Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City fans welcome NHL back

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From the bar stools to the stands to the outdoor rinks, reaction to news pucks will be dropping again at NHL rinks has been overwhelmingly positive.

Winnipeg hockey fans said they are pleased their favourite players will be playing for real in a matter of days.

"We're glad they're back," David Scott said with a big smile from Billy Mosienko Arena. "Now we can watch and follow our favourite team."

Scott said he expects some fan bitterness will linger following the end of the NHL's fourth labour disruption, adding he believes that will slowly disappear as fans get caught up again in big-time hockey.

"It's all good... I spent a lot of time watching the world juniors and now I'm really looking forward to the NHL," Gerald Cansino said as he and his son, Noah, enjoyed some public skating at the arena.

The end of the NHL lockout couldn't have come soon enough for Winnipeg's downtown restaurant and bar operators.

"Finally, it's over," said Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Zone. "We're all looking forward to the crowds returning to the downtown."

Grande said he had heard anecdotally revenues were down 10 to 30 per cent for bars and restaurants within a five-minute walk of the MTS Centre.

"It's going to be a shortened season, with maybe 25 home games, but it's going to help, particularly in January, February and March, the cold winter months."

Grande said home games for the Jets attracted not only Manitobans but were a draw for hockey fans from Grand Forks and Fargo and as far east as Minneapolis.

If fans hold any resentment toward players or owners, Grande said he thinks Winnipeg fans will be more forgiving.

"Last year was a great reintroduction (to NHL hockey)," Grande said. "Our fans will be a lot more forgiving just because we didn't have the Jets for 15 years. I don't think people will stay away, not in our city."

Lyal Hopko said he's looking forward to the NHL playing again, adding the NHL game is deeply engrained in Canadian culture and is considered hockey at its most competitive level.

Hopko, who was watching his son practise with the Northwest Stars, said he expects fans will resent both players and team owners for the late start to the season.

"I was really happy when I heard, because I was bummed by the lockout," 11-year-old Emma Graham as she skated at the outdoor rink at the Sinclair Park Community Centre.

Emma said everyone she knows was excited when they heard the news Sunday morning, and she's looking forward to watching the games and following the Jets.

"This had gone on long enough and I'm pretty happy they were able to make a decision," Steven Nickels, the arena operator at Billy Mosienko Arena, said. Nickels said he was pleased both players and owners were able to deal with their concerns and settle on a long-term deal.

The reaction to the end of the lockout was a little more subdued at Boogies Diner, a sports bar on Main Street near Redwood Avenue. Late in the afternoon, customers were fixated on the NFL's Seattle Seahawks clawing their way out of a 14-point hole against the Washington Redskins and had little time to talk about the NHL.

Ken Nelson, a retired civic worker, said he expects Canadian fans will once again embrace the NHL.

But Nelson said he believes the NHL game will suffer in many American cities. "The game has just become too expensive for working people," Nelson said as he sipped a beer. "It's good that the players can make the good money that they do, but working people can't afford to go to a game anymore."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2013 A4

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