SUN Hockey Pool

A letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman has locked out NHL players three times during his tenure as commissioner. (Alex...

Gary Bettman has locked out NHL players three times during his tenure as commissioner. (Alex Urosevic/QMI Agency/Files)

MARK RIBBLE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 PM ET

Dear Mr. Bettman:

As a long-suffering fan of the most storied franchise in NHL history, I am writing to you in hope of triggering some long-forgotten memory of hockey the way it used to be played and with that, maybe you will see fit to put an end to all of this nonsense.

You see, I come from a time when hockey was in its glory. You may remember it, but then again, you may not.

Being a New york guy, one would think you might remember the Rangers of old. Ed Giacomin guarding the goal with Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle providing much of the offence. Dale Rolfe and the like patrolled the blueline in those days. Do these names ring a bell, Gary?

The game was played without helmets and sometimes even without shoulder pads. Most of the goalies played without masks and wore 50-pound goalie pads on each leg. Concussions were a rarity, even without the helmets.

There was a thing called the two-line pass and overtime was saved for the most exciting part of the season: the playoffs. A tie was a tie and each team walked away with a point. Don Cherry once said it was like kissing your sister.

The skate blades were held on by a long tube and laces were waxed to help them stay tight.

Every Saturday the Leafs or Canadiens played on Hockey Night in Canada. It didn't matter how many other channels we got, because Channel 9 out of Windsor was the only channel that mattered from October through April.

But then again, that was Canada, the home of hockey. You know, Gary, the very place that you've been trying to remove the game from, only to find that eventually, like a loyal old dog, the game returns to yet another Canadian city.

Take Winnipeg for instance. That city, hungry for hockey, was without an NHL franchise for quite some time, only to have it return last year after round number two in Atlanta went down the tube. And the franchise that was the Jets, out in Phoenix, is rumoured to be next.

But all of this talk of expansion takes me back to the Original Six teams, all of whom have survived this 30-team mixture that forms your NHL.

And they really are still the strongest franchises in the league. Funny how that works.

Oh those Original Six days, when hockey players had contracts and belonged to your favourite team for almost their entire career. This was before free agency and before the salary cap, when you really didn't even need a program to tell who the players were.

It was a given that, when the Leafs came to the Olympia to play the Wings, George Armstrong wore number 10, Keon was 14 and Tim Horton wore number 7. It was also a given that Lindsay wore 7 for the Wings, and Gordie donned number 9. Nobody wore number 87 or 99 or 68.

It was also a given that these players took part-time jobs in the summer to supplement their income, something today's athletes have no idea about. Tim Horton started a donut chain and many others worked on farms during the offseason.

Training camp started in August and if you didn't show up in shape, you were hammered into shape with the endless workouts and skating drills.

The Stanley Cup champions barnstormed Canada and played exhibitions against local teams. That would be unheard of in your league today, Mr. Bettman.

Of course, any hockey at all would be unheard of in your NHL as it stands.

And that, sir, is a real shame, because, for every casual fan who might know who Sidney Crosby is, there are thousands more from an era gone by who can name all six defencemen on the 1964 Chicago Blackhawks and it's those fans who you owe some hockey this season.

So if you can't find it in your heart to bring back the game for the sake of the millions worldwide who will throw money into your coffers, consider doing it for the real fans. The ones who remember that Tim Horton was more than a donut shop or the ones who actually saw Gordie Howe get a Godrie Howe hat trick.

These are the fans who have brought your game to the next generation, and frankly, in spite of three lockouts in your 18 years as the first commissioner of the NHL, these are the fans who will still be standing when you finally bring our game back to the ice.

Mark Ribble, a Leamington, Ont. native, has been with the Leamington Post since 1985.


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