SANTA CLARITA, CA — The familiar sounds of the organ at Staples Center, played by none other than Dieter Ruehle, filled the arena, while host Jay Flats, members of the LA Kings Ice Crew, and mascot Bailey got the crowd excited for the hockey game to be played shortly thereafter.
Indeed, so many of the usual sights and sounds that Los Angeles Kings fans are accustomed to were seen and heard on the evening of October 27, 2012.
Despite that, Staples Center was dark that night, with no sign of any hockey being played there, or any other significant activity, for that matter.
Alas, the Kings were originally scheduled to host their Pacific Division rival, the Phoenix Coyotes. But with no end in sight to the ongoing labor dispute between the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association, the Kings took much of their game night experience to Ice Station Valencia in Santa Clarita, California, where the Valencia Flyers hosted the Bay Area Seals in a Western States Hockey League (Junior A Tier III level, players are 16-20 years old) contest.
Of course, the talent level of the players was nowhere near what fans would see during NHL games. Nevertheless, the building was packed with happy fans who were, in large part, desperate for their hockey fix.
“I miss my hockey,” said Kings fan T.J. Deperez, 48, of Whittier, California. “I miss my Kings-related events.”
“I’m here because I miss hockey,” said Dawn Mounce, 41 of Lawndale, California. “It’s really uncool with the lockout, and this is the closest thing we can get to being at Staples Center.”
While that sort of lament from hockey fans is common and pervasive, especially on social media, all one usually gets are brief, emotional tirades, especially on the 140-character-limited Twitter. But at Ice Station Valencia, some hockey fans had much more to say, and they gave a face, actually several, to those caught in the middle of the NHL lockout.
“I get my hockey fix through my son [who plays youth hockey], but I miss being at Staples Center,” Mounce noted. “This is as close as we can get, with Dieter doing the music, the Ice Crew is here, Jay Flats is here, and Bailey is here.”
One newlywed couple traveled to the Los Angeles area from halfway around the world, hoping to see some Kings hockey. But those hopes were dashed once the lockout was imposed by the owners.
Indeed, not only were their plans to see the Kings in person foiled, but their honeymoon trip had been tarnished, at least a bit.
“I came to [the Los Angeles area] to see the Kings,” said Anthony Stavretis, a Kings fan since the Gretzky Era. “I was planning on being at Staples Center, but not to be, because of the lockout.”
“We planned this back in October, last year, and knowing some [other Kings fans] from Twitter, they said they couldn’t wait for me to come out here, so they could show us a game,” added the 27-year old from Melbourne, Australia.
“It is disappointing, but this [attending the Valencia Flyers game] is probably the second-best thing to coming to see a Kings game. I still got to see Staples Center, and buy some merchandise [at the Team LA store. So] it’s not a total loss, and [besides], what can you do?”
As he alluded to, Stavretis made something of the trip by meeting several of the Kings fans he knew from Twitter.
“That’s been the amazing part,” he beamed. “I got to meet all the good people here, so I can’t complain.”
For Kings season seat holders Jeremiah and Kelly Brown of Lancaster, California, they would normally be taking their eleven-year-old daughter, Hannah, and their eight-year-old son, Solomon, to Kings home games. But the NHL lockout has shoved a huge wrench into those family outing plans.
“We needed some hockey,” said Kelly Brown, 32. “Solomon’s been playing hockey, so he wanted to watch some, and our kids miss the Kings, too.”
“I don’t think Solomon totally understands [the lockout],” she added. “Tonight, he was jumping up and down, getting excited [while watching the Valencia Flyers game], but even he said, ‘it’s not the Kings. There’s no [Jonathan] Quick. I want to see Dustin Brown.’”
34-year-old Jeremiah Brown noted that due to the NHL lockout, his family has broadened their hockey horizons, to coin a phrase.
“We’ve found ways to go to games,” he said. “We’ve been to Ontario to see the [ECHL’s Ontario] Reign play, and we’ve [made the trip to see] the [ECHL’s] Bakersfield Condors, and now we’re here to see the Valencia Flyers.”
“It’s cool to see [levels] of hockey that we otherwise would’ve never really known about, and it’s good to support these smaller clubs,” he added.
As one might reasonably expect, the diversity among the NHL fan base was apparent at Ice Station Valencia, in terms of how fans are dealing with not being able to see their favorite sport and teams.
“I’m watching replays of [Kings] games, and spending time with family and friends,” said Kings fan Venicia Pereda, 31, of Huntington Beach, California.
“I’ve even started watching football,” added Pereda, with just a hint of derision in her voice. “I’m now a bandwagon New York Giants fan.”
