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A Soldiers Take On The NHL Lockout

We've all got someone to blame for the lockout. Blame the owners, blame the NHLPA, but who bears the brunt of the missed action? Read on for one man's take.

Streeter Lecka

Your SB Nation bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, races, religions, political slants, and yes, even genders. Across vastly differing income demographics, upbringings, and chosen career fields, the one thing I can safely say most of us have in common is a love of sports.

We here on the local side of the house, and SBTB in particular, are no exception. As your writers, we proudly hail from all parts of the country, and work in all manner of industry, education, and federal service.

I am an American soldier.

I've followed sports since I was seven years old. My father was watching Super Bowl XIII as the Pittsburgh Steelers won their third title in five years, and their second against the Dallas Cowboys, 35-31. As the game neared it's conclusion, I looked on in wonder as Roger Staubach bravely led America's team back, only to ultimately fall just shy of victory. I was hooked.

After following our own Miami Dolphins for a few years, I discovered in rapid succession the arts of baseball (we had WGN, WOR, and TBS on our cable package, I chose to follow the Cubbies) and basketball (my dad was from Massachusetts, so our team was the Boston Celtics) As you all know, the NHL was not local to the area until the 1993-94 season (I was already two years into my military service). At the time, I was a sailor stationed on shore at NAVFAC Argentia, which is in Newfoundland, Canada. As you can imagine, it was a good environment for a budding hockey fan to get in the swing of things. Unfortunately, by the time the Panthers got good, I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. I got to see my first live pro hockey event, as the Norfolk Admirals took the ice.

Over the next several years, I completed my Naval service and embarked on my new life as an adult civilian. After a series of increasingly dreadful career options, I eventually stumbled back into the recruiters office, at the age of 32. The Army was all too glad to pick me up. Up to that point in my odyssey, I had lacked the fiscal means to attend a game in person. I'd always meant to check the Cats out live, but life kept getting in the way.

When 2011-12 rolled around, I discovered SB Nation Tampa Bay. We aren't the biggest community on SB Nation's local hub, but I treasured the opportunity to write about sports just the same. Steve graciously accepted my application. I became the pre-game guy, with occasional editorial content and historical wrapups to contribute, for the Panthers, Marlins, Heat, and Panthers. I bought a ticket to my first NHL game in July. I was going to take my seven year old daughter (an avid San Jose Sharks fan, God bless her) see the Panthers visit the Carolina Hurricanes on November 5th (I'm stationed in Hunter Army Airfield, near Savannah, Georgia).

When I got the news Friday that the NHL has officially cancelled all games through the month of November, my passion for the league reached a new low. As I prepare my platoon for a nine-month long deployment to defend this country and its ideals, I take a look at my soldiers. I see how hard these guys work - before we even leave the USA. These soldiers are about to leave their families for nearly a year to move into an unfriendly environment, work their tails off for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and never give up on their mission. They do all this for 1/20th of the NHL's minimum wage, and never complain about it.

The players are lucky enough to be blessed with abilities far above the rank and file, to the point where they can play a game for a living. Yes it's only a game, but as this season slowly turns to dust, many folks "on the fence" make their decision to follow the NBA instead, including my aforementioned daughter (the Cleveland Cavaliers, God Bless her).

I know my little essay here won't shake any trees in the respective Fehr and Bettman camps. I know that in the end, each and every hockey fan who took the NHL for granted after forgiving them for the last lockout realizes that we're all just shaking our tiny fists at the sky. But isn't there anything we can do? For now, all we can do is standby as the NHL further disgraces itself. I have a sinking feeling that this debacle is far from over. My only wish is that these guys (players and owners) get a little perspective.

I believe that hockey is the best sport in the world, and the NHL plays the best hockey. Further, I believe that the NHL has the best fans. I don't know if the NHL will start playing again this year or next. I only know that when they do, I'll be back on the bandwagon. My fandom of the Panthers remains unapologetic, unwavering, unconditional, and all-encompassing. I hope these guys start making sense pretty soon, before they do the league any more damage.

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Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.