October or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lockout

Normally, the threat of an NHL lockout is one of the worst things a hockey fan can endure. There have now been four work stoppages in my lifetime, and although I was too young to understand and appreciate the first two – the 10-day NHLPA strike in 1992 and the three month 1995 lockout – I can certainly recall the agony of the 2004 lockout which claimed the entire NHL season. It was a brutal memory for a lot of fans.

The countdown to an expired CBA and the growing reality of the potential for yet another work stoppage was one of the worst things hockey fans had to face this summer. Apart from waking up to find out that your team wouldn’t be getting Parise or Suter…

October, the usual start of the NHL season and the most anticipated month for hockey fans, has come and gone. Unfortunately, a time that is usually the most exciting and celebrated has turned into a stinging reminder of what is being withheld.

In an odd twist of fate, I’m not only lucky enough to tolerate this lockout in the best conditions possible, but I’m actually benefiting from something that would’ve caused me immeasurable frustration were I still living in Helsinki, Vancouver, Hamilton, or almost anywhere else. Oddly enough, this lockout has provided me with the best month of hockey I will probably ever experience in my lifetime.

The stars have, for some reason, aligned in my favor. Prague made its KHL debut this season, at the same time hoards of NHL talent started jumping overseas.

I’ve been given the opportunity to see Zdeno Chara and Jakub Voracek play live on a weekly basis. I’ve gotten to see some of the world’s best players (and some personal favourites) for the first time in my life. Names like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk, Radulov, and Grabovski. Not only that, but I’m getting a chance to see players I didn’t really know to much about pre-lockout. Guys like Alexander Radulov, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov – the last two a pair of young snipers who could soon make some serious noise in North America.

There are a whole host of other NHL talents that I have yet to see live, but the longer this lockout goes, the more likely it’ll be that I continue to see them.

As a hockey fan in general I was psyched to see CSKA Moscow in person. Along with Modo Sweden, the Red Army is arguably one of the most famous and influential non-NHL hockey clubs of all time. They have produced a slew of Stanley Cup winners, IIHF Hall of Famers, Triple Gold Club members, and NHL All-Stars. They are the New York Yankees of Soviet-era hockey, the Montreal Canadians of Russia, and I got to see them beat up my Prague Lions for less than the price of a movie ticket.

Hell – I got to see Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Plekanec play together in the Czech leagues in front of a full house.

I love this lockout.

Not that I have any desire to ever do it, but there goes my shot at running for political office in Canada. I can see it now: Did you know in 2012 he actually wrote in support of the NHL lockout. Ugh – that would lose the support of the electorate faster than sucker-punching a beaver named Foster Hewitt square in the jaw.

This is something I never thought I’d ever say, but I’m becoming quite a fan of the KHL. It is a challenge to watch the games sometimes, don’t get me wrong. There is a lot less hitting, and the role of “grinder” is almost non-existent. But I’m getting used to listening to Russian commentary (since the passion is quite awesome) and it’s unintentionally allowed me to phonetically understand a few Russian hockey terms, just from sheer repetition. Still, it will be funny the next time I hear a game called in English – I don’t think I’ve watched one since June.

On the other hand, the speed of the game is fantastic and the dangles are divine. The lead pass into a breakaway is a frequent occurrence and penalty shots are a lot more prominent. Last year there was 84 in the KHL versus 69 in the NHL – and the NHL played over 500 more games that season.

That shorter and less frequent schedule is nice too. Each team in the KHL plays a 52 game schedule – thirty fewer games than in the NHL. It allows fans an easier opportunity to stay connected to what’s going on around the league without oversaturating things.

The games are on as soon as I’m home from work, so I can stream them while I prepare dinner. That’s a lot more enjoyable than forcing your body to stay awake into the middle of the night so you can catch the first half of Hockey Night before sleeping through most of your Sunday.

Finally, and this isn’t really a good thing, for some reason Nickleback is just as prominent in the KHL as it is in the NHL. You’ll hear it before the game, during stoppages, and even pumped into the arena during fightsShudder.

Frankly, I want to see this lockout last all year. As I look at the schedule, there are still a ton of teams coming to town that I’d love to see. Nail Yakupov and Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, Evgeni Malkin and Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and even the league-worst Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, new home of Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul.

These club names sure are a mouthful sometimes, aren’t they?

My dream, of course, would be to find out that Sidney Crosby has joined the KHL. Unfortunately, unless some Russian billionaire is willing to dish out $400,000 a month to cover the Kid’s insurance, it’s not likely to happen.

Finally, the only thing that bothers me is that my home club is doing so poorly this year. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a Leaf fan so seeing Prague go through epic losing streaks is nothing new to me. Still, it would be nice to get a win once in a while. I actually haven’t gotten to see it happen yet … and I go to a lot of games.

Look, I’m still going to go back to the NHL as soon as it returns because their product is the best in the business. Until then, I’m going to keep enjoying this insanely fortunate opportunity as long as it lasts. After all, Claude Giroux is playing in Berlin, and I still haven’t seen Andrew Ference and David Krejci in the Czech league yet.

I don’t anticipate any month will ever trump this last October, but if it does, well I’ll be lucky as hell.

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