Today marks a very important date in the history of our game, the NHL has returned to action! While there are many facets of the return to play agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA, the two most exciting things for hockey fans are 2020 playoff hockey and the Olympics!
Olympic hockey holds a special place in my heart. Leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, I worked as a team host where I helped with logistics for Finland and Slovakia. Part of this included riding a bus a half hour across town with some of the best players in the world, and what was interesting is that the players on the bus were fully dressed and had their skates and helmets sitting beside them. During the games, I worked in Game Day Operations and watched as players arrived hours early to games, stretched, worked out, and interacted with event staff like me. Experiences like sitting with Teemu Selanne, watching Jagr do a pre-game candle melting stick ritual, and leading the players down the tunnel toward the ice were all experiences of a lifetime for me, and it was clear that it was for them as well. You could tell that these guys were willing to do anything to be there in that moment, to play the game that they loved, and to represent their country. It has been widely reported that the players fought for the right to participate in the Olympics during CBA negotiations. Kind of a funny concept considering that they would be conceding some form of salary for the possibility of being selected to do your craft for free! Clearly the players really want a chance to play for their country and win an Olympic Medal.
The next thing to note is that NHLers have been paid most of their salary for this year already and they don't get much for the playoffs. They are leaving their families in the middle of summer, playing a game where social distancing is impossible, and having to quarantine themselves from the rest of society for what could be months. Understandably, some players I spoke with were a little unsure about the possibility of putting themselves in harms way but clearly a chance to win the Stanley Cup has trumped those fears.
Obviously, there are other long term benefits to the players and the overall well-being of the league for playing out the these playoffs, but I personally am proud to be a hockey fan. It would have been a lot easier for them to just wait until October and start a new season, but thanks to them we get playoff hockey this summer!
For my insiders wondering if this post has anything to do with sticks, well it's mostly just a rant from a very excited fan, but yes we have NHL sticks coming, and hopefully a bunch more on the way!
Also, a note to those beer league-ers and minor hockey players that may be asked to arrive at the rink in your gear, if these guys can do it, you can also - just don't try to drive with your skates on!