Flames players aim to win back support of frustrated fans
Healing, forgiveness among buzzwords after NHL tries to smooth over the effects of its messy work stoppage on its fan base
Curtis Glencross knows people are upset. It’s kind of hard to ignore.
Because, first-hand, he’s heard the gripes.
“You see a few fans once in a while that give the odd comment,” the Calgary Flames left-winger said after Monday morning’s skate at the WinSport Ice Complex. “Or they know that you’re (standing) there and they’re talking behind you. But you can’t let that stuff bother you.”
Backlash, however, is not behind them, even if the collective bargaining agreement between the National Hockey League has been, more or less, put to bed.
The work stoppage did tarnish the league.
To what extent is unknown.
“Us as players, we’re hockey fans, too,” said Glencross. “We love the game and we’re disappointed there was a lockout, too. We’re sorry this happened. Every business has their ups and downs.”
Added Chris Butler: “I understand a lot of the frustration. We’re going to have to do a lot of work in the community, talk to a lot of people and try to almost grow the game again from the ground up. I certainly understand the frustration, but I’ve been blessed to play in two great hockey cities (Buffalo and Calgary). Fans are great and they love the game and I hope they come back, but, to be honest, I’ll understand if they don’t want to come back.”
Michael Cammalleri said he hasn’t experienced “much negativity” in person, but the magic of social media has kept him aware of the unhappiness.
Is it going to be easy to bring back the disgruntled ones?
“I don’t know,” said Cammalleri. “I’m not going to speculate. We’re real excited to play and I hope that people can find all the joy in our great game that they always have.”
So how do you try to win them over?
“How about just the product?” replied Cammalleri. “I understand — and we understand — that fans are frustrated and unhappy with the process. And I understand that it’s not an easy thing to understand . . . but we’re going to be back on the ice with the best product we can and we’re going to appreciate all the support we do get.”
Working against league momentum, says Washington Capitals veteran Karl Alzner, is the abbreviated schedule.
“I think the fact that there’s only half a season left,” said Alzner, “it’ll make it really easy for some of the fans to be like, ‘You know what? I’m just not going to come. We’ll see how I feel next year and then I’ll decide.’ There’s only 40 or 50 games, it’ll make it easier for people to just sit out a few. Which is going to suck.”
According to Lee Stempniak, the process — of healing, of rebuilding — should begin with an apology. Henrik Karlsson said players are “once again” in a position of looking for forgiveness.
“I don’t know how they’re going to react now,” said Karlsson. “It hasn’t been good for the sport. No winners, only losers. But hopefully we can leave this behind us. We should be happy now the deal’s done and we’re going to be back to battling again.”
While the players were clearly thrilled Monday to be on the cusp of resuming their careers, their enthusiasm was tempered by the knowledge of the damage done.
“At some point (early in negotiations), somebody asked me, ‘What does a win look like?’ ” said Cammalleri. “And my answer was, ‘We’ve already lost.’ So I think that was accurate, that nobody really wins in this situation.
“I think it was a shame that it had to take place.”
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