By Larry Pattison
Published January 20, 2012
It cost me $25 American for a ticket to the outdoor Boston Bruins alumni game at Fenway Park in 2010, not to mention a whole lot of cash in gas, tolls, hotels, food, drink and souvenirs, to turn my dream of attending one of these outdoor hockey games into a reality.
Oh, and then there was a $100 donation placed into a tin can in support of a local house fire somewhere along the I90 between Buffalo and Boston. $1, $100 - American money all looks the same to me.
I could have actually purchased tickets to the main New Years day event the day previously, but it would have cost me $200 a ticket for 'obstructed view' seats. Basically, a whole lot of dinero to sit behind a pole at Fenway.
My buddy and I still talk about that fun and comical adventure from time to time. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I saw both the inside of Fenway and some of my old Bruins favorites from my hockey youth play again.
When I hear people talking about how over-priced something is - anything could be used as an example as the event isn't as important as its community value - I tend to get my back up a little.
I realize that there are far more important things in life than spending our hard earned money on a sporting event. Even for me as a passionate fan of sports myself, I can't always afford the luxury of going to all of the sporting, music, and theatre events I would love to attend either.
So I do understand where many are coming from, but some of the reasoning I hear or read behind not supporting something is all too often based off a few letters. Three letters that have become socially cool in various sporting circles, and three letters on the other side that are overlooked as being amateur and much lesser in value than their counterparts.
Be it NHL versus AHL or NFL versus CFL, we have allowed the word 'National' to greatly lesson the value of otherwise entertaining sports leagues.
Hamilton has been anticipating being the future home of the NHL since Copps Coliseum was built back in 1985. I met Bobby Orr during that first hockey game played at Copps. I was there with my dad. Orr sat right in front of us.
It was an early glimpse of the stars who would pass through our city in the years to come: Gretzky, Lemieux and countless others. I even stopped Bourque in his tracks for an autograph as he walked through Jackson Square to Copps for a pre-season NHL game. Copps hasn't been shy of amazing memories where sports have been concerned.
27 years later, the NHL has yet to set up shop in Hamilton. It's been quite awhile since even an NHL pre-season game has been played in our arena built for the pros. For many - this was obvious throughout our Make It Seven campaign - Hamilton still feels it is lacking a professional hockey team.
Yet Michael Andlauer and the Bulldogs organization continue to contribute to this town including bringing something as monumental as an Outdoor Winter Classic to our great city.
I am sure Mr. Andlauer does not feel like Hamilton owes him anything. We have made it to the Calder Cup three times and won it once, and we have had a winning product on the ice through most of the almost 16 full seasons they have called Hamilton home.
That's aside from the countless community hours players and Bulldogs personnel have put in, not to mention what having a hockey team of the caliber of the Dogs has meant to the children and especially minor hockey league kids from the area.
The value of having the Bulldogs in Hamilton the past 16 years has no real monetary value. We had the Mountain Arena and the Kilty Bees growing up and not to knock either, but I can only imagine what it would have meant to sit with my team in the stands of Copps as a child. We are lucky in Hamilton. We truly are.
So not only are we fortunate to have an organization farming for one of the most storied franchises in all of sport in the Montreal Canadiens, we are truly lucky, in a city of half a million residents, to have facilities like Copps and Ivor Wynne and countless others.
Hamilton believes itself to be a hockey community and I know deep down we are, but we have long felt that we have been overlooked, betrayed and wrongly denied our right to an NHL team of our own; perhaps for very good reasons.
Numbers were even floated during our last play to bring the Coyotes to Hamilton, alluding to the fact that Hamilton could possibly not only support a team statistically, but we might be among the top hockey markets. How can statements like these not raise our hopes and further our frustrations?
I am normally optimistic to a fault, but I don't buy that we are ready to support an NHL team. Not because we can't, but because there are possibly some wounds we need to put behind us first. It's time for a fresh start. We can't change yesterday but we can control today - right now.
I believe in us too, but there is something to be said about working for the right to be hailed one of the best. To me it's not enough to be labeled a champion if you don't know what it is to have had to work for that honor - not that we need to be awarded an NHL team to be deemed a hockey town.
I see leagues like the CFL or the AHL as being truer to what theses sports are about at their core. The CFL itself is something that is still truly Canadian in a world that seems more and more about TV ratings and million dollar salaries. The AHL is great hockey as well. These guys are working their tails off every single night in their quest to play in the big show and to hopefully find a permanent home there. Outside of fast, hard-hitting, quality entertainment, it's also affordable.
So many dream of the NHL and NFL coming to town but I am not sure everyone has stopped to think about at what cost. I myself am not so sure I care as much about being 'big league' as I do a city that is much more about being all-inclusive. If the city as a whole has its eyes set on the NHL than who am I to stop these dreams but if this is our goal, then let's stop stomping our feet in frustration over not getting what we want and feel we are deserving of. Let's earn that opportunity.
I do believe we are a hockey town deep down. I believe we have the passion and drive to make whatever league we chose to be about thrive here, but we need to show what we are made of now - not wait for the chance to prove it.
