Fans react to Winter Classic cancellation with disdain


Fans react to Winter Classic cancellation with disdain

Hockey fans are both the smallest and most loyal fan base in the four major pro sports.

Theyve returned to the NHL in record numbers since the league reached its nadir in calling off the 2004-05 NHL regular season due to labor issues, the first pro sports league to call off an entire year.

But they returned to a faster, sleeker, more exciting NHL and helped build the league up to a 3.3 billion business last year. The fans supported outside-the-box initiatives like the Winter Classic and the HBOs 24:7 series and the league managed to wrangle itself a 2 billion deal television deal with the NBC Sports Network despite meager national ratings compared to the other three leagues.

But with the NHLs expected Friday afternoon announcement that the Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs has been cancelled, the NHL and NHLPA have finally drawn blood in negotiations. It seemed that the collective hockey world barely blinked at the first two months of the NHL regular season being cancelled. After all its the least profitable quarter of the regular season and most of the problem NHL franchises (Florida, Phoenix and New York Islanders etc.) are saving more money whacking games rather than playing to empty houses.

Its a bloodless calculation of business and leverage for the NHL owners and a jihad-like fight for rights for the NHLPA, and theres been no middle ground achieved at this point. The big losers are the arena-area business ownersemployees and the fans deprived of league leadership working on faith, long-term vision and a genuine love for the game. But the oft-abused fans are perhaps reacting a little differently than they did eight years ago when the NHL imploded an entire year, and that should be a major, major worry for the NHLs bean counters.

The ticket-purchasing public isnt angry for the most part. Theyre not ranting and raving like puck-head lunatics. Instead theyre equal turns apathetic and uncaring, and theyve simply turned the page on the NHL to other things. Maybe its the NBA or the NFL, or maybe its an up-and-coming sport like MLS soccer.

Maybe its something else entirely in the Internet age where there are so many more alternatives for people with disposable income. But whatever the case it looks like the hockey fans are washing their hands of the NHL, and those are the casual connoisseurs that have built the league into a burgeoning revenue monster. That should be a prime concern for the NHL because those are the kinds of fans that wont return to the game when it finally does return next year, two years from now or five years down the road.

Heres a sampling of the fan reaction sent to my twitter account after multiple reports came down that the Winter Classic was about to get squashed:

@Beantownswifty: Not shocked that the Winter Classic is cancelled... @NHL is showing its true colors and its a disrespect to the fans.

@jbehindtheglass: For me, it's sobering; a mirror of the society it provided a distraction from. The "greatest fans" are sheep with wallets.

@eheels10: I guess apathy, because I just don't give a darn about the NHL anymore.

@papakav1: Disgust, will now spend the dollars on college, jr, and prep hockey. No time left for NHL.

@KnobbyBurton: It's disappointing but on the bright side it will give me more free time to start watching TheWire and BreakingBad

@SOURCE_FRIAS: I think after todays announcement a lot of die hard fans will be at the "Who cares anymore" mood as I am.

@gorskic: Repeating myself: This seasons Winter Classic was as good as cancelled the day it was announced. Resigned. Frustrated.

@The_Real_StephK: At this point, apathy. This league will never grow to its potential if this is how little they care about their fans.

@crowleyrules: the seasons probably lost. I had a root-canal'd molar extracted earlier, but the nhl has officially ruined my day.

Listen up, NHL. Those are your ardent fans and theyve been driven to the point where they dont care anymore. Coming off the stoking of those lockout flames eight years ago, something you dont want to do is see how far you can push before it ends with a permanently fractured league.

Gronkowsk hoping to go "freakin' crazy" on the field soon


Gronkowsk hoping to go "freakin' crazy" on the field soon

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowsi had what was, for him, an incredibly quiet game against the Texans on Thursday. He saw 14 snaps and ran just one route. He did see a target from rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett when he ran that route, but it floated high over his head and sailed out of the end zone incomplete. 

In his first game action since suffering a hamstring injury on Aug. 15, the Patriots chose to being their All-Pro tight end along slowly, but he's hoping that he'll be more involved in the very near future. 

