The “Hockey Not in Canada” protest is mis-guided and counter-productive

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The Toronto Marlies home opener. The Barrie Colts and the Sudbury Wolves. Drive a little north, and you get the Oshawa Generals on the road against the stacked Belleville Bulls. That doesn’t count Friday night’s game where Ottawa visit Mississauga, or Sunday’s matinee where the Saginaw Spirit pay a visit to the Brampton Battalion.

This also doesn’t include the countless minor hockey and junior games taking place around the province and country. Yes, next Saturday’s “Hockey Not in Canada” protest organized by some folks over at We Want A Cup dot Com is not only counter-productive, but also shortsighted and indicative of Canada’s dirty secret.

Several of our American blog buddies paid a visit to Toronto this past weekend for Blogs with Balls 5, a fantastic event that brings together major creative and technological innovators of the blogosphere.

“What will you do without hockey,” was a frequent question the visitors would ask the Canadian hosts. Canada’s dirty secret is that we’re an NHL country, not a hockey country. People who try to compare hockey in Canada to football in the United States forget the fact that football is supported at all levels in the United States, while a 4000-man crowd that fills up 70% of the seats is considered a “good night” at many Ontario Hockey League rinks that produce the game’s next superstars.

“Give Us Our Game Back” is the name of the rally, but the game never really left. The NHL is gone, but the game is still here, on backyard rinks, in community rinks, in junior rinks and anywhere else hockey would normally be, save for potentially 41 nights at the Air Canada Centre this season where the crowd will be populated mostly by corporate season ticket holders.

“A donation box will be set up,” the poster advertises, “to support the ‘out of work’ arena employees.” Oh yeah? Since when has the Air Canada Centre shut down? When was this donation box set up during the NBA lockout for the same arena employees? Where is the support for the arena employees at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, ON, who are in danger of losing their team for good due to a lack of local support?

And just down the road, the Hershey Centre plays host to comically-sparse crowds. If you want to support hockey and get the game back, get the game back. Attend these venues. Hell, attend the Ricoh Coliseum for the Marlies opener. In fact,, the group organizing this protest, has managed to procure press passes to Marlies games for inexperienced reporters. (UPDATE – I’ve learned that they haven’t secured press credentials yet. Might want to update that job posting)

I am willing to bet that I am as stung financially by the NHL lockout as anybody, and it sucks. That said, this rally, if it even manages to get 100 people, is counter-productive. Money talks in this business, and complaints directed at the NHL for the way it has handled the lockout showcases passion for the league itself. The seed to a strong league is competition, both inside and outside the league.

If you’re going to have a rally to protest the lockout and don’t want to do it at a Marlies game since that supports MLSE, get a bus-load of people and go to Brampton. Help save their rink. Get a bus-load of people and fill up a section of the Hershey Centre. Alert the media and do it at St. Michael’s College for a Buzzers game. That would be my advice to not only alerting the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs that there are more entertainment options available in Toronto, but also to alert the rest of Canada and the United States that Toronto is a hockey town, not just a Leafs town.

(s/t Pension Plan Puppets)