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As NHL’s latest lockout lingers on, a basement hockey league goes overseas

Habits and even loyalties can change during an NHL lockout, and that’s especially possible during the 2012 edition, as fans sour on a league that has played the work stoppage card four times since 1992. As the NHL owners and players squabble, the hockey-starved can find games elsewhere, from college to the minors or even overseas, where many NHL players have gone in search of playing time and a paycheck.

Monday afternoon, I showed my four-year old, hockey-crazy son an online stream of Washington Capitals stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom playing together in the KHL for Dynamo Moscow against former Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov and his team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

My son doesn’t fully understand the NHL lockout, but he knows it’s hockey season here in North America and that his favorite team isn’t playing until the owners and the players come to a new agreement. He had a few questions as I showed him Ovechkin and Backstrom on the ice together, and he was excited to see some hockey.

As I watched more of the game, my son went into the other room, grabbed his gloves and stick, and started playing a game of basement hockey as he does almost every day—except this time the two teams involved were from the KHL. He ran into the room every couple of minutes with game updates and questions, such as how to say “Varlamov’s team’s name again,” and eventually Ovechkin scored in a shootout to give Moscow a big victory in our downstairs arena.

Should the lockout go much longer, my family and I will likely seek out some live, non-NHL hockey to fill the void left by the absence of Caps games at Verizon Center. Maybe it will be an AHL or ECHL game or some college hockey. Whatever it is, I can’t help but wonder what will happen with younger fans like my son if the NHL cancels most or all of the 2012-13 season.

I already know that I, like some other fans I’ve spoken with, are frustrated enough by the NHL and NHLPA’s inability to get a deal done that we won’t be rushing to the games as soon as they start-up again. Sooner or later though, I’ll get the urge to venture back into an NHL arena. I imagine it could be requests from my kids to go to Caps games again that first lead me back to Commissioner Gary Bettman’s league. But what if by the time the NHL resumes games, their favorite team is the Hershey Bears or someone else?

If the owners and players keep their ridiculousness going much longer and younger fans latch onto teams from other leagues, perhaps some customers will be gone for a while; I doubt many will be gone for good. Having waited out a few of these NHL dramas before, I wouldn’t mind seeing the league struggle to draw spectators before things return to normal. Considering the two sides had years to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that could have prevented the cancellation of games and satisfied all parties—including the seemingly forgotten customers—Bettman, the owners and the players deserve it, especially when they’ve behaved as if they learned little, if anything at all, about fan frustration from the 2004-05 lockout.

For now though, there’s a kid in my house who’s just thrilled to have some hockey to watch and mimic. It doesn’t seem to matter much to him that it’s not the NHL brand.

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