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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Record numbers at NHL rinks and in ratings following lockout

Posted: 01/24/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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The boycotts were threatened. The irate tweets were posted.

NHL fans were fed up with labour strife updates and they weren't coming back to the sport they loved once the lockout was lifted.

Except that they did. In most homes and arenas, they came in record numbers, unable to stay away for that first faceoff.

The fans partied in Nashville, Tenn., where $1 hot dogs helped woo Predators fans back to Bridgestone Arena.

In Ohio, the Columbus Blue Jackets came on the ice for warmups wearing jerseys numbered 1 with "Thank You Fans" printed where the player's name is. The jerseys were then given to fans.

In Philadelphia, a city that hasn't sniffed a Stanley Cup parade since 1975, a record 19,994 fans showed up for the season opener against Pittsburgh. That came on the heels of more than 2,000 fans at their practice facility for the first day of training camp and another 15,000 showed up for a free, open practice at the Wells Fargo Center.

Across the state in Pittsburgh, Consol Energy Center was packed during a free intrasquad exhibition last week, with a couple of thousand fans turned away at the door. Just to make sure the fans will stay satiated -- as if watching Sidney Crosby isn't enough -- the Penguins are giving those in attendance during the first four home games vouchers for free food and dropping prices on team merchandise by 50 per cent.

Yes, there's a good deal to be found in the NHL, and it's not just the collective bargaining agreement. It's slashed prices and freebies all offered to hockey-starved fans as a way of saying thanks for sticking by the sport over the 113-day lockout.

Crosby, the league's most famous player, wasn't surprised at how fans stuffed arenas around the NHL.

"I think it's great to see that we're still getting the turnout that we're getting," he said.

Can't get a ticket? No worries. There's always the comfort of watching on the big screen TV. While the NHL will never attract the oversized ratings of the NFL or other marquee sports, the numbers from the first few days of action show fans will plop down on the sofa and watch on high definition just as much as from high in the upper deck.

NBC's broadcast Saturday earned the league's most-watched game for a non-Winter Classic in 14 years. It was regional coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks defeating the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings, 5-2, and Pittsburgh's 3-1 victory over Philadelphia. All told, 2.77 million viewers tuned in.

Eight markets set local ratings records or milestones for regular-season coverage -- not counting Winter Classics -- that aired either on NBC or NBC Sports Network from Saturday to Tuesday.

"It's good to talk about something else besides the lockout and actually talk about the game," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "It's obviously a pretty good feeling out there having the fans. They are unbelievable."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2013 D2

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