Greatness is in the moments where nobody is watching. Opportunity comes from showing this passion without expectation. When we forget that there is a prize at the end of the rainbow, that is when we are at our best. If we are not having fun striving for our goals, then what is the reward in achieving them? Let's celebrate being a hockey town with what we have before us. Let's fall in love with this wonderful game again together and see what happens. Not with the expectation that one day our dreams will come true, but with passion for something that is so much a part of many of us.
This way, whatever the outcome, we will have enjoyed the ride and have no regrets towards whatever the future presents us. Just memories of the times we have shared as a community.
If we were actually a hockey town, it wouldn't matter which three or four letters represent the leagues that play in this city. If we loved hockey, we would be filling stands all over this city from the Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena to see the Red Wings, Hockeyville champion J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas to see the Real McCoys, and selling out Copps Coliseum to see the Bulldogs.
To me, entertainment is in the atmosphere. It isn't so much about what is on the ice or on the field, as much as it is the energy. 17,000 at a Bulldogs game or 30,000 at a Tiger-Cats game, is exciting all on its own. I love being surrounded by a lot of people and the feeling that runs through my soul when the sounds of the game and the crowd are penetrating through every inch of my body. That is what sport is about: pride, passion, and community spirit.
The Bulldogs organization have poured their heart and souls into this Outdoor Classic project as they do the entire hockey season in general each year. Today, Hamilton will join the ranks as official Outdoor Classic hosts.
This is big. The hockey world is watching us. Significant names from hockey past will be taking to the frozen pond at Ivor Wynne this evening. These alumni are likely already in town perhaps feeling out the ice surface or taking a tour of our historic old gem of a stadium. Admiring the uniqueness of a stadium nestled amongst a residential community.
So maybe we don't owe Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer specifically by filling the few seats that still remain for Friday night and Saturday afternoon's events at Ivor Wynne, but we do owe it to ourselves. This is an opportunity to show the hockey world that our city is passionate about hockey. Are we a true hockey town or a city that feels it has something owing to us?
We are only a few hours from history taking part in our city - the first ever outdoor AHL game to ever have been played in Canada. Every year the hockey world awaits the now infamous New Year's Winter Classic games.
This may not be the NHL - the big event, the big guns, but it's a big deal for a lot of people. If you love hockey and you are in the mood for a fun evening or afternoon out, think about what purchasing a ticket for this event will add to the experience for those who for them, this is it.
They may never see a game at Fenway or Wrigley or any of the other big outdoor venues. This is their Winter Classic event, the one they will tell their grandkids about.
We all know that there is something more special about a sold out event, over one with lots' of empty seats. If not for yourself, give these events a chance with the thought in mind of what this weekend means to others.
I have made the eight-hour drive to see hockey played outdoors at Fenway Park. I know I compared Ivor Wynne to Fenway a lot during the Great Stadium Debate and I also know in many ways they are nothing alike, but it is our Fenway. It's our historic old stadium, home to our storied Tiger-Cats.
Ivor Wynne will be brought to the ground at the end of the 2012 CFL season, to be replaced with new sporting memories. This weekend we start our goodbyes. Let's do it in style. Let's pack this beautiful east end venue for every 2012 event. The name Ivor Wynne, alone, deserves the honor of going down with a packed-house for a possible 13 sporting events this year.
So come start the goodbyes with me, won't you? I truly believe that Friday and Saturday and from now until the fall, your time spent amongst the hallowed grounds of 75 Balsam Avenue North, will be memories you, your children, your family, friends and co-workers, won't soon forget.
I am looking forward to this weekend either way including skating on that outdoor rink next Tuesday with my kids for a free public skate the Bulldogs are hosting that afternoon.
Later that evening, I will also be donning my hockey gear with some friends as we remember the dreams of stardom from our hockey youths in a little Winter Classic match of our own.
It's been fun checking into the Live webcam view of our Outdoor Classic rink. What a treat it's been to see the lights of Ivor Wynne reaching over the rooftops of my neighborhood in a usually otherwise dark, gloomy month of January.
I can't wait for the city to come alive again this weekend. Winters on the outside looking into Ivor Wynne are long. I see the light standards over the rooftops as my transit commute to Burlington starts and ends down Barton Street every day.
Even when the talks of football are more or less quiet in Hamilton, it's somewhat comforting having that reminder in constant view that we are another day closer to a new CFL season.
When you live by something such as this and pass by it often while walking the dog or driving by with the kids in the car pointing out, "there is the football stadium, daddy" resting there in all its quiet glory, you grow fond of this old masterpiece and the courteous neighborhood that has welcomed it into their hearts for many generations.
It's one thing to see it jammed and full of life. It's when all the Argo's suck and Oskee Wee Wee chants have faded away that the true beauty in what stands before you is best appreciated.
It may be old, it may not architecturally be Fenway Park, but it is beautiful in ways I am not even sure this long-winded writer can truly portray through words.
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