NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist received the wakeup call he waited to hear for 113 days.
Locked out for months, the NHL was indeed ready to drop the puck.
“The past is the past… lets move forward and start enjoying the best game on the planet!!” Lundqvist tweeted. “Hockey is back and I love it!!!”
Call the overseas players and tell them to come on home to New York and New Jersey and other states where the NHL only existed in the form of messy labor updates. The NHL and the players’ association agreed on a tentative pact to end the lockout and save what is left of a fractured schedule.
Let the training camps begin.
“I’m really excited to say the least,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh told the New York Daily News. “I never knew how much a lockout would affect my life. (I’m) pumped to join my teammates again and play the game I love.”
Fans can finally stop thinking about board rooms and talking heads dressed in suits. Rather, it’s time to get ready for the Blueshirts. It’s time for the Los Angeles Kings to go defend the Stanley Cup. It’s time to watch your team play, oh, about four times per week.
Sure, the Winter Classic was wiped out. The All-Star game went bust.
But at 48 or 50 games, it’s still hockey at the highest level.
“I am relieved and very excited about this agreement getting done,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal told the Daily News. “I can’t wait to start playing again with my teammates and get the game back where it belongs — on the ice.”
Brad Richards said Rangers camp “will be business as usual.”
“We as players know what to expect from (coach John Tortorella),” Richards told the New York Post. “We will be ready to sprint right away.”
One of the questions that arises now, of course, and after any sort of stoppage for that matter, is will the fans come back? This is the third labor dispute in Commissioner Gary Bettman’s tenure, and though the fans returned in the past, the jury is out this time.
NHL fan Steve Chase started the grass roots “Just Drop It” campaign that encouraged fans to skip one NHL game for every game canceled after Dec. 21st. He asked fans to pledge they would not spend a penny or a minute of their time on tickets, TV, merchandise, all things NHL.
Nearly 21,000 fans had clicked the “like” button on the group’s Facebook page by Sunday afternoon. And Chase, who lives in Los Angeles, wrote on the site he would stay true to his commitment.
“AS IT STANDS RIGHT NOW: Games canceled from Dec 21 to Jan 14th average out to 10 per team,” he wrote. “They took 10 from us, we’ll take 10 from them. No tickets, no TV, no merchandise.”
Chase said there was growing sentiment among his friends to skip the entire season. He said the league and players didn’t think enough about the part-time employees and local businesses who needed the sport to help survive the winter months.
“Look at all the bars around the rinks and all the shops that sold jerseys. They’re all getting killed,” he told The Associated Press. “We kept promoting, go to those bars and buy pizza. Keep them going. When hockey comes back, you’re going to want somewhere to go.”
Many of the NHL players can understand the chilly reception from the fans.
“To the fans that won’t come back, I can understand,” Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette wrote on Twitter. “To the ones that will, thank you for your patience. Welcome back NHL hockey.”
The New Jersey Devils have four players still overseas, including star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who could well become the team’s captain now that forward Zach Parise is in Minnesota.
The players have been locked out since Sept. 16, the day after the previous agreement expired. That deal came after an extended lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
All games through Jan. 14 had already been canceled, claiming more than 50 percent of the original schedule. Teams will hold a brief training camp, maybe a week, before starting at least a 48-game season.
“A huge thank you to Don (Fehr), his team and the players that were in the bargaining sessions, on the calls and working really hard to put the game back on the ice,” Marty Biron of the Rangers told the Daily News.
Four months later, it’s time to play. Finally.
How has the lockout affected you as a fan? Will you still watch every game? Be heard in the comments!
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)