By David Andrews
The NHL became the first professional sport in history Wednesday to cancel an entire season due to a labor dispute.
?This is an absolute tragedy,? NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon in New York. ?This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided.?
After months of debate, players offered owners a $52 million salary cap proposal but both sides were unable to find middle ground before the Wednesday deadline.
Regardless of the wavering opinions of professional hockey enthusiasts, BYU IceCat fans continue to support their team as the 2004-2005 season comes to a close this month.
?We?ve had a great following of fans here in Provo all season long,? IceCat head coach Matt Beaudry said. ?As we?ve gotten more and more competitive, the fans are seeing hockey as a real attractive form of entertainment.?
Labor disputes at the pro level have not stopped BYU fans from showing their enthusiasm at Peaks Ice Arena in Provo. The rink boasts the 3rd highest attendance for BYU sporting events averaging between 1500 and 2500 fans a game.
?Our fans appreciate the game-time atmosphere,? Beaudry said. ?They?re looking for great, fast-paced, hard-hitting games, and that?s what we?ve given them all season.?
Hockey enthusiasts say there will be damaging, long-term effects on the sport due to the lockout.
?It?s sad to me because these guys were my idols growing up,? IceCats co-captain Jimmy Burkart said. ?This kind of thing could really turn people away from the game. The financial part of the NHL makes it not so innocent anymore. That?s not why we play hockey.?
For years, hockey has brought up the rear in popularity among the nation?s top four sports. A yearlong hiatus could only push hockey further out of the sports spectrum.
Though professional hockey has been declining in national popularity, college hockey and minor league hockey arenas have seen a dramatic increase in attendance this season as a result of the labor dispute. Minor league clubs average an eight percent increase in ticket sales this season over last.
?I?m a diehard [Toronto] Maple Leafs fan,? said Mark Bell, a former resident of Toronto, Canada. ?But if I can?t watch my ?Leafs,? I?d still enjoy a good college hockey game. They don?t seem to be quite so greedy.?
So while the NHL, the owners and the players all ?regroup? for the next few weeks, IceCat hockey will begin to wrap up another exiting season with a two game home-stand this weekend.