EDITORIAL: It’s game on for NHL fans

Despite the animosity with fans built over the last four months, the NHL will likely draw Canadians back to the game

Hockey Night in Canada.

Four words we haven’t heard for what seems like too long.

Sure, you may have become disconnected from the game, as “millionaire players” battled “billionaire owners” over how to share, in many cases, your hard-earned money.

But when the puck drops at Rogers Arena, the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Bell Centre in Montreal or any of the 15 National Hockey League rinks expected to host games on Jan. 19, it’ll be hard to look away.

The effect of the player lockout on the Greater Victoria hospitality industry has been significant, if not as major as in Vancouver or other Canadian NHL cities.

Without a doubt, every sports bar, lounge and restaurant with a TV – or many TVs – will have the Canucks’ first game tuned in, at least for a while. Many establishments are already planning special events related to hockey to attract more patrons.

In general, fans tend to find other diversions during their favourite sports’ off-seasons. Other sports take their place, or, in the case of hockey, outdoor pursuits often take over.

For hockey fans, the last few months have felt like an extended off-season. With no NHL on the tube, fans have resorted to watching NBA basketball – Victoria’s Steve Nash has been injured for much of his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers – junior hockey or other sports that don’t have the same broad emotional connection with the populace.

One thing is certain about the NHL, it tends to draw people together. Pro hockey is something co-workers tend to talk about the next day at the office. As the playoffs get closer – and they’ll come relatively quickly this season – gatherings start to be planned around watching the games on TV.

Certainly, some will ignore the NHL’s return. But for many of us in Greater Victoria and across Canada, it will be akin to pulling a favourite blanket out of storage. It’s familiar, feels good on a cold, dark night and is best enjoyed when shared.