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OPINION: Bigger Than Hockey

OPINION: Bigger Than Hockey

The hotel has been reserved and the car rental secured for over a week. I was ready. I haven’t been able to attend a hockey game since October; this was my weekend!
When the NBA suspended their season on Wednesday, I was confused but not alarmed, mostly just curious as to why they’d do that just because one player had been confirmed infected with COVID-19. What a bizarre overreaction.
I saw that the death toll in Italy had jumped drastically in just 24 hours and was saddened and confused, but still not alarmed. That’s so far away.
As the day wore on and the NHL announced the suspension of their season, I sat up and took notice. There’s a trickle-down effect in pro hockey, I realized this pandemic was going to affect me much sooner than I had anticipated.   
While The Sin Bin editors came up with a plan on providing up to date and accurate constant coverage as things unfolded, I felt fairly helpless. I know just enough about sidebars and widgets and web pages to not be completely lost, but as far as helpful input- I had nothing. My thoughts wandered and turned to the minor leagues that I love so much. The AHL announcement wasn’t far behind the NHL’s, and I knew the ECHL and SPHL were only a matter of time. My weekend of hockey was as good as over before it had begun. I felt sorry for myself for a few minutes, and even got mad at the media for their role in the panic, before remembering that I’m media too.
“It’s basically just a cold or flu. But not even that bad. Influenza kills way more people than this. Why is everyone panicking??? Why is everyone buying toilet paper??? I just want to go to a hockey game!” I was on the verge of an epic temper tantrum before another thought stopped me short.
“Okay, but what about everyone else..?” The players, office staff, coaches, GMs, and fans? Yeah, I’m missing out on a fun weekend of hockey photography, but it’s not my livelihood. It’d be fun, but it doesn’t really matter.
What about those players who planned on finishing out this season and then retiring? What if the season goes from suspended to canceled? Are they just done without warning or the chance to mentally prepare for goodbye? What about the people in the front offices who were counting on the last few weeks of the season for sales, or whatever goals they had in place? Oh dear, what about the people in the offices who now have to deal with angry fans wanting to know about refunds and season tickets and answers nobody has? What about the fans? So many trips planned, money spent, games to be excited about…suspending hockey is so much bigger than just the hockey. Especially in the lower leagues, there’s really no such thing as a casual fan. It’s a passion and a lifestyle, full of emotional investment that goes so much deeper than just a game. It’s bigger than hockey. I get why people are so upset. 
I found myself getting very angry at whoever made these decisions. It’s not fair. Both as the Photography Editor of The Sin Bin and as a fan, it’s not fair. We deserve more!
But what if….? What happened in China and what’s happening in Italy is tragic. But what if they had more warning and taken more seemingly extreme steps to slow the spread of infection? What if they had canceled everything that wasn’t necessary? What if they had been able to get ahead of it before it was too late? The hospitals and health care providers may have been able to keep up with the demand on health care systems and saved more lives.
I saw a tweet from Canadian author James Fell,  

It made me wonder about all of the “what if’s“. Maybe, just maybe, suspending hockey for a little while will save thousands of lives. Even if it saves a handful of lives it’s worth it, right? The logical side of my brain understands (even as the artist/fan side is howling with the injustice of it all) that these leagues did not make the decisions that were made today lightly. These are businesses, and if there’s no hockey then there’s no money coming in. At this point, there’s just money going out. This is a loss for all involved. But if business had continued as usual and a few thousand people at each upcoming game were infected… what if then? That’s catastrophic.  
My biggest hope right now is that what happens next is nothing. The panic dies down, I can buy toilet paper again, and the pandemic ends. I hope we can look back and think it was a complete overreaction by everyone involved. I’m thankful to the leagues for putting the health of their players, staff, and fans first. For taking a chance on the what-ifs. For prioritizing people. Hockey will still be there when everyone is healthy again, this sport we love so passionately isn’t going anywhere, we won’t let it.

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