CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s their sport, and they hate it when something bad happens to it.
Make no mistake, last weekend’s lockout of National Hockey League players by league owners is bad for hockey. It’s the fourth work stoppage in 18 years for the NHL, and this one could last awhile.
“It’s going to be sad without it,” said Cedar Rapids RoughRiders forward Landon Smith. “Hopefully, they can figure something out here soon, and we can get it back.”
That was the overwhelming opinion of Smith’s teammates. Yes, they are very busy preparing for the United States Hockey League season, but it’s tough not to be able to watch their heroes.
In Smith’s case, that’s guys like Matt Duchene of his hometown Colorado Avalanche. In the case of Michigan resident Davey Middleton, that’s Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings.
“It’s a tough thing. I’m going to miss it,” Middleton said. “You can watch what they as players do and improve yourself. Learn from them. I’m going to miss that.”
“It’s really a shame that this is happening,” said Riders forward Johnny Mueller. “We spend a lot of time watching (games) as a team. We’ll get together for big games and watch them together. So we kind of feel like we’re missing out on that.”
None of the Riders wanted to point an accusatory finger at one side or the other for the lockout, though Judd Peterson said he’s never been a fan of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman has been on watch for all four league work stoppages.
“I think it’ll hurt hockey a little bit, especially for the (casual) fans,” Peterson said. “How they view the sport now might change. They might look at it as it’s all just about the money. I think the people that love hockey will keep loving hockey. But the people who don’t, it might change their view of the sport.”
That includes at the youth level, which is so important in order to be able to grow the sport. It’s out of sight, out of mind.
“You lose fans,” Middleton said. “Even newcomers, young kids that would get into hockey might not have that interest now because there’s no NHL to look to. You can lose a lot of fans that way.”
In Mueller’s view, out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean out of mind. Unless it’s because he’s going out of his mind not being able to watch the NHL.
“To me, if they sit out (awhile), I kind of feel like everyone is just going to be more hungry for hockey,” he said.