The Barnstormer: Hockey’s Worst Year

The following can be found in its entirety on The Barnstormer. Link below.

Jim Hughson didn’t utter a word. As the final minutes of the 2011-2012 NHL season came to a close, CBC’s Hughson turned off his microphone, took a breath, leaned back in the booth, and did what more sports broadcasts should. He let the images tell the story. The game clock slowed towards its destiny. The crowd stood, and cheered, as crowds tend to do. But not with a desperate fervor, or the pain of relief, but by way of habit, and tradition. Gloves and sticks and helmets were discarded. Grown men, proud men, cried and embraced. An aging goaltender, a native Montrealer, left the ice for what may have been the final time. A smug commissioner, an enemy of hockey patriots, stepped onto the ice. He was not booed, which is a custom unbeknownst to a Southern California crowd. He handed the Cup, a sacred chalice, to a 27-year-old from Ithaca, New York, a grinder, a winger who plays with grit, with sandpaper, “the way the game should be played”. A character guy. He’ll drop the gloves, you know? The Cup, the oldest of its kind, gets passed from player to player to coach to trainer to general manager. Slowly, reluctantly, one-by-one, they left the ice. The crowd remained standing. The crowd remained cheering.

To an outsider, it would appear to be the culmination of a beautiful season, the peak of winter’s game’s crescendo. The anthemic refrain that fades to a contented quiet. But that would be false. It would be a lie. Because beneath the tears, the character, the hyperbole, the pageantry, is what the moment really was. This, was the end of hockey’s worst year.

It began as last season ended. It began with a death.

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