"You’ve got to be careful with any injury, but I mean, if you research hamstrings, if you know anything about hamstrings, you’ve definitely got to be careful," he said. "You’ve got to progress. You can’t just hop back in and be full-go 100 percent. I wish it was like that. I can’t wait until I’m going freakin' crazy out there again. So I’m just progressing myself into it and feeling better every single day."

Gronkowski was back on the practice field for his team's workout in full pads on Wednesday. He was spotted running through drills and catching passes from tight ends coach Brian Daboll, and he did not appear to be visibly limited. After running around in a game, albeit briefly, Gronkowski explained that he experienced no setbacks.

"I felt good, definitely," Gronkowski said of playing under the lights. "You’re always sore no matter what after playing a game. No matter if you play 10 plays or 70 plays, [you’re] definitely sore like any other game. But no setbacks. No nothing. Feeling good and just progressing every day."

Regardless of who happens to be playing quarterback for the Patriots against the Bills on Sunday -- whether it's Jimmy Garoppolo or Brissett, both of whom practiced Wednesday -- having Gronkowski on the field and closer to his usual level of participation should help. 

"They’re doing very well, very excellent," Gronkowski said of Garoppolo and Brissett's performances with Tom Brady out. "Every single day, they’re just trying to improve and progress every day. This week, you just see everyone throughout the team, everyone is just trying to progress . . . The coaches do a great job of getting the quarterbacks prepared. If there is something there that we need to get on the same page with the quarterbacks on, we’ll talk, but the coaches do an excellent job of getting the quarterbacks ready."

McAdam: Doesn't take long for second-guessing of Farrell to resume


McAdam: Doesn't take long for second-guessing of Farrell to resume

Three takeaways from the Red Sox' 6-4 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night . . . 

1) Long relief may be short for the Red Sox in the postseason

The news that Drew Pomeranz won't start Thursday and is dealing with forearm soreness was ominous -- to say the least. While the Sox aren't concerned enough to order up an MRI for the lefty, it seems a fair bet that he won't pitch again this season. Pomeranz wasn't going to crack the postseason rotation and would likely have been relegated to relief duty. Now, even that seems a stretch.

Add that development to the continued absence of Steven Wright and the Red Sox are missing 40 percent of their rotation from late July and early August.

Healthy, both would have been stretched-out and available to provide multiple innings in the postseason.

Of course, most teams would prefer to not have to rely on long men in the postseason, since their very appearance in a game would signifiy that a starter got knocked out early.

When that happens, however, it's nice to have experienced, dependable arms to cover innings and not impact the bullpen's high-leverage pitchers.

Now, in such a scenario, the Sox will likely have to turn to either Robbie Ross Jr. or Heath Hembree.

2) Is Aaron Hill heating up?

In the month of September, Hill has posted a line of .381/.409/.571. On Tuesday night, he blasted a pinch-hit homer.

Admittedly, that's a relatively small sample size. But Hill has had better at-bats of late, especially against lefties.

It's doubtful that he'll take over third base -- now or in the postseason -- full-time, since John Farrell has two left-handed hitting options, with Travis Shaw and Brock Holt. Shaw certainly more power and has shown the ability to go on hot streaks at the plate.

But Hill is a veteran player, albeit one with little postseason experience (11 at-bats in the Division Series for Arizona in 2011) for a 12-year veteran.

And one other benefit: Hill is a .373 career hitter as a pinch-hitter, making him a valuable part off the bench in games started by either Holt or Shaw.

3) One loss is all it took for the second-guessing to resurface

The Sox had won 11 straight before Tuesday's loss, which quickly re-introduced criticism of Farrell.

Starter David Price had given up four runs through six innings, but the Sox rallied for two runs off Tommy Layne in the seventh to tie things at 4-4.

At 76 pitches, Price went back out for the seventh and promptly yielded a two-run homer to Tyler Austin, giving the Yanks another two-run lead.

Price hadn't been sharp in the first six. With expanded rosters, plenty of available relievers and a rested bullpen after a day off Monday, why stick with Price?

Offered Farrell: "You go with a right-hander they’re going to go with [Mark] Teixeira and [Brian] McCann with that right-field porch,” Farrell said. “Wanted to keep the (right-handed hitters) in the ballgame, (but Price) mislocated over the plate.”