As the NHL lockout trundles toward its fifth week, the non-opening day of Thursday marked the descent into a silly season.
In Vancouver, the strange brew of so-called news included the Canucks’ Kevin Bieksa complaining about people scalping tickets to a charity game he organized; Justin Bieber fans scrawling large hearts of love for their idol on a wall at Rogers Arena, a space that had been set aside as a tribute to the late Rick Rypien; and online plans by newspapers in Calgary and Vancouver to stream a would-have-been opening-night game, the Vancouver Canucks at the Calgary Flames, as played by the video game NHL 13.
Sports fans did have the chance to watch the last game between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night, but, hey, never mind the baseball playoffs, what about hockey in October?
On sports radio, some callers claimed apathy or disinterest – noting, as one caller said, that the B.C. Lions are playing some great football – but the more pervasive sentiment was predictably Canadian. They’re mad at NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and sad for the absence of hockey. One “sad” caller to the Team 1040 in Vancouver said what Bettman and the owners already know: “We’re obviously going to come back because we’re hockey fans.”
Hockey writers also mourned. Elliotte Friedman of CBC said on Twitter he was “very disappointed” that one of his “favourite times of the year” had been ruined.
Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy wrote: “We’ve lost Opening Night this season, and with it our equilibrium.” (Also, he noted: “We’ve lost the thrill of seeing Rick Nash in his New York Rangers jersey.”)
In Vancouver, Bieksa pulled out a nagging finger.
The defenceman has organized a charity hockey game, Bieksa’s Buddies versus the UBC Thunderbirds at the arena on campus, 5,000 seats at $20 per, next Wednesday night. They sold out fast and, predictably, started going for more – lots more – online. After Bieksa spoke out – “It’s not the way I was raised” – some sellers were shamed and took down their ads. Others said they’d give some of the surplus cash to charity.
Bieksa called the game “a cheap opportunity” for fans to see their heroes. Among the skaters will be the Sedin twins and goaltender Cory Schneider. It will be a fun game. “Don’t backcheck too hard,” Bieksa said, “so for the twins just play your normal game – creative but don’t backcheck.”
Occupying Rogers Arena on Wednesday night, the day before non-opening day, was the most famous Canadian of all, Justin Bieber. One of his adoring fans, with a black marker, scrawled graffiti of love on a wall: a big heart that enclosed the words, “J.B. concert, Oct. 10/2012 - Simran Mann.” Her choice of positioning was poor, given that where she exuded her passion was a memorial area to Rick Rypien, who committed suicide last year. An online mob, predictably, attacked the girl, and she closed down her Twitter account.
And, finally, #fakecanucksseason, brainchild of Wyatt Arndt. The freelance writer and Canucks season ticket holder, who is on Twitter as @TheStanchion, has orchestrated something that is possibly the acme of time wasting. Using EA Sport’s NHL 13, Arndt has already conducted a fake preseason, and Thursday evening, the fake (digital, surely) opening-night puck was set to drop at the Fake Saddledome, as the Canucks took on the Flames.
“I don’t know if it’s depressing or awesome,” Arndt said in a radio interview Thursday.
YouTube productions of the fake preseason have attracted several thousand views apiece. Calling Sports Illustrated, we have another sign of the apocalypse.
“You can see,” Arndt said, “people definitely want hockey back.”