Every time there is an NHL work stoppage, several things seem to happen. Hardcore fans pine for the game. Casual fans constantly ask the hardcore fans for updates on when the lockout might end. Pretty much everyone else simply keeps watching football and basketball and could really care less.
But while the players and ownership attempt to iron out a deal to get NHL hockey back on track, an interesting thing happens here in the real world of NHL Fanville: more kids seem drawn to the idea of actually playing the game of hockey. Maybe it's because they suddenly can't watch the game, but locally you see more kids out on the ice during lulls in NHL hockey.
Sure, the boom years for kids taking up the game in the DC area came with the arrival of Alex Ovechkin and Jaromir Jagr (sorry). But the '04-'05 winter saw a decent increase in players in developmental clinics and leagues in the region. As a developmental skills coach, it's great to see. It is also something that adult hockey fans should also embrace.
The knock on hockey is that it is an expensive game to play, based on the initial equipment investment. But with EBay and Play It Again Sports, good used equipment can be found for a steal. Some if it even comes complete with Hockey Smell, which is actually better than the smell of an ungodly amount of Fabreeze.
As far as ice time, gone are the days of a handful of wintertime-only rinks spread across the region offering only minimal hockey ice time. There are loads of ice rinks, many with multiple ice sheets and almost all who offer some sort of beginner lessons for adults (my rink in College Park is the best, but I've very biased). Now your only excuse is that you might not be able to skate. Waah waah waah. That's the same excuse 3 year olds have.
Just because you're old doesn't mean you can't learn to skate. It just means it will take a tittle longer than the average 3rd grader. The best part about learning to skate while you learn to play hockey is if you fall, all those pads are there to cushion your fall. Yes, even your head.
Learning to actually play the game is a step in the right direction to help correct what I believe is the greatest flaw with many of my fellow Caps fans (or so I'm told by other teams' fans): the fact that Caps Fans are "Caps Fans" but not necessarily "Fans of Hockey".
Playing the game, and gaining the knowledge of those competing on the ice, leads to a greater appreciation of good plays and players, regardless or which team they're on. The booing of the refs changes in tone to more of a 'damn, he saw that' than just screaming 'BS!!' in chorus. It becomes easier to get drawn into the history of the game and of your own team. Raise your hand if you know who Al Jensen and Pat Riggin are. Better yet, have you ever seen Gretzky play in an Oilers jersey, even on TV?
You have the time right now, as the only local hockey these days is being played by kids. So take the initiative! Learn to love the game as a whole, and you'll be a better Caps fan when hockey returns to DC. And you might even lose a few pounds and become a hockey player in the process. And lord knows we need more hockey players.