You may have noticed that my blog was a bit quiet over the last three weeks. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say (that rarely happens), it’s just that the one question that everyone wants to ask was the one I couldn’t answer. Each year when the season ends you only have a brief period to mourn the loss of those friends and that time before you have to start thinking of what’s next. So, as you may remember, our season in Bakersfield ended in mid-April. And, if you didn’t know, it’s now the end of August. That’s over four long months since the season ended. In the summer before we went to Bakersfield and the year before when we prepared to go to Crimmitschau, Germany, we had already made a decision by mid-June. So this year the agony that can be the unknown went on over two months longer than usual. And I feel fortunate to know now where we’ll be spending the next seven months, because we have lots of friends who are still playing the waiting game.
The reason for this delay is complicated, but makes perfect sense. Essentially, like everything else these days, it comes down to the economy. The reason we couldn’t stay in Bakersfield was due to economics: the economics of married players costing more than single players, even if said player was one of the league leaders in scoring (just saying). Because Bakersfield, and many other teams, is taking that openly discriminatory (in my humble but not litigious opinion) stance on hiring married players, there was an increased number of guys looking for spots on teams overseas. And because the struggling economy isn’t exclusive to the U.S., those teams are also downsizing and cutting back in various ways. And so this situation has led to a bit of a log jam, where European teams are finding players that will take less money or waiting for AHL/NHL free agents who don’t find a home in the U.S. and start looking across the Atlantic. And all this is happening in a time crunch. So that’s the very basic, very simplified, semi-technical side of it.
The human side is a bit less simple. Here you have men who have invested themselves in hockey as a career and hope to be compensated in relation to their performance and their character. And more than that, they have chosen this lifestyle, at least for the time being, and the limbo between seasons is the payment for the fact that their favorite recreational activity is also their profession. So when a drought such as this occurs, these players can feel the toll both on their bank accounts and their egos. And since money is what keeps us alive and confidence is what makes them successful, an off-season like this can be a bit depressing.
Add to this the fact that many of these men have women and/or children and/or dogs that they may support financially and by whom they are always supported emotionally. Surely the men folk feel additional pressure during a slow off-season when they have a family. But the pressure falls on us as well. Most of the significant others of hockey players that I know are extremely adaptable. They move from town to town, country to country, endure multiple trades in one season and leave their families and careers far behind. Amidst all this, they still manage to raise children, go to school, achieve professional goals, make friends, learn new languages. Moving with the seasons (hockey seasons, that is) is one thing, but even the most adaptable and able can become stressed when the unknown is added to the unstable.
And that stress is part of the reason why the blog was so sporadic and many phone calls went unanswered this summer. Even though asking your friend in the hockey life ‘where to next?’ may seem like the logical conversation-starter, it can sometimes be the cruelest question ever asked. On the other hand, not being asked is sometimes equally as unnerving, because the question just hangs there in the air. And that’s why avoiding the interactions where the question might be asked or not asked is sometimes easier. Cowardly, but easier. So if, over the last few months, you called, e-mailed or texted me asking, with true concern and love in your heart, where we are off to, I apologize for not answering you sooner. It’s just that I literally didn’t know, and even when something is being worked out, you learn to be wary of discussing it because it can so easily fall through. So we wait, answer truthfully, and seek refuge in the co-misery of other hockey friends who understand the frustration.