A town closes

When a town’s hockey team departs, it signals an end.

After a while, we understand it is the start of something new.

To townsfolk, those from away represent a way out. Hope. Future. Courage. To us, aspiration and ambition are unrealistic, but are the sovereign right of young men who carry the prospect of success.

We encourage these boys to chase their dreams, while we hold down our own.

A hockey team is pride of competition among towns of equal value.

City folk empty of civic pride as blank as the concrete that surrounds them. Our underdog status makes us unable mobilize. We stick to the pecking order learned on the assembly line.

We mourn the death of our hockey town.

We recognize the pain in one another’s eyes, from what is handed us. Those who are vocal about their disappointment blame individuals—the coach, the owner—not the system. Their words a personal insult. A slight against the town and its inhabitants.

The bottom line, we are told, is about the bottom line. The words are twisted and turned and quietly repeated until we become an empty rally cry.

Discarded, no longer useful.

In small towns where young men can make a living with his fists as well as his feet. Where knuckles stand up to insults. Where everyone needs something to complain about. A celebration, a salve for fans who feel the wins and loses where we keep our pride, on a list of personal achievements and grievances.

The business behind the game takes this away.

It assigns paternity to sophisticated citizens who turn up their noses up at the physical aspects of  play, consider it a failure of character, but readily stand and cheer when punches are thrown. It is a knock against their kind who are seem to be short-sighted about what it takes. The kind who lack financial prudence, education, business sense to see how seats empty of loyal fans can still ring up a profit. In turn, those left behind snicker in their patience, employ the wait-and-see approach, understand what the absence of loyal means to those on the ice. There’s no need, we shout, to debate civic pride, or kick around marketing ploys. What they need are fans. Fanatics who will stand behind the team, stand up for its players, because we are the guardians of our team and those who play it. The business end can go to hell.

They look for recognition, they want their town to be heralded.

Victory is shared.

The pride us evident in the way they speak about those who have moved on. Pride, a group of young lions. A social unit. Family. The young men belong to them, to their community. Achievement is owned by everyone, merit and recognition of winning against an opponent—in the tradition of union versus management—makes them powerful, respected, special. Seen. Heard. Valued.

The shine of success reflects brightly on those who collect in the stands and cheer. What they say in the coffee shops, church basement, and online is no matter. They know what they did: They raised them up, offered them to the hockey gods, and quietly waited praise and reward.

When there is failure, they feel it as hard as it comes.

So, when a town’s hockey team departs, it signals an end.