OUR LONG NATIONAL nightmare is over; check that - Canada's long national nightmare is over:The National Hockey League is back, baby!Midweek Predators-Coyotes games. John Tortorella news conferences. Andy Sutton suspensions. Late June Stanley Cup finals.During the 113-day lockout, I felt like a woodchuck without wood. Over the years, I had come to depend on the NHL as a faithful companion on many cold, lonely nights in southern California. Then, suddenly, I was lost and confused on the couch, caged in my own personal, hellish penalty box.It's like the old song goes: "I can't live/if living is without the NHL/I can't live/I can't give anymore."I even got into a lockout routine: Every evening I'd TiVo NBC Sports Network before going to sleep, hoping that when I arose the next morning, my DVR would be filled with live NHL action on tape. And every morning I'd awaken to boxing, auto racing and "World of Adventure Sports."Losing the NHL was similar to the withdrawal I feel every time McDonald's pulls the McRib from the menu; you can never know if and when those succulent babies are going to return. What am I supposed to do, wander into Arby's and order the Arby-Q?I'd buy one of those "I Hate Gary Bettman" T-shirts, but it would clash with my "David Stern Is an Egomaniacal Despot" sweat pants.How brutal was this lockout? The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin committed the cardinal sin of having too much time off - HE GOT ENGAGED. He'd be better off getting pinned against the boards by the Penguins' Matt Cooke.Meanwhile, Devils star Ilya Kovalchuck is still in Russia - he's been playing for St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League - because he's unwilling to pay the change fees on Delta.(Column Intermission I: I believe Joe Flacco's 70-yard fling-and-a-prayer to Jacoby Jones Saturday that led to the Broncos' defeat was the darkest moment in Team of Destiny history. I have been unable to move off the sofa since that pass was completed - it's now approaching 48 hours since I have had food or water - and unless I can find a licensed therapist to make a house call, it is possible I will not watch another NFL game in this or any subsequent lifetime.)
(Column Intermission II: Remember the June 15, 2011 riots in Vancouver after the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals? Well, Sophie Laboissonniere - who was a Miss Congeniality winner at a Vancouver beauty pageant - just pleaded guilty for rioting that night. Miss Congeniality was rioting? That's like a member of PETA running a dog-fighting racket.)(Column Intermission III: After a brief pep talk to coach Tom Crowell, the Robinson twins and my stepson Isaiah - I told them to step up their game or get out of Dodge - the Springbrook High boys basketball team is back on track. Denying Isaiah dessert three straight nights did wonders.)Here are the particulars of what's left of the NHL's 2012-13 season: Because of the rush back to the ice, NHL training camps began Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. and ended Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m., with a light lunch served at noon.
There will be a 48-game schedule. The season is so compressed, some games might forego the second intermission.
No Winter Classic. But with everyone bemoaning the game's loss, I suggest making it the Springtime Classic - it still feels like winter during April in Michigan anyway! As it were, many NHL owners issued an apology to fans. Oh, really? They're apologizing for hijacking the game? They're apologizing for making even more money? They're apologizing for costing arena workers and other businesses lots of cash? No. They're apologizing strictly for public-relations purposes.
Of course, the emptiest apology of all came from Bettman, who sort of assured us this won't happen again.Uh, I'm not a believer - once an accident, twice a trend, three times a ritual.Hey, I'm not going to be caught with my skates off again - the current NHL labor deal is good for eight years - so I'm already planning for the next, inevitable lockout. I just booked passage on Travelocity for February 2021:Carnival in Rio, baby!Ask The SlouchQ. Re: Brent Musburger calling Katherine Webb "beautiful" during BCS title game. Dirty old man or innocuous observation? (Robert Grove; Spokane, Wash.)A. Two issues here: (1) Am I the only one who found Miss Alabama unattractive? (2) Lay off Brent. Then again, I comment on how good-looking men are during poker telecasts.Q. When the NFL fines a player for an illegal hit, what percentage should the "hit" player receive? (Ed Shade; Hurricane, W.Va.)A. I love this concept: Ed Reed should just sign over 25 percent of his penalties to the assailed player.Q. Any truth to the rumor that Mike Shanahan has cleared Robert Griffin III to play in the Pro Bowl? (Russell Riley; Charlottesville, Va.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!