Hockey fans jubilant as puck drops on lockout-shortened NHL season
Published Saturday, January 19, 2013 11:07AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:12AM EST
Hockey fans across North America rejoiced as NHL players returned to the ice Saturday, kicking off what’s expected to be an intense shortened season after a 113-day lockout.
Devoted fans soaked it all in as five Canadian teams played for the first time Saturday. The Ottawa Senators beat the Jets 4-1 in Winnipeg, while the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
The Anaheim Ducks were scheduled to face off with the Vancouver Canucks for a Saturday evening game in Vancouver. The Canucks will play a second game in Vancouver Sunday when the team takes on the Edmonton Oilers.
South of the border, the Los Angeles Kings raised their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of the Staples Center Saturday afternoon, only to suffer a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
But hockey fans were declaring victory with the return of their beloved game and with it, incentives aimed at wooing them back such as free tickets, discount beer and popcorn, and half-price merchandise.
In L.A., the team treated fans to a street fair prior to the game, with General Manager Dean Lombardi and Kings executive Tim Leiweke greeting fans and handing out hot dogs.
In a more solemn moment before the game, the family of Ana Marquez-Greene, who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, helped the team during the banner-raising ceremony.
While some fans had vowed to boycott the shortened 48-game season, it appears as though many are ready to forgive and forget.
Myles Resnick, an 18-year-old Leafs fan who travelled from Toronto with friends to see the opener, said his love of the sport dissolved the anger he felt during the lockout.
“As soon as it was over I jumped right back on,” he said.
While the lockout became a distant memory for many fans, for others the disappointment was still fresh.
Boos could be heard in Winnipeg’s MTS Centre when Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey took to the ice before the game. Hainsey was the team’s representative during labour negotiations.
Teams have spent the past week luring crowds back to the arenas with open practices and special perks.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans enjoyed free scarves, popcorn and drinks during a practice on Thursday while hundreds of fans in Montreal braved freezing temperatures for a chance to see a Habs scrimmage.
The Tampa Bay Lightning offered 200 season tickets at just $200 each, and in Chicago fans will be on the receiving end of an appreciation program that will see autographed jerseys, pucks, sticks and free tickets doled out.
A new Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll suggests a strong majority of Canadian hockey fans will keep watching when the NHL returns -- despite the league's third work stoppage in 20 years.
The survey found that 66 per cent of respondents said they would watch about the same amount of hockey as before, while 23 per cent indicated they would watch less.
While the majority of Canadian fans are embracing hockey’s return, some teams south of the border are expected to see a significant drop in revenue.
“The top third of teams will be just fine and fans will come flocking back because there’s just such a high demand, and many of those teams are Canadian teams,” said Jim Boone, co-founder of the NHL Fans’ Association.
Boone told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the bottom third of teams could see a double-digit drop in revenue that will affect the league’s bottom line.
“That could bring down the entire league revenue by two, three, four per cent. So I think there’s going to be a substantial impact,” he said.
Boone said the backlash from the 2012 lockout was much more muted than past labour disputes, though many fans promised to reprimand the league financially by refusing to purchase tickets and team merchandise.
“Certainly, fans believe they have an opportunity on a micro-basis, on an individual basis, to punish the league for what they did to the fans.”
An online campaign sparked during the lockout is urging fans to ignore the 2013 season – at least for a little while.
More than 22,000 individuals have joined the “Just Drop It” campaign which calls for a boycott of the NHL’s first 10 games.
Campaign co-founder Steve Chase said he hopes to send a message to both the NHL and NHL players’ association to take their fans into consideration during the next round of contract negotiations.
“When we started this, it wasn’t a vindictive thing,” Chase said Saturday.
The campaign called for the boycott of each NHL game lost to the lockout after Dec. 21.
Chase said if each of the 22,000 supporters follows through with their pledge to ignore 10 games, the league stands to lose $6.5 million.
“If they don’t notice $6.5 million, they’ve got too much money I guess,” said Chase, a Montreal native who currently lives in Los Angeles.
“There are two groups of people dividing our money,” he continued. “They should have considered us way earlier and maybe this would have ended way earlier.”
With files from The Canadian Press