na foine ting

Thursday, September 16, 2004
September 15, 2004

Dear Hockey Fans:

Things have changed. The puck spills out towards our blue line and it's like gold to a thief, open door to a prisoner. The first real chance I've had all night, and I pick it up, scoop it ahead of me even as my skates dig.

I don't look back. What's behind me doesn't matter.

They say a skater on the ice makes thirty, even thirty-five miles per hour.

It feels like flight, from here.

Two years ago I wobbled at the goal line, listening to the coach, thinking I'd never learn, glad the face mask hid the tears.

Now I fake right, come in left. Get thoroughly stuffed by the goalie. The whistle goes. I fall back, laughing and elated.

"Nobody was touching you," Steve says on the bench, passing me water. I thump his knee, too high and too winded to talk. Five minutes before he'd scored, a perfect shot on my pass. I know where the game is going, we're all sucking, first game of the preseason and it's like everyone has forgotten how to play. We're about to lose six to one and in that moment it totally doesn't matter.

The National Hockey League enjoys and appreciates the support of the greatest
fans in the world. We acknowledge that by not starting the 2004-05 season as
scheduled due to the lack of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, we are
disappointing this loyal and passionate group –- and for that, we sincerely

I wear #12. Marleau's number, Freeze's number. Five or six years ago I didn't know hockey existed.

A friend gave us a pair of Sharks tickets. I fell in love with #39, Jeff Friesen. The same name as my favorite kind of horse. I also fell in love with the game.

We became season ticketholders.

My son went to his first playoff game at six months. He slept through several goals and everyone hollering and screaming, including me. He was stickhandling around the house by the time he could walk. Now he's just turned five, and goes to hockey every Saturday morning, 0730, whether we want to wake up or not. His insistence: I'd like to sleep in. But we go, and sitting up in the stands I watch and am fiercely proud of him. Glad he has it, loves it, and even at this young age, has enough drive and passion to get us all there.

This is a situation that we hoped would not occur and, in fact, have been working
very hard to avoid. I want you to know that I am committed to fixing the
problems that face our League and to delivering an economic system that will
bring you exciting, world-class NHL hockey at ticket prices you can afford.

I bought a stick when my son was two, and we'd go over to Hockey Workout and slither around on skates and try and stay upright and he insisted I pass and shoot pucks with him.

I bought a stick.

Then I bought gloves.

I bought skates.

I told a hockey friend: "It was downhill from there."

The CBA that just expired made it very difficult for most teams to be competitive,
both economically and on the ice, as approximately 75% of all the dollars
generated went to player salaries and benefits –- by far the highest such
percentage in all of professional sports.

I'd come home from beginner boot camp, sore, defeated, done in enough that all I could do was sit in my truck and cry. Question my sanity, why the hell I was attempting ice hockey. What business I had, a mother and non-athlete, over thirty. What I was thinking, why I was there.

Then I'd go to a game and it all got lit up again. The excitement, the sense of what happened between player and spectator symbiotic, electric. I'd watch the men on the ice, like a common man watches heroes. Recognition and identification, hope and inspiration, the kinds of things legends and epics always provide.

I'd go back, take that back to the ice. Work harder, see the payoff. Apply much of what I learned not just to hockey, but all of my life.

Our objective is to negotiate a CBA that will provide a partnership with our players, will provide them with more than 50% of every dollar of revenue, including an average salary of $1.3 million (U.S.) and will assure a stable business while giving your team the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup every season.

My hockey friend is a veteran, and has been around the sport for more decades than I've been alive. He played years of semi-pro, a handful of NHL games. "That's not downhill," he told me. "That's you finding your passion for the best sport in the world."

I regret not knowing about this sooner. I regret not having hockey as a kid, not knowing about the game. I think sometimes what might have happened if I'd found this in my childhood. About women and hockey, about opportunity and competition, and how far I could have gone.

Dreams, because that's how we relate to it. Watch, exhort, identify.
I spend five to six days a week on the ice. Play for two teams, sub, and pickup. Go to practice, and when I can spend time on the ice, practicing, alone.

There are few places I'm happier, now, than when I'm out there. Even on the worst days, the ice has become home.

Our mandate at the League is to do everything possible to reflect our respect for
your connection to NHL hockey and the commitment you make to your favorite
Club. We thank you for your continued support and understanding.

It was only a matter of time before my partner found goaltending. Now she's hooked, we're on the same team, and the whole family plays.

We go to the games. We follow the rest of the league. We spend Christmas in New York and try to get to at least one Jersey game. The three of us sit at the dinner table and argue about who's the league's top defenseman. Our friends schedule time with us around hockey, or give up and socialize with us by coming to our games.

A father of a kid in my son's kindergarten class brings his son to G's birthday party. The topic turns to hockey. He says he used to play back in Dallas. We argue Stars versus Sharks, friendly animosity. By the end of the birthday party, I've invited him to a practice, got him halfway convinced to sub for a few games.

While there is no way to know how long it will take to conclude this negotiation, we sincerely hope your team will be back in action soon.

Gary B. Bettman

I sit on the bench on the south rink and watch my teammates, and lean over to my other winger. She's good, we're good together. We have the same style, the same speed. "Just think," I say, "a few hours ago Marleau's butt was right here." I jab a finger at the bench under me.

She laughs, shakes her head.

"Now only if some of that gold would rub off," I say.

Then there's a whistle and a change and she and Steve and I head out for the faceoff.

He glances to both of us. A grin, a nod.

A one and a half minute chance at greatness.

You get that. Every time you step out to play.

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