With lockout over, fans join players at NHL training camps
Published Sunday, January 13, 2013 7:11PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 13, 2013 8:26PM EST
It appears that NHL fans are ready to forgive and forget the 113-day lockout, as thousands of them lined up on Sunday to attend the opening of training camps across the league.
There had been some concerns that fans would be bitter about the second lockout in less than a decade, and reluctant to fork over cash for tickets and merchandise. But they lined up outside arenas from Manitoba to Florida to watch their favourite players step on the ice for the first time in months.
In Winnipeg, about 5,000 fans showed up to watch their team’s first practice, while in Tampa Bay, several thousand attended a team-hosted fan fest before the Lightning took to the ice. To the surprise of Avalanche players, fans nearly filled their facility in Englewood, Colo., and greeted them with a huge ovation when they skated onto the ice.
In Pittsburgh, about 500 fans watched their Penguins practice at a suburban rink, while in Toronto, hundreds of fans poured into the team’s west-end training facility to watch practice and have their pictures taken with players, such as Captain Dion Phaneuf.
In New Jersey, about 2,000 fans crammed into the Philadelphia Flyers’ training rink, where cars were eventually turned away from the parking lot.
Flyers fan Adam Silver of Cherry Hill, N.J. told The Associated Press that the lockout won’t keep fans from coming back.
“These are the true fans,” Silver said of Flyers’ supporters who stood on tables and risked having their cars towed to attend practice.
“No matter what the league does or what they throw at them, they're the ones that are going to show up."
The Flyers announced the team will host a second free practice on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Amid the goodwill on Sunday, many clubs announced measures to woo fans with more than just a winning record. Teams used the opening of training camp to announce special deals, ranging from discounted tickets to cheap beer and popcorn, in order to fill seats.
In Ottawa, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk appealed to “die-hard” fans, saying: “I just want you guys back.”
The team is offering fans free parking on opening night, free admission to children 14 years old and younger at four home games, and popcorn and pop for $1 at seven home games. Merchandise will also be discounted by 50 per cent during the team’s home opener until the end of the game.
Other teams are opening practices during the abbreviated training camp, including the Montreal Canadiens, who will let fans in to an intrasquad game free of charge on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
The NHL’s 2012-13 season launched a week after the league and players’ association announced that they had reached a tentative deal after a marathon 16-hour bargaining session.
U.S. federal mediator Scot L. Beckenbaugh helped the two sides finally agree to terms, which were officially released Saturday night.
As sources had revealed earlier in the week, the deal is for 10 years but includes an opt-out clause that kicks in after eight.
The deal calls for:
- A 50-50 split of hockey-related revenue between owners and players.
- A seven-year cap on player contracts, or eight years when a team is re-signing its own player.
- A $64.3 million salary cap in 2013-14.
- A 35 per cent yearly variance in salary and no more than a 50 per cent difference between any two seasons.
- A playoff pool that doubles in size to $13 million for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
- A new defined-benefit pension plan for players.
Owners voted Wednesday to ratify the deal, with players following suit in a 36-hour electronic voting session that ended Saturday morning.
After players voted overwhelmingly to ratify the new agreement, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding on Saturday night, and the league announced that camps would officially get underway Sunday.
Players will have less than a week to prepare for regular-season hockey, as the shortened, 48-game regular-season schedule begins on Jan. 19 without a pre-season to work out the kinks.
Notable games on opening day include Ottawa at Winnipeg and Toronto at Montreal.