The room is quiet. The lights are off.

“Anybody out there?” the puck says.

“I don’t hear anything,” says the stick.

The lockers stand empty, side by side, collecting dust. The names are still there. “Yzerman” next to “Shanahan” next to “Joseph.” The names are still there, but the players are not.

“Probably a traffic jam,” the puck says.

“Yeah,” says the stick. “You know construction this time of year.”

The equipment room is dark. The skate sharpeners haven’t been touched. The replacement blades, the Ace bandages, the rolls of tape — all sit on shelves like attic storage.

This is the week the NHL was to begin. Tonight the Red Wings would have started their campaign. TV sets in metro Detroit would be tuned to the broadcast, announcers would smile before a big patch of frozen white. Families would hang flags on their minivans. Bars would be crowded with beer-hoisting viewers. Hockeytown would come alive. Hockeytown would be open for business.

Instead, the ice is bumpy and ignored. The seats are folded up. The TV cameras are nowhere in sight. Hockeytown is full of ghosts.

“You’d think a few fans would have come by now,” the puck says.

“Yeah,” the stick replies. “Usually somebody gets here early just to catch a glimpse. You know how fans are.”

We know how fans are. Fans are rabid. Fans are intense. Fans in Detroit live for hockey season. At least they used to.

But there are no fans here now.

No fans. No hockey.

No outrage.

Millionaires vs. millionaires

“I bet they’re outside the building,” the puck says, rolling toward the exit door. “I’ll bet there’s lots of them, waiting for the doors to open.”

“Go check,” the stick says. “I’d go, but, you know, I’m a stick.”

A minute passes. Two minutes. The puck rolls back in.

“Anything?” the stick says.

“Nothing,” the puck says, glumly.

Nothing? How is that possible? Could it be that fans are gassed when it comes to pro sports? Could it be that they just don’t care who’s right or wrong when it comes to multimillion-dollar players and multimillion-dollar owners? Could it be that we were told about this lockout for so long, month after month — year after year, even — that when it came and neither side did anything to stop it, the fans turned off?

Or could it be that we just don’t miss hockey that much, because a hole in the sports calendar is like a hole dug in sand, it fills up quickly with other sand. And soon no one notices the hole anymore.

“How about the coaches’ room?” the puck says.

“I’ll look,” says the stick.

“Yeah, stick your nose in.”

“Very funny,” says the stick.

The coaches aren’t coming. The trainers aren’t coming. The masseurs, the vendors, the Zamboni driver. No one is coming. No one is here. It isn’t just a game that is shut down, it’s a world.

“Anything?” says the puck.

“Empty,” says the stick.

For some, a trip to Europe

On the day the season would have opened, Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said there hadn’t been a new proposal since early September. It is now mid-October. “It is, sad to say,” he opined, “better for some teams not to operate than to operate under the old system.”

So both sides sit. Both sides moan. Both sides blame the other for a stalemate.

Meanwhile, players skate in Europe — some of them — or play golf — some of them — or try out for bobsled teams — one of them. Most do nothing. They try to stay in shape. They find ice here or there. They run errands. Nothing.

“Well, they’re gonna have to push back the start time,” the puck says. “Somebody’s got to freeze me.”

“Yeah,” says the stick. “And I’m not even taped yet. I can’t go out there naked.”

Just then a sound. Footsteps. One set. Then another. Then another. Then another.

“You hear that?” says the puck.

“I knew it!” says the stick. “We’re too big to be ignored. We’re hockey, for heaven’s sake! You can’t forget hockey!”

“You can’t forget hockey!” says the puck.

“Listen to those footsteps,” says the stick.

“Yeah, baby!” says the puck.

The feet rumble. The door rustles. Suddenly, it swings opens wide.

“Hey,” says the octopus, “where is everybody?”

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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