Pittsburgh fans, businesses welcome NHL's return
Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby during workouts today at the team's practice facility in Southpointe.
Pittsburgh Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby eyes up the puck during workouts today at the team's practice facility in Southpointe.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby makes his way to the ice for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2009. The NHL has reached an agreement to end the lockout, meaning hockey will return this season.
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The only action people have been able to watch on ice these past few weeks has been the skaters and resurfacing machines making the rounds on local public skating rinks like the Rink at PPG Place and Penguins Pond at Station Square.
But local hockey fans on Sunday greeted with joy the news of an agreement ending the National Hockey League lockout and the prospect of the Penguins beginning a truncated season as early as late next week.
Larry Kerwin of Oakdale summed up the feeling in one word: "Ecstatic."
"It's long overdue," he added.
Hockey is his favorite sport, and he thought the season would be canceled. He couldn't even bring himself to watch reruns of classic games on TV during the great hockey drought of 2012-13. "It was a tease," he said, because it made him miss the real-time season all the more. "For a hockey fan like me, it was very painful."
Sunday was a great day for Pittsburgh hockey fans in particular, Mr. Kerwin said, adding: "We have a wonderful building, owner and team. We're very blessed to have them."
"It's a happy day around here," Dennis Ross of Brookline said. "It's been a long time coming. I thought for sure it would have been done by now."
Like many fans, he was not happy with the on-again, off-again negotiations process, which he pegged as "a lot people letting their egos get in the way of what made the sport great in the first place."
Carissa Joseph of Cranberry was happy to hear that the NHL owners and players had reached an agreement. The longtime fan said the delayed season start has been hard on the league as well as its fans. "They were finally getting their momentum back" and expanding their fan base after the 2004-05 lockout, she said.
Mike Mulhern of Lawrenceville doesn't think the fans will hold a grudge.
"I don't think there's going to be huge fallout from the fan base," he said. "I find it difficult to believe that passionate hockey fans aren't going to be back. It rivals the Steelers at this point in time. There's nothing going on sports-wise at the moment.
"If anybody wants to put up a boycott, I'll be happy to take their season tickets."
Not everybody was dancing in the street. Tony Niederberger of Observatory Hill said he is not a fan, noting that the violence in the game turns him off and the labor strife has, too.
"They have more money than they know what to do with" he said. "The players make millions. What have they solved? They lost a half-year's pay."
The chatter on social media was a mixed bag. The LetsGoPens fan Twitter account was trending by Sunday morning. For most who posted there, it was as if they had woken up to find one last present under the Christmas tree.
Reaction was chillier on the NHL's Facebook page and in the reader reactions to Sunday's news reports. Season-ticket holders and other fans vented frustration, and some called for free tickets to make things right again.
Another group that has been locked out -- of making money -- is the businesses near Consol Energy Center, which rely on pre- and post-game crowds for a large part of their revenues. The lockout has created around $2.2 million in losses for businesses and tourism for every game not played, according to VisitPittsburgh.
"I'm ecstatic," said Terrie Rihn, who has worked at Pizza Milano in Uptown for 14 years. "I miss the fans, the fun and the excitement. And I'm not going to lie: I miss the money."
First Published January 7, 2013 12:00 am