Go ahead, laugh it up

By Mike Szwaja

I tried not to care, but it hasn’t worked. I tried to resist temptation on Wednesday afternoon, but I couldn’t stop myself from turning on the TV and watching Gary Bettman’s news conference in its entirety, which ended up being about an hour.

These days, not caring about hockey has become trendy.

“Hey, Szwaja, still wearing your Blackhawks jacket, huh?”

Cue the laughing faces and fingers pointed in my direction.

I’ve gotten used to that during the past few months. These days, if you still like hockey, you just aren’t cool.

My, how times have changed. Bettman’s cancellation of the NHL season came six days short of the 25th anniversary of arguably the greatest moment in American sports: the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s victory over the Russians. That day, hockey gave our country something to smile about. Wednesday, hockey gave our country something to laugh about – for those of you who are “cool” of course.

Well, you know what’s cool?

Being in a filled-to-the-brim United Center during the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” before a Blackhawks game, that’s cool. It’s the loudest, most exciting rendition of our national anthem you’ll ever hear, and the inescapable noise and passion actually make you feel proud to be an American.

Painfully, it’ll be a while before Blackhawks fans pack the United Center, so it’ll be a while before anyone can experience that passion.

That’s not cool.

Chris Chelios, Peter Forsberg, Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, Mark Messier, Jeremy Roenick, Scott Stevens and Steve Yzerman, they’re all cool because they’re all great hockey players who have meant so much to the game.

Thanks in large part to the lockout, the majority of those guys, if not all of them, have played their last games on NHL ice. Who will carry the torch if the NHL ever resumes play? That’s tough to predict at this point.

That’s not cool.

When the players line up like five-year-old boys and shake each other’s hands after the completion of the Stanley Cup finals, that’s one of the coolest things in sports.

Well, the Stanley Cup is trapped in its handling trunk for who knows how long, and these days the players can’t even comfortably shake the hands of the guys who own the teams for which they play.

That’s not cool.

The NHL All-Star Game is cool because it’s the best all-star game in professional sports. Who can forget Owen Nolan calling his shot during the 1996 NHL All-Star Game? That was pretty cool.

Now, the only all-star games this February will be the Pro Bowl, which on an excitement level rivals watching your grandma play solitaire, and the NBA All-Star game, which used to be great but in recent years has turned into the “let’s see how many alley-oops we can throw to Mariah Carey in the fourth row” game.

That’s not cool.

Maybe I’m one of the few left who thinks all those things are cool, but I’ll guarantee those of us who miss the NHL don’t care. Laugh at us all you want. It’s cool.

And for those of you who are with me, don’t give up. The NHL will be back, and everything we love will be back … someday.

Just don’t give up on the game you love, because that just wouldn’t be cool.