Glad to be playing again
Fans, players, owners: Everyone is happy the 'Bettman hat trick' is over and done
During his 20-year NHL career, Teemu Selanne has been fortunate enough to experience the Gary Bet-tman hat trick.
He's been locked out three times. The first time, in the '94-'95 season, he was a 24-year-old kid who, in his words, "didn't know anything about what was going on." The second time, the lost '04-'05 season, actually allowed the future Hall of Famer to rehabilitate a chronic knee injury. He went into that lockout believing his career might be over. He's since played 462 games with the Anaheim Ducks, scoring 211 goals.
"I needed that time off," Selanne said in advance of the Ducks' meeting with the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
As for this season, he didn't need the time off. Not really. In what's supposed to be his final season, the 42-year-old Selanne had planned a grand farewell tour of the NHL, and if anyone deserves the big sendoff, it's the Finnish Flash. For 20 years, he's been one of the game's great ambassadors. For 20 years, he's brought joy and artistry to the rink.
But for six months there he was, waiting with the rest of us, wondering if this was how it was going to end.
"When I was young, other guys took the hit for me," Selanne said. "I got to play way more than I ever dreamed, so whatever happened, I was OK with it. But for sure, I was worried about it.
"I still wanted to play. This is a big relief. It was tough for everybody, but right now it's time to enjoy the game again."
There was a lot of that going around on Saturday night; a lot of forgive and forget. Hockey was back.
So was the excitement, the speed, the violence, the competition; everything the players and the fans love about this game. For six months it was dragged through the most asinine work stoppage in professional sports history but, if there was any resentment lingering over Lockout III: Gary's Final Revenge, it was hard to find at Rogers Arena before opening night.
"We've been chomping at the bit for a while and there's a lot of built-up nerves and energy," said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "Guys are ready. I think we learned through this whole thing you can't take the game for granted.
"Everyone loves to play the game and everyone loves to watch the game. We're fans of the game like everyone else."
Ah yes, the fans. Remember them? After having the game snatched away by the forces of greed, they produced the Canucks' 408th consecutive sell-out on Saturday night.
Canucks Sports and Entertainment, for its part, was set to offer a series of prizes and promotions during the game as part of the reconciliation. Maybe they did this because they wanted to. Maybe it was because they had to. But either way, it was secondary to what was about to transpire on the ice and what had been missed.
" I think we're just happy to be back," said goalie Cory Schneider. "We hope the fans will feel the same way. We know it's been tough on them."
And just as tough on the players. Somewhere, in the million-dollar contracts, the pampered lifestyle and the fawning adulation, the players' emotional investment in the game is missed. This isn't their livelihood. It's who they are and, for too long, a big piece of them was missing.
On Friday, Alex Edler signed a six-year deal worth $30 million. It's stupid money and he knows it but, for the Swedish defenceman, that contract wasn't nearly as important as the chance to play again.
"It was a weird situation in October, November, December," he said. "We all missed that feeling of competition. We all love playing this game and I feel very fortunate I'm able to do it for a living."
Alex Burrows stood on the other side of the Canucks' room. He, too, will make more money in his NHL career than he could spend in two lifetimes, but that isn't why he plays the game. Burrows stuck out two seasons riding the buses in the East Coast league. He stuck out a season as a third-liner with the Manitoba Moose and his first full NHL season when he scored three goals in 81 games. He did all this because he loves the game.
And, finally, it was back. "That was the toughest thing, being away from the game," he says.
Like a lot of other folks, he's happy that's no longer a consideration.
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