In about an hour and half, I'll be leaving to go to Opening Night at Nassau Coliseum. I'm about as nervous for a game as I can ever recall being.
Why? Quite simply, I have very mixed feelings about hockey this year. While it's foolish to deprive myself of the enjoyment of the game I love, going back to the game right away convinces the NHL that I'm not mad about the lockout. It seems as though everybody is awash with glee because the NHL decided to return, but I'm still pissed that we lost half a season for absolutely no reason.
The public reaction seems to be what everyone suspected - pretty much no ramifications for the league and its players. Which is exactly why we'll be in this situation again eight years from now, just like we were eight years ago.
Hockey fans are extremely loyal people. We put up with endless insults from people who think "hockey is stupid" because they only like what ESPN tells them to like. We watch the NHL Network, even though many cable services only offer it as a premium channel. We visit Canadian websites and rely heavily on social media for our hockey fix, largely because the mainstream media in America doesn't consider hockey to be worth its time. To have all of that thrown in our faces is a little tough for me to swallow.
And yet... I'm going tonight. Willingly.
Is it easier to go when I'm offered a ticket from a friend as opposed to giving my money directly to the Islanders? Absolutely. But I'm swallowing my pride and embracing the NHL, and the Islanders, as they return from the dumbest, most unnecessary work stoppage in sports history.
Why? One simple reason. There are 106 Islanders home games left at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Yes, the move to Brooklyn will be wonderful for many reasons, but there will be no more parking lot tailgates, no more driving 15 minutes to get to the game, no more post-game dinners at Hooters. If I let the bureaucrats who wrought this lockout win, I deprive myself of all of these great things. And that would be a far greater tragedy than forcing myself to stay away out of principle.
Yeah, I'm still bitter. But I know I'll have a great time tonight, and I know I'll enjoy the hell out of this season. Maybe losing the NHL for half a season will help me to appreciate what little time we have left with the Islanders in their current form.