Welcome to Hockey Hell

Last night I took a walk through the woods near my house. It was chilly, and I had only my hockey jersey and commemorative toque to warm me. In the distance, I spied a fire, framed between two L-shaped maple trees. I made my way over to it, and when I pushed through the bushes that ringed the clearing, I saw a short, bald man standing there, looking in my direction, waiting for me.

“You should not have come to this place,” he said.

“That’s what you think,” I said. I was drunk.

“This,” he said, sweeping an arm towards the fire, which now glowed and pulsed in a most unnatural way, “is the entrance to Hockey Hell.”

The fire roared and grew larger, then seemed to split its very self in half to form a gaping opening. I whistled.

“Do you care to see the inferno?”

“You bet, eh,” I agreed.

With that, we descended down into Hockey Hell.

**

In the First Circle, what my guide calls Limbo, are those who did not actively sin themselves, but made no active attempt at salvation, either. This circle is a cruel mockup of heaven: an empty, impotent effigy of paradise. I tread lightly across what seems to be an NHL ice rink, but is instead upolstered with grass, turf, parquet hardwood, and clay. Tennis and basketball fans wail the screams of the damned, and I manage to catch but bits and pieces of their lamentations.

“Wimbledon…prestige!” “Jordan…Pippen…KERR!” “Intentional grounding!”

This is a place of unmitigated horror and lives misspent.

My guide and I descend into the Second Circle, and the distorted cathode-tube sounds of R. Kelly and Boyz II Men reveal this, in no uncertain terms, to be the realm of Lust. Indeed, upon turning a corner of prophylactic stalactites, I lay eyes upon a veritable orgy of unfettered desire. Here, John McCain kisses an architectural model of his never-to-be presidential library. Here, Steve Jobs makes sweaty love to an Apple prototype. Here, MTV executives whisper sweet nothings to impressionable mannequins from Limited Too. And here, I find Jaromir Jagr.

He is groping his own chest, which contains two oblong, rather lumpy, cash-filled breast implants stamped with comically oversized dollar signs. His skin is a horrible patchwork of various NHL team crests and colors, and his famous mullet has been replaced with a foul-smelling, iron-branded “trademark” symbol. Contracts worth exorbitant sums line his den like rancid litter. Despite having spent eternity here, he looks like he could be game ready in a week or two.

Next, we descend to the Third Circle, the realm of Gluttony. Now, gluttony can be many things. It can be the run-of-the-mill food-based kind, as evidenced by Jets’ blueliner Dustin Byfuglien’s presence here, stuck suckling caramel syrup in sort awful dystopian Tim Horton’s. But the worst kind of gluttony is the kind that manifests itself, at its core, as selfishness. Here, we find those who only cared enough to consume and consume as it benefited themselves. Lying face down in the icy slush of gluttonous hell we find Tim Thomas, former Bruins goalie.

Thomas, who fancies himself some sort of Tea Party, doomsday prepper, economic canary-in-an-apocalyptic coal mine, famously refused to visit the White House to meet President Obama when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Of course, as Thomas correctly foresaw, everyone cared tremendously about the political masturbations of a chubby hockey goalie, and Obama’s reputation has never recovered.

Here lies Thomas, forever face down in the infernal muck, yelling about jet fuel and steel beams.

Shaken, I stagger away from the sight and continue on to the Fourth Circle, Greed. Here, through the fog of unfathomable suffering made manifest, I spy two warring factions in battle. They are rolling large, cumbersome, mammoth bags of money towards one another in some kind of joust. As the bags collide, coins fly out and some horde of damned peons gathers up the change. The two factions then gather up their Sisyphean burdens and begin the joust once more.

As I manage to escape between the folds of the money bags, I spot each side printed with NHLPA and NHL, respectively.

My guide shows me a ladder down to the Fifth Circle, the home of Anger. The river Styx lays before me, filled with the furious wails of irate NHL fan bases. Old, out-of-date, mustard-stained jerseys fill the foul river with the smell of stale glory days, and those who know not but venom, bile, and vitriol scream obscenities and type Internet comments onto ribcage keyboards. I see a disproportionate amount of Flyers fans.

Quickly now, on down to the Sixth Circle, Heresy. Here, entombed in a flaming, crypt-like NBC Sports studio, is the charred corpse of Mike Milbury. Berated and whipped by demons for denouncing the True Hockey Gospel, he continues to wail about how Alex Ovechkin doesn’t backcheck. No aid will come for him, and I spit on the ground as I hurry past.

Into Lower Hell, my guide and I encounter the Seventh Circle, reserved for those who commit violence against nature. Peering down, I see whole doomed cities, lightning and thunder crashing over them, their very municipal existence an affront to the laws of nature. Looking closely, I can make out distinct landmarks, like spotting the town halls of Sodom and Gomorrah. These, however, bear the distinctly bland shape of hockey arenas.

There, ringed in fire, are the homes of the Atlanta Thrashers and the Arizona Coyotes, hockey rinks in the South, thorns in God’s side. In the distance, more translucent than the rest, obscured in the temporal haze, I make out the recognizable outline of the Las Vegas strip.

I avert my eyes in dumbstruck terror.

Down now we go to the Eighth Circle of Hell, Fraud. Beneath me I can see a herd of damned souls in exquisite suits being repeatedly lacerated by a whirlwind of razor-edged papers. I can just discern the words “public good” and “gentrification” over their howls. A piece of paper whips by me, and I manage to grab it. I scan the paper feverishly. It is a maelstrom of publicly-funded stadium proposals, and these, NHL owners.

I throw a cup of lemon juice and salt over my shoulder as I hustle on.

Finally, an ice-cold chill wraps my veins and I realize that this must be it, the Ninth and final Circle of Hell: Treachery. Here dwell those who betray those who trust them. Judas Iscariot, Benedict Arnold, and the most famous traitors in history receive their eternal, righteous punishment here, gnashed between the teeth of demons themselves. I look to my guide for a cue, and notice he is gone.

Twirling, I scan for him, and spot him dutifully climbing one of the demons, making his way for the mouth. I shout at him to stop, and he looks at me. I recognize him for the first time, and I fall to my knees in recognition of what is now inescapably true: there is a righteous God, and I worship him.

Gary Bettman, my guide, looks away from me for one last time and continues on, finding his place in the mouth of the infernal predator, and, taking his rightful place amongst the great betrayers of the ages, gets his ass chewed out by Satan himself.

***

Jason Rogers is a hockey writer based in the Washington DC area. You should follow him on Twitter.

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