Feeling the NHL lockout black-'n'-gold blues
At Excuses Bar and Grill on the South Side a collection of tchotchkes lines a table Tuesday. Excuses, a regular destination for Penguins fans, has seen attendance drop drastically because of the NHL lockout. The lucky trinkets include a bottle of Tang signed by Kris Letang, a hockey puck that for good luck must be kept in a freezer between games and a ceramic penguin named Clinchy who must be facing the screen during games.
Pens fans in better days -- Game 4 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final.
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Fair weather fans, they are not.
They are Penguins season ticket holders, away game travelers and jersey collectors.
They talk hockey. They blog hockey. They breathe hockey.
If it's hockey season and there's no hockey, what's a Penguins fan to do?
"Honestly, a lot of us, if we are not watching hockey, we are complaining about why we are not watching hockey," said Laura Falcon, 23, of Great Falls, Va., a hockey blogger who is a Penguins fan by way of parents who met in Pittsburgh.
Ms. Falcon and hockey fans across the country are not watching action on the ice because a labor dispute between the National Hockey League and its players' union has delayed the start of the 2012-13 hockey season indefinitely.
The full 82-game regular season could begin Nov. 2 if there is a deal in place by Thursday, but if not the full schedule could be canceled, creating a missed season of hockey similar to what happened in 2004-05.
Already, scheduled preseason and regular season games have come and gone, unplayed.
"It's been weird," said Adam Caldwell, 28, one of the co-founders and co-editors of ThePensblog.com, which started in 2006.
"It's been the first year that we've been running the blog that we haven't had anything to do during the fall. It's just kind of eerie. It's almost like in a holding pattern now," he said.
Some hockey fans are filling the time by turning their attention to other sports, Ms. Falcon said.
There's baseball, although the Pirates are finished for the season. The Steelers and college football are always big. Next week, the professional basketball season will start, although with no team in Pittsburgh, that may be a less attractive option for fans here.
However, for many avid Penguins fans, the hockey void has been filled with more hockey -- from alternate sources.
Online, virtual hockey leagues are sprouting up, with people competing against each other in an NHL video game, one way fans are trying to "get the hockey fix," Mr. Caldwell said.
This weekend, Dan Yost, a 27-year-old Robinson resident, is traveling with a group of friends to watch the Nailers, a minor league hockey team, play in Wheeling, W.Va.
It's a trip he's been wanting to take and part of the reason his friends are going this weekend, he said, is because there are no NHL games to watch.
Typically during hockey season, he said, he spends about 12 hours a week watching hockey, talking hockey or reading about hockey.
Meesh Shanmugam, a 28-year-old attorney who lives in Hampton, said usually he spends 30 to 40 hours a week, in a typical hockey season, on hockey. That's largely because he runs his own Penguins blog and contributes to another blog about the Los Angeles Kings.
To get his hockey fix during the lockout, he's been watching Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who is playing for the Russian team Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, on "grainy" streaming video online.
"It's not a good feed," he said.
It's nice to be able to watch a Penguin play, he said, but it's not the best way to watch hockey. He's he had to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday to catch a game.
"It was kind of fun for the first 10 games or so, and now it's becoming an annoyance," he said.
The lockout may be bad for fans, but it's also bad for business.
Especially at bars that market themselves as places to watch hockey and cheer on the Penguins, such as Excuses Bar and Grill on the South Side.
During a typical hockey season, the bar is packed at least three nights a week with hockey fans, said George Pantelas, the bar's owner. This fall, traffic to the bar has fallen.
"It's terrible for business, but our regulars are just doing whatever they can do to watch hockey," Mr. Pantelas said.
That includes gathering around a laptop to watch video of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Baby Penguins.
In a lockout, however, there's only so much live hockey that can be found online. And after a few weeks, even die-hard Penguins fans are finding ways to spend time that don't including watching hockey.
Mr. Caldwell, who has watched traffic to ThePensblog.com plummet, said he's started watching something else -- television dramas.
There are no breakaways or goals or penalties. But, he said, he's discovered that the British crime drama "Sherlock" is good TV.
First Published October 24, 2012 3:57 pm