NHL Training Camps Open In Front Of Packed Crowds Around The League
NHL training camps opened yesterday, and in a "positive sign for a league that had some concern about fan backlash" following the lockout, fans "seemed to be showing up" to the open practices, according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. About 2,000 fans "showed up at Compuware Arena to watch the Red Wings hold two practices," while there was an "overflow crowd of about 3,000 fans" at the Flyers practice in Voorhees, N.J. The Flyers had to "close off the parking lot, and some fans had to wait in the lobby until other fans left before they were let in." The Blue Jackets "drew a standing-room-only crowd of 1,200, and it was thought to be the largest gathering they have ever had for a first day of training camp" (USA TODAY, 1/14). In Columbus, Shawn Mitchell notes the crowd "filled the Ice Haus and stood three deep in spots around the glass." Blue Jackets RW Derek Dorsett said, "Every year we have a pretty good turnout, but this year was the biggest I've seen since I've been here" (DISPATCH.com, 1/14). In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford notes an "estimated 5,500 fans filed into Scottrade Center to watch" the Blues' first practice. Blues RW Jamie Langenbrunner said of the fans, "We didn’t assume anything like that. We hope to reward them this year with some good hockey, and that’s our focus. We’re going to go out and put a good product on the ice every night and come out and work hard. Hopefully come June, we’ll be celebrating something" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/14).
WELCOME BACK! In Tampa, Damian Cristodero notes the Lightning had about 5,500 fans attended the team's FanFest at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Lightning RW Martin St. Louis said that this "proved the healing process from the lockout has started" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/14). In Winnipeg, Kirk Penton noted more than 5,000 fans "showed up at MTS Centre on Sunday afternoon for the first official Jets practice of the season" (WINNIPEGSUN.com, 1/13). In Edmonton, Cailynn Klingbeil noted the Oilers yesterday hit the ice at Hawrelak Park in front of "a crowd of about 2,000 fans." The match only was announced on Twitter "a couple of hours in advance because details were still being finalized Sunday morning" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 1/14). In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe noted the Penguins hosted an "overflow crowd of more than 2,000," and seats were "filled an hour before the Penguins were scheduled to take the ice." The players "skated to the glass and raised their sticks to the crowd." The gesture "prompted the crowd to give the Penguins a standing ovation" (TRIBLIVE.com, 1/13). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander notes "more than a thousand fans turned out Sunday at PNC Arena." Hurricanes C Eric Staal: "It was awesome to see them." Canes players also were "allowed their first look at the extensive redesign" of the locker room at PNC Arena. The lockers are "topped by a collage of memorable moment and players from Canes' past" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/14). In Montreal, Dave Stubbs writes any sign of "bitterness or lingering resentment was not on display" during yesterday's Canadiens practice. Many "hundreds of fans were several deep around the glass at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/14).
ALL ABOUT THE FANS: In Nashville, Dave Ammenheuser wrote, "Will the fans return? Of course. They always do. What happened in 2005, the year after the NHL closed down for an entire season? The league set attendance records" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/13). Also in Nashville, David Climer wrote to fans, "The NHL is banking on your return. Why? Because you always do" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 1/13). In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz writes, "What to make of the fans’ resilience? It’s easy to take potshots at those who choose to return to the rink to support an ungrateful league that’s betrayed public trust with three separate lockouts since 1994. But if fans love hockey, then they love hockey. No apologies are necessary" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/14). In N.Y., Brett Cyrgalis wrote it "might take a while to draw some fans back to arenas ... but the good news for New York is that the three local teams likely will be in constant action" (N.Y. POST, 1/13).
MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE: ESPN.com's Lynn Hoppes wrote fans are "in wait-and-see mode." NHL Fans Association Exec Dir Jim Boone said, "They can apologize all they want, but what specific actions are they going to do to get the fans back? I don't want a situation where they just paint 'Thanks Fans' on the ice like last time. Actions speak way louder than words." Boone has had "some conversations" with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and "knows that people will try to retaliate in some way for the third work stoppage in Bettman's tenure." But, "in his heart, Boone knows the die-hards will be back" (ESPN.com, 1/11). In Phoenix, Dan Bickley wrote this year's lockout "was a clown show that infuriated the most loyal fans in sports." Hockey customers are "diehard, aware they must be loud and proud if their sport is going to be heard." They "don’t ask for a lot in return, except cold beer, a close game and a good fight." But the latest work stoppage was "a deep show of disrespect, especially when players seem stunned they wasted six months to reach this conclusion" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/13).