When Brett Hull came to St. Louis and ignited the town's love for scoring hockey goals he also started a revolution. Ask any man of a certain age who lives in the Gateway City why he plays hockey and he will invariably say the same three words: The Golden Brett.
The Blues like to say that Hullie saved the franchise and that he built the DrinkScotch Center, but he did even more than that. Hull's prowess made kids in St. Louis want to play hockey. If you weren't good enough at baseball to be the next Ozzie Smith or burly enough to be the next Dan Dierdorf and you lived in the town with the Arch, you picked up a hockey stick and pretended you were Brett Hull.
The rink downtown is there because of him, but he is the reason that Brentwood still has a rink and Creve Coeur has a rink and that weird golf course in South County has a rink. Not to mention that Chesterfield, St. Peters, Hazelwood, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, Affton, Fenton, Telegraph Road and South City all have rinks. There's no way to quantify, truly, the effect that Brett Hull had on hockey in St. Louis.
And with all of that evidence in front of us, we'd be stupid to not realize that the reverse is also true: This second lockout in seven years' time could undo hockey in St. Louis.
My kid is a hockey kid. He plays, he collects, he has a fantasy team, he has only one game for the Xbox360 in our house and it's a hockey game. He is 11 years old and he has been immersed in the game as long as he has been out of diapers. He is the likely future of the NHL. Not that he'll ever play there: he won't. But he is the future of the NHL because he will fall in line behind me, spending his money on jerseys and tickets and video games and whatever else the NHL sells that we will buy in the future.
But all of that is in doubt now. He still plays hockey, sure, but when you're 11 and your hockey heroes are about to miss an entire season for the second time in your short life, that sends a message. My kid was just becoming a fan when the last lockout happened. I stayed loyal and so did he.
But things are different now. Just the other day we were talking about our now-out-of-date hockey video game. The boy said, "You know, let's not get NHL13. Maybe we should get FIFA or Madden or NCAA football." And with that, I realized that the NHL is in bigger trouble than they realize.
I realized that it's been six months since he's worn his Pietrangelo jersey. It's been at least that long since I saw him flipping through his hockey cards or his Sports Illustrated Book of Hockey. Instead it's St. Louis Cardinals shirts and Missouri Tigers shirts and explaining football rules to his sisters. I'm not saying he doesn't love hockey any more, but I know for a fact that the NHL is about the furthest thing from his mind right now.
If the NHL and the players' union are dumb enough to miss yet another full season, I wonder how much damage will be done. I still have my season tickets, I still write a dumb hockey paper for Blues games, I still spend money on the team and the league. But my son and his peer group aren't as locked in (to change a familiar phrase) to the NHL. They are already finding other sports spend time on. When the games are being played again, will the kids still be as interested? Will my kid beg to stay up late on school nights to watch the Blues' away games? Will he still want to go to public appearances to see and meet Blues players and add to his collection of signed pucks and hats and posters? Will he spend all day Saturday geeked up, wearing his jersey and talking non-stop about the game he'll go to later that day?
I can't say for certain, but based on the time he's spending with his new football video game and how many times he's asked when we can go to a Mizzou football game, at the very least it'll take some time to get him addicted again, and he may never be as addicted as he once was.
How can you blame him? His heroes have turned their back on him twice already. If his favorite league and players don't care, why should he?