The brown paper bag crowd

My latest round of life without hockey will last all of eight days.

The World Junior Hockey Championship, with its rather forgettable and disappointing gold medal game, ended on Jan. 5.

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But now we have the NHL season ready to start on Jan. 13, with all of the joy and excitement associated with the season’s start.

Yes, we’re all undefeated. And we’re all as close to winning the Stanley Cup as the other teams.

It’s been the rallying cry of Vancouver Canucks fans like myself throughout our franchise history. There’s always next year. We’re all undefeated right now.

Fifty years. Zero Stanley Cups. A couple of close calls, but no victory parades.

Many years, a brown paper bag to wear over your head has been a recommended accessory for Canucks fans.

Most hockey fans are happy to have the NHL back, but there are a lot of people who are upset. It’s pretty hard to sell the return of the NHL to critics when there’s been a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the six non-Atlantic provinces, which has forced new restrictions to be implemented, people to be unemployed once again and overall mental health among many to take another hit.

Furthermore, self-isolation requirements for players from outside of Canada were waived for the Canadian teams to be able to play.

And we’ve seen health officials allow these teams to play, while leagues at different levels, from young kids to adult recreation, have had their seasons put on hold. Some leagues haven’t even started play this season.

It’s not just non-hockey fans that are ticked. There are a lot of hockey fans who are miffed that the NHL is being allowed to play. We’ll see if their anger subsides once the season starts.

The league won’t be using the bubble format, which worked so well for the Stanley Cup playoffs in Edmonton and Toronto, but there won’t be any fans allowed in the stands, and you can be sure there will be pretty rigorous testing and cleaning standards.

Despite all of this, I am looking forward to the season beginning.

And hey, the Canucks have reason for hope. We had a pretty good season in 2019-20. Won 10 playoff games – the fourth-most in franchise history. Knocked off the reigning Stanley Cup champions (the St. Louis Blues) for the second time in franchise history. Took a powerful Vegas Golden Knights team to Game 7 of our quarter-final series.

The young players are a year older, with another year of experience. Some players are gone, some good players are in. And Loui Eriksson and his $6 million salary have been placed on waivers.

Bonus: all of the Canadian NHL teams are in the same division. Since you have seven Canadian NHL teams, you couldn’t force them to play on the road all season like the Toronto Blue Jays in MLB and the Toronto Raptors in the NBA. So Canadian teams only play Canadian teams, and American teams, split into three divisions, play teams in their respective divisions.

My guess is that the all-Canadian division will get pretty tired by about Week 4 of the regular season, and it’ll be mundane by the end of the season. How many times can I watch the Canucks play the Ottawa Senators?

Life without hockey has been an on-again, off-again affair for the past five months. The NHL resumed in early August, giving me something I thought I would never enjoy – mid-summer hockey. The hockey was pretty good, especially when my beloved Canucks were beating St. Louis.

The playoffs ended in early October, but a few weeks later, the local hockey season began.

That lasted about a month, when a public health order suspended the season, unless you’re part of a minor hockey team that can practise with up to eight people, while maintaining a social distance of three metres.

We had a month without hockey, and then the World Juniors started, giving us two or three games a day. And it was great. Until the gold medal game.

So here we sit, on the cusp of another hockey season. We don’t know how long it’s going to last, if there’s going to be a suspension due to COVID-19, or if they’re going to finish the season, including the playoffs.

But at least for a little while, I can enjoy watching the games.

And get an extra helping of action involving Canadian teams, even if it becomes a little much.

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