EDITORIAL: NHL hockey for the lucky few

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Forgive us for venturing beyond Hay River’s boundaries for this editorial comment, but we can’t really help it.

As we are writing these words on Saturday evening, we are also trying to catch as much as we can of the NHL playoff game between the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Hockey is on our mind, hence this editorial.

But we are worried – and a little bit disgusted – by NHL hockey.

Now more than ever, it seems it has become the preserve of the rich, the well-connected and anyone willing to spend an excessive amount of money for a ticket on the online secondary market. (Before the internet, that was called buying tickets from scalpers.)

The gap between those who can get into games and those who can’t is more obvious than ever. We don’t know when or where it started, but the trend now is for thousands of people to gather outside an arena for an important NHL game.

And the NHL is not alone in this peculiar trend. While thousands gathered outside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto for playoff games by the Maple Leafs, they also congregated to be near the action when the Raptors played in the NBA playoffs.

Now that the Maple Leafs and the Raptors have made their traditional quick exits from the playoffs, it is only Winnipeg where we can see this odd social behaviour. On Saturday, about 27,000 people gathered outside the Bell MTS Centre. That was about 10,000 more than were inside.

Perhaps people want to feel part of the event and enjoy it with a crowd, and we assume watch the game on a big-screen TV.

However, we believe the real reason fans gather outside a sporting event is simply because they realize there is virtually no chance that they will ever get inside.

Consider the first playoff game this year for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After season ticketholders and then fan club members got first chance at tickets, there were 96 tickets left for the general public.

Of course, anyone can go to the secondary online market to get a ticket. However, be prepared to pay, and pay a lot.

A few years ago, we got two tickets on StubHub to a game in Edmonton between the Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens. We invited a brother to the game. Halfway through, he asked how much the tickets cost, and we were too embarrassed to say. So we’re definitely not going to say it here.

However, we, like many Northerners, are prepared to pay big-time to see maybe one NHL game per year.

Maybe we should feel lucky. At least we weren’t standing outside the dearly-departed Northlands Coliseum and watching the game on a screen.

TV networks love to show outside fans celebrating after a goal.

We think it’s a sad and depressing sight. It just shows how the NHL and most professional sports have become disconnected from common people.

Attending an NHL game, especially a playoff game, is now out of reach for many.

Thank God for television.