Fans appear happy to have their
The National Hockey League is alive and well - at least for one weekend.
With a 10-year collective bargaining agreement in its back pocket, the league opened to a rousing collection of capacity crowds, as enthusiastic throngs filled arenas across North America.
Close to home, 19,289 crammed the Saddledome Sunday while on the west coast, 18,910 took in the Oilers and Canucks. Capacity crowds also took in home openers on Saturday in Canada, as another sellout greeted Vancouver, 15,004 were in Winnipeg and Montreal filled 21,273 seats. Even Florida saw 19,688 customers come through the turnstiles Saturday, while Phoenix amassed 17,363 visitors for a Sunday contest against Chicago.
It would seem, at least on first glance, the long, drawn-out, hard-fought lockout has done little to damper the enthusiasm of hockey fans in most markets. In fact, owners and players had to know, at the very least, fans in Canada and the strong hockey markets in the United States would flock back to the game which was taken away in a sad dispute over power and money.
That hunch was certainly correct, as that lack of respect toward the average, everyday fan has not, and likely will not, come back to haunt the NHL in many of its key markets. At our core, Canadians love hockey, and it seems no matter how many roundhouse shots to the head we take, and how many times the goons in suits pull our jerseys over our heads and assault us with hockey-related revenue talk, we will come back.
But that is just a small piece of the equation. How many tickets NHL clubs sell, how many hot dogs are consumed and how many jerseys fly off the shelves in team-owned stores inside the arena tell only part of the story.
For many in these hockey-mad markets, a lot of damage has already been done. As Saturday's Herald told the story of local businesses who rely in part on the NHL machine to pay their bills, the situation was far more grim in cities that actually have professional teams.
Paycheques were lost by team employees, and those who make a significant chunk of their living based on those 41 homes game each year, along with preseason contests, have been squeezed by a situation they could not control. That is the real story of this lockout.
As for the condensed 48-game schedule, it should be nothing but good news for sports bars, which felt the pinch of a wiped-out September-December, as jam-packed schedules will mean no shortage of patrons from here on out. Whether fans will be as interested in games that stretch into late June, however, will be another story.
Make no mistake, there are a large number of disgruntled fans, many of whom have vowed to stay away from the NHL. But the cries for boycotts and other mass action from fans have all but disappeared with the return of professional hockey.
It seems, at least for the time being, NHL fans have elected to forgive and forget.
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