much they value your amazing support.

One open letter from the Pittsburgh Penguins talks about regaining the trust of their fans.

The owners should choke on the words. They will make nice to get your dollars. Except Morrison said he's holding onto his. Who compensates him?

"Greed," said Wendell Carr of Westbrook with a shrug. "Both sides. It didn't have to last this long but I'm glad they're getting the season going."

He's a 40-year-old fan who's played hockey since he was 8, he said. Started with pond hockey behind Deering High, still going with a men's team in a recreation league. If he resented being held hostage, he shrugged that away, too.

"I first came here to watch the Maine Mariners," said Carr of Portland's first AHL team, which arrived in the fall of 1977 and left town following the 1992 season. "I'm (at the Civic Center) about once a week. I get to Boston (to watch the Bruins) maybe once a year. The Pirates are a good substitute."

But for how long? On a Tuesday night, a modest crowd of mostly serious hockey fans watched Portland and Worcester trade goals. The action was crisp, competitive. The Pirates have played with an energy appreciated by fans. With the lockout over, the Phoenix Coyotes will grab several of the players who made the Pirates go.

Kyle Dixon of South Portland believes he'll see a different Pirates team on the ice. He's a Civic Center usher who recognizes when a team captures a crowd's attention and imagination. This one has.

He feels for the men and women in NHL cities whose income was cut in half. Operations people in charge of setting up for a hockey game or switching the arena to a basketball or concert venue. Bartenders and barmaids and parking attendants. They all got stiffed by the greed of the people they served.

Terry Geyer of Buxton and Lisa Vire of Scarborough had a section of seats to themselves. Geyer wore a Bruins cap and a Bruins sweatshirt. No, she didn't dig them out of her closet because the lockout ended.

"It seems like I saw a lot more people wearing Bruins (clothing) the last two days. I could have worn my Pirates sweater. I just grabbed this. I just love hockey. It doesn't matter."

Oh, but it does. She believes the integrity of this season is damaged. The idea of the Bruins winning another Stanley Cup doesn't excite her. How fair or honest will the games be? What shape will the players be in? Who got hurt playing in Europe?

Yes, with only half a season left, players won't pace themselves. Games should have more intensity.

Should. Could. Maybe. The NHL is back but there was no glee in Geyer's voice.

"We were just talking," said Geyer. "I'd like to see one of the expansion teams win it all this year. Like the (San Jose) Sharks. Why not? It's just not going to feel like a real season."

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: Steve Solloway

 

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