Fans, players and businesses welcome NHL return
For some, four months without NHL hockey was four months too long.
Jan. 6 was a day of celebration for hockey fans across North America when the NHL and NHL Players Association announced they had ended their four-month stalemate and agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Players and fans breathed a sigh of relief, as the league was on the verge of cancelling the season entirely, like it did for the 2004-2005 campaign.
A week after the deal was signed, players reported to their teams for a quick, week-long training camp before the puck dropped Jan. 19 to kick off a truncated, 48-game season.
“Everybody’s been apart for so long,” said Airdronian and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Dana Tyrell.
“We’re used to playing together for eight months, so it’s been weird for everyone. (Being back) has been rejuvenating and uplifting and everyone’s fired up.”
For Tyrell, the wait for the return of NHL hockey was longer than his teammates and opponents. The 23 year old missed most of the 2011-2012 season due to an ACL injury and the reconstructive surgery it required.
His knee healed in time for what would’ve been the September start of the NHL regular season, so the four-month layoff gave him time to get back into game shape.
Tyrell was among dozens of NHLers that headed to Europe to wait out the lockout.
He played four games with the HC ’05 Banska Bystrica of the Slovak Extraliga, recording five assists, before it was announced that the lockout was over and players were to report to their NHL clubs.
Tyrell said the few games he played overseas put him a step ahead when he returned to Tampa Bay.
“It’s a big difference from playing pickup games to getting international games to get that extra jump,” he said.
“It was such a good experience and a different game over there, but I was glad I did it.”
Airdrie’s Zach Boychuk was also on the Carolina Hurricanes’ opening night roster.
Boychuk spent the first half of the season with the Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate, Charlotte Checkers.
He led the team in scoring with 32 points in 37 before joining the ‘Canes at training camp.
As of press time, Tyrell and the Lightning were 2-1 in the first week of the season while Boychuk and the Hurricanes were 0-2.
The players weren’t the only ones who felt the sting of missing the first four months of the 2012-2013 NHL season.
Many restaurants, bars and retailers in NHL cities across Canada and the United States saw business wane in the wake of the lockout with some even being forced to layoff staff.
Heather Fisher, the manager of Jersey City CrossIron Mills, said the store’s sales were down 20 per cent as a result of the lockout.
Despite being a retailer that also sells CFL, NFL, MLB and NBA memorabilia, Fisher estimated that the store draws a minimum 50 per cent of its sales from the NHL.
“It impacted us quite a bit,” she said. “Some people would come in and voice their complaints and opinions and a lot of people, like our regulars, didn’t come in at all. It hurt us.”
Business slowed during the lockout, but the floodgates opened once the deal was announce Jan. 6.
Fisher said the store sold more jerseys in a single day, the Sunday the lockout ended, then it did on any other day over the Christmas season.
With the interest of the fans back, Fisher said now the challenge is waiting for the suppliers to catch up with the renewed demand.
“It was a catch-22,” she said.
“(Over the lockout) the suppliers weren’t making anything for us to buy, so the new product wasn’t in the store. Orders are picking up, though. More people are asking and inquiring and they weren’t before.”
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