“I’m going to have to work more, because I don’t have any reason to take time off,” said Deperez. “In November, for all the nights I would’ve been at a [Kings] game, I’ll now work.”
But working more will not keep Deperez away from the rink completely.
Despite that, it’s just not the same as watching NHL hockey.
“We don’t get to see our favorite team, our favorite sport, or the friends we’ve made [through hockey], who we don’t get to see as often,” said Jeremiah Brown.
“It’s a bummer,” Kelly Brown lamented. “I was very excited for Frozen Fury, [the Kings’ annual pre-season game in Las Vegas], and didn’t get to go to that. [The Kings] haven’t gotten to raise the [Stanley Cup] banner, and no matter what amount of time [that the lockout lasts], it’s not going to be the same.”
“We just won the Stanley Cup, and now, it doesn’t matter,” she complained. “There’s no season. We just have to sit and wait until they figure out what they’re going to do.”
The general sentiment among the fans who spoke to Frozen Royalty seems to be that both sides in the labor dispute are to blame.
“I’m mad at both sides,” Deperez noted. “It’s millionaires who want more money, and millionaires who [want to pay less]. I feel bad for the arena employees, more than anybody. Even the fans are [a lower priority] than [them].”
“Both sides are to blame,” Mounce emphasized. “I just hope they can get it resolved so the fans can get back to the game that we love.”
“I kind of took the player’s side, but I understand that [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman is doing his job, looking out for the interests of his ‘client,’ [the owners], just like [NHLPA Executive Director] Donald Fehr is looking out for the interests of the players,” said Jeremiah Brown.
Along the same lines, some fans are not bothering with the issues at stake.
“I’m to the point where I don’t care,” said Pereda. “I haven’t even been reading as much [about the lockout] anymore. Once they say they’re going to play again, I’m ready. Let’s just get the season going.”
Indeed, the fans just want their game back on the ice. But they are the ones who are caught in the middle, as stated earlier—the owners and players are taking their fans for granted.
“They all [players and owners] make a ton of money, while the fans that support them are screwed, and the people who work in jobs that depend on having a hockey season are losing money,” said Kelly Brown.
“I don’t think either side cares about the fans,” said Deperez. “I don’t think the players care, and I don’t think the owners care. They just want their money. It’s all corporate. They’ll still [make their money] from the corporations and television, and the die-hard fans will always be there. They may be taking advantage of the fact that we’ll just come back [when the lockout ends].”
Therein lies the problem…that hockey fans are generally addicted to their sport, and everyone, including the two parties at odds with each other in this mega-squabble, know it. As such, whether anyone likes it or not, the owners and players know the fans will come back, making them almost totally irrelevant, in terms of this dispute.
“I feel that our feelings should be considered—how much we’re losing out, and do they really realize how much revenue they’re losing out on,” said Mounce. “They expect us to be there, when everything is said and done, but how many really are going to be there? I know I will be, but I can’t speak for anyone else.”
“If we lose the whole season, I’ll still be there next season,” Mounce emphasized. “I’ve been a Kings fan for 34 years. I waited 34 years for us to get that Cup. I want to see us hang that banner, and I want to see us do it again.”
“I’m too much of a fanatic,” Deperez admitted. “I would not [be able to avoid going] to games. I know somebody who said that for every game they [don’t play], he’s going to miss a game. But I can’t do that.”
Jeremiah Brown has posted some rather pointed, often colorful, comments on Twitter regarding the lockout, including one about canceling his season seats.
I'm getting tempted to cancel my season tickets. If Daly doesn't see any reason to meet and negotiate, I see no reason to support them. @nhl—
Jeremiah Brown (@Jer4Kings) October 24, 2012
As if that ever had a chance of happening…
“I’m the first one to threaten to cancel my season tickets, and get mad about things, but anybody who knows me knows that I’m lying,” he said. “There’s no way that we’re not coming back.”
“I don’t want to miss any games,” said Kelly Brown. “We miss hockey. We’re season ticket holders for a reason.”
What it all boils down to is that hockey is a business, pure and simple, and has been for a long, long time now.
“I’ve always said that I hated the business side of hockey, and [the lockout] really sucks,” Mounce lamented. “When they had the last lockout [in 2004-05], I said that I’m never taking hockey for granted again. I’m going to go to as many games as I can. I became a season ticket holder. So to have it all happening again, it’s just horrible. It’s a really bad feeling.”
Even Stavretis shares the addiction, despite never having seen an NHL game in person, not to mention the less than sparse coverage the NHL gets in Australia.
“We’ll be back to see the Kings, definitely,” he stressed. “Hopefully there’s no lockout in the 2013-14 season.”
God help the NHL and its fans if there is.
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