First they came for the players,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a player.
Then they came for the mascots,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a mascot.
Them they came for the zamboni drivers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a zamboni driver.
Then they came for the fans,
and there was no one left to speak for the fans.
- with apologies to Martin Niemöller
The golden brown anthropomorphic panther burst through the front door with the last of his strength, collapsing on the floor with a gasp of pain.
“Ah! Who’s there?!” cried out Thunderbug, her antennae quivering in confusion. “St…Stanley? Is that you?”
Beneath the torn jersey and patches of mud and blood, Stanley C. Panther was barely recognizable. His usual cheerful grin was contorted into a grimace. He tried to push himself up into a sitting position, but his arms buckled beneath him and he once again collapsed to the floor. Thunderbug rushed to his side.
“Don’t try to move,” she said, “I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No,” gasped Stanley, “It’s…too late for that. I came to warn you.”
“Of what? Who did this to you?”
“He…he’ll come for you too. He’ll come for all of you.”
“Who, Stanley, who?”
Stanley managed just two more syllables before he breathed his last: “Bett….man.”
“This is the work of Deven Dark, I’m sure of it.”
The man standing in front of the gathered heroes dressed like a seven-year-old’s idea of a Roman centurion, yet spoke with an easy confidence. The crowd was colourful and diverse. Men in futuristic armour stood alongside wild-haired beasts. One appeared to be a giant tree in a blue leotard, while another carried a giant golden saxophone. The one with the head of a shark appeared to be wearing water-skis indoors.
“Only the evil machinations of a man like Dark could cause a second lockout in eight years. Pride and ego only go so far and it simply doesn’t make good business sense to push for a lockout when the NHL is at the height of its popularity. No, there must be something sinister behind it all.”
There were murmurs of agreement throughout the room. A man who appeared to be dressed as a colour-blind version of Wolverine in a trenchcoat spoke up. “We have to free Gary Bettman from Deven Dark’s control! He’s innocent!”
Everyone turned and stared in disbelief.
“He…he saved my life.”
A man in a flight suit with the logo of a tornado with the head of a bird smacked him upside the head. “Quiet Coyote. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Senator, please continue.”
“Thank you Thrasher,” replied the centurion. “We were created to be the guardians of the NHL. To protect the fans from evil. We have not done our jobs. Concussions have claimed the seasons of star players. Ugly defensive hockey nearly took over the NHL playoffs. Columbus somehow lost the draft lottery.”
At this, a robot with far too many cannons attached to him and what appeared to be cowboy boots shouted out, “We’re not going to take this anymore!”
“No, we’re not,” said the Senator. “This time they have gone too far. This time, they have threatened to take hockey away from the fans. We’re not going to let this stand. We are the Guardians of the NHL! They may have forgotten us, but we shall never abandon them! This is our hour! This is when they need us most!”
“Guardians! To the NHL Store in New York! It’s time for a sit-in!”
To the Senator’s chagrin, the expected cheers of assent never came. “Uh, that’s it?” said the Canuck, scratching his fin. “That’s your big plan?”
“Well, uh, yeah,” he replied, “I mean, if you follow me on Twitter, I’m going to organize a petition too. I mean, I figure if we get people on social media talking about it enough, that will flush Deven Dark out of hiding…”
“Everything is going according to plan.”
Alex Ovechkin stared at the floor in front of him as he bowed down on one knee. He chanced a brief glance at the man seated in the shadows, but could not discern his face. To the right of the man’s chair – no, throne – stood Vladimir Putin, his face illuminated enough for Ovechkin to see him staring into his eyes, his mouth pulled tight in a grin that almost looked hungry. Ovechkin had to look away.
To the man’s left was Alexander Medvedev, who wasn’t looking at Ovechkin. Instead, his eyes flitted from the floor to the ceiling and sweat beaded on his forehead.
“I have done as you asked,” said Ovechkin to Medvedev. “I have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the North Americans. Now they will question the wisdom of this lockout. But I do not understand why you asked me to perform so poorly last season. Now the threat of my leaving is lessened.”
Medvedev looked out of the corner of his eyes towards Ovechkin and breathed in as if to speak, then looked away once more, silent.
“Everything you have done has been according to my plan,” said the shadowed figure on the throne. “The pitiful unions of North America accomplish so little. They must be torn apart before real revolution can take place. We will start with this pathetic National Hockey League. We will overthrow this bourgeois enterprise and establish hockey for the people.”
The figure leaned forward into the light, his pale grey flesh and enormous moustache now clearly visible. “I, Zombie Stalin, shall bring about the revolution that none have been able to accomplish before me. I shall spread communism throughout the world and hockey shall be my vanguard. This is year one of my five-year-plan and you, my dear Alexander, shall carry my banner.”
“This new war shall be very cold indeed.”
“One more year. That’s all I’ve got left. And now they want to take it away from me.”
The man at the bar stared mournfully into his glass of beer, while brushing one hand through his curly blonde hair. The bartender was only half-listening while washing glasses. It was nearing closing time and the man at the bar was the only one left and it didn’t look like he was leaving any time soon.
“It’s like they’re out to get me. And why? Because I hit Darcy Tucker from behind once? I mean, no one likes him anyway. That can’t be it.”
To the bartender’s dismay, another man walked through the front door. He had an oddly-shaped face and a bizarre caterpillar of a moustache.
“Teemu, you made it.”
“Daniel,” nodded the newcomer. He took a seat at the bar. “I’ll have what he’s having.”
“Is Jaromir coming?” asked Daniel.
“He couldn’t make it. Said something about some business to take care of and a party later. It’s like he thinks he’s 20 again.”
“This is it, right? This is how it ends, with a whimper. Shakespeare.”
“T.S. Eliot,” replied Teemu.
There was silence as the two men slowly drank their beer, pondering their own mortality. The bartender started putting chairs up on tables, desperately praying they would just leave already. Daniel finally spoke up.
“Why do they hate us, Teemu?”
“They don’t, Daniel. At least, they don’t hate me. Everyone loves me.”
“Then why are they doing this to us?”
“Fear. They’re afraid. Afraid of what we might become. Afraid that we’ll become something so great that they can never surpass us. We are legends. Well, I am. And Jaromir. You’re pretty okay, too.”
“Yeah,” sighed Daniel, “I guess I am.”
Just then, another man walked into the bar. The bartender cussed under his breath.
“Hey, Jaromir said you were getting together tonight? Why didn’t you invite me? I mean, I’ve won a Stanley Cup and everything.”
“Uh, right. Hi Ray. Sorry,” muttered Teemu.
“I mean, I might be losing my final season too. Doesn’t that matter to anybody?”
“No, it matters, Ray,” replied Daniel, before quickly finishing his beer.
“I have over 1000 points in my career.”
“You sure do,” said Teemu, pulling out his wallet and shoving a few bills next to his still-full glass.
“They call me the Wizard!”
“Which is totally a great nickname,” said Daniel, putting on his jacket.
“I have a fan club.”
“I’m sure you do, buddy,” said Teemu, clapping Ray on the back, “Wow, would you look at the time. Hey Daniel, we’ve got that thing tomorrow, right? That thing?”
“Yes, that thing in the morning,” replied Daniel, “We’d better get going or else we won’t get enough sleep. Gotta be well-rested for that thing. See you later, Ray.”
“Oh, c’mon guys. I’m one of the old-guard. People are sad that they might not see me play my final season too. Come on.”
Teemu and Daniel stepped out into the night, with Ray trailing after them. Inside, the bartender gratefully locked the door behind them.
“God I hope the lockout ends soon. I don’t know if I can take much more of this.”