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Midway through the first period of the Detroit Red Wings first post-lockout game, a game in which they were dominated 6-0 by the St. Louis Blues, I realized that it had been 274 days since I had last cursed Jimmy Howard’s name. Now, I don’t know Mr. Howard from Adam, but he happens to be the Red Wings’ goaltender, as well as a first-class scapegoat, because whenever another team scores a goal it’s always easiest to blame the only man on the ice whose sole job is to stop the puck from going in the net. Once I yelled at the television, I leaned back, scanned the bar for other Wings fans with which I intended to share my displeasure, and took a long drink. This is what I’ve been missing, I thought. The lockout is finally over.
The lockout, which stripped us of roughly half a season of National Hockey League games, has led to an interesting winter thus far. The typical camaraderie that comes from sharing a packed bar with dozens of hockey fans watching the game was replaced by the sense of longing that came with nights spent home alone watching the 1997 Wings/Avalanche brawl on a loop and conversations that seemed to always find their way towards the haranguing of NHL commissioner, “the Bettman.” Every time I checked the ESPN app on my phone, it reminded me that there was supposed to be a hockey game that day and I became despondent.
Luckily, I had it better than many hockey fans. I live in Grand Rapids, home of the American Hockey League team, the Grand Rapids Griffins. If I needed a hockey pick-me-up, I simply made my way down to Van Andel Arena and hoped that someday all of the Griffins’ players would be huge stars in the NHL so I could say I saw them first. The Griffins are a minor league affiliate of the Red Wings, so if you’re going to watch hockey that’s not the NHL, you could do a lot worse than the games in Grand Rapids. In fact, on the night the Wings got slaughtered by the Blues, the Griffins were playing much better hockey than their NHL big brothers, rewarding loyal fans by scoring three field goals and a two point conversion* and recreating that infamous ’97 brawl mentioned earlier—complete with a goalie fight—all on their way to an 11-6 victory over the Rockford Icehogs.
Now that the lockout has ended, hockey fans in Michigan can breathe a sigh of relief (or start holding their breath—it looks like Red Wings fans have cause for concern). Before everyone settles down into the comforting presence of regularly scheduled hockey games and Canadian beer, we want to know how you spent the lockout. We encourage you to post your funny, sad, or somewhere in between lockout story, in the comments. Go Wings!
*Not really, but they did score 11 points with only one person responsible for more than one goal. That person was Mitch Callahan, and he scored a hat trick.
Jake Cagle often wonders why the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup Champions hat had to be one of the ugliest hats in the world.