That empty feeling

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

I am the only person sitting in the Corel Centre bowl as I write this.

It is supposed to be the opening night of the National Hockey League season here.

Where there should be thunderous cheers for the Senators as they take to the ice to face the Montreal Canadiens, there is only a ticking sound from the speakers in the press box and the hum of the bright lights that flood the empty ice.

The two nets gape dumbly at each other from each end of the frozen surface, a nice metaphor for the owners and players during this lockout.

The lights are on, but nobody's playing at home.

I'm up in the press box, sitting in seat number 16 like I have for years, reporting for duty.

I'm the only one here now.

It was busy here for a little while.

Sportsnet's Hockey Central crew did their thing from a suite down on the 100 level. TSN's Brent Wallace and Dave Joy, and CJOH's Terry Marcotte, who all packed up a little while ago, were here, too.

I caught a glimpse of Senators president Roy Mlakar.

The Goulborn Rams Minor Bantam "B" team practised from 6-6:50, a half-dozen parents lounging in the stands above the Senators' bench, legs stretched into the aisles, cups of Tim Horton's coffee in their hands.

ABSENT HEROES

At a time when the Senators and the Habs would have been on the ice for the warmup, kids in grey and red and yellow sweaters skated through drills, taking advantage of the lockout to skate where their heroes should have been skating last night.

When the building should have been throbbing with the Senators theme music and the fans packing a soldout building rising in the near dark to welcome back their starcrossed heroes, the only rumble was from the wheels of the kids' hockey bags as they hauled them through the hallway near the Senators dressing room.

Paul Renaud, a member of the Rams' staff, came out of the hallway.

"I'm a season-ticket holder and I was looking up at my seats and saying, 'There's something wrong here,' " he said. "But I made up my mind this morning. If there's no (NHL) hockey this year, that's it for me. I won't be coming back as a season-ticket holder and I've been with them since the first night against Montreal at the Civic Centre. They can take my name off the wall. My seats are good ones, in section 207 in the second row. Somebody else is going to get some good seats ... if they can afford to come."

There was supposed to be some more minor hockey being played now as I sit here, but the team that booked the ice didn't show up, according to one of the security guards.

It seems to be catching.

So here I am, looking out over 18,500 empty seats, a blank scoreboard and a pristine sheet of ice on a night that should have been filled with promise and potential.

Instead of beers being poured, hot dogs devoured and souvenirs being snapped up, all to the sound of beeping cash registers, there is just the sound of silence here.

NOISY START

Yesterday was a day that had started with so much noise. NHL vice-president and chief legal officer Bill Daly was in town and who knew one man could talk so much?

Then NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin had his turn and made the ridiculous statement that he can't see the owners putting a worse offer on the table than what is there now.

Oh, would that be the one that guarantees the players a $1.3-million US average salary?

You don't think it can be worse, Ted?

Try next fall when the owners open up their doors to replacement players and invite any interested NHLers to come and work on the owners' terms.

Saskin should try listening to the sound of silence at the Corel Centre I'm hearing right now.

It's the sound of fans getting more and more exasperated with the lack of negotiations, blaming the players more and more each passing day according to the polls, the sound of people finding there are other things on which to spend their money, the sound of the NHL becoming more and marginalized with each passing day.

It is the sound of a league and its players killing themselves with the dull blade of stupidity.

I'll see if I can turn the lights out when I leave.


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