Josh Endsley is an avid Pittsburgh Penguins fan and hockey fan in general. He’s a long-time reader and several-time contributor to Faceoff-Factor.

You hear that, hockey fans? That’s the sound of the NHL dinner bell. Food will be on the table shortly.

For months you have been understandably frustrated by a roller coaster ride that has had more peaks and valleys than the Phantom’s Revenge. One day, you were cursing the name Gary Bettman for once again depriving you NHL hockey at the expense of his own agenda. The next day you were faulting the players for allowing Donald Fehr to ruin the progress of the sport. You threatened to boycott games and cancel season tickets. You mused that the casual fan would never return and feared that the sport’s growth had been irreparably derailed. You promised to never give another cent to the owners or players.

Nothing more than empty words – the hollow groans of a starving hockey fan.

You’re going back. Just as strong as ever. You know it.

And so am I.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll probably run out and buy a new Pens hat, heck, maybe even a Brandon Sutter shersey, despite the price tags hitting all-time highs. I’ll be scouring StubHub for tickets I can barely afford, since the cost of attending a game remains just as exuberant as ever. I can guarantee you that I’ll be that maniac on the highway, swerving through traffic like I’m running from the cops, hoping to get home in time to catch the puck drop of the first Penguins-Flyers game of the season.

All this after this league and these players selfishly deprived me of the game I so deeply love. Again. For the second time in seven years. Despite the unpaid hours I’ve spent trying to grow the game, just by talking to my friends and acquaintances to the glory that is the NHL. Despite my loyalty and commitment
to the brand.

Still, I’m going back. Arguably, more excited than ever.

But I did come to a major realization over the course of this lockout.

To my core, I am a fan of premium, world-class hockey and everything that comes with it.

Ultimately, I am loyal to the product. Not this league. Not these players.

Simply put, I’ve realized that I’m just a consumer. As a consumer, I’m inherently loyal to a good product, sometimes in spite of its supplier. In this case, I’m loyal to the game of hockey played at the highest level. This league, its teams, its players, and all the products that bear their logos and names are merely symbols for the product I love. I’ve realized that if there was another league offering the same high-quality brand of hockey the NHL does, I’d be gone.

And I wouldn’t look back.

But I don’t have a choice. No matter how terrible it is, the NHL is the only supplier of my favorite product. If I wish to consume the best hockey the world has to offer, I have no choice – I must go to them.

And so I am going back.

But when the puck drops in a few short weeks, I’ll be watching with a clear reason for why I‘m watching. Sure, I’ll be full of excitement and anticipation of what this shortened season will bring. I’ll probably go to a few games and even buy a new hat or jersey. But I’ll do so knowing I’m no longer a loyal fan of the

I am loyal fan of hockey.