Players back, fans too, as puck drops on new season

Sat Jan 19, 2013 10:48pm EST
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By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - The National Hockey League is back, and so are the fans, as the puck finally dropped on a season that nearly never was because of bitter labor dispute.

From sunny California to wintry Quebec, 26 of the NHL's 30 teams were in action on Saturday.

The Los Angeles Kings raised their massive black-and-white Stanley Cup banner before opening the defense of their crown against the Chicago Blackhawks, while in Montreal, two of the league's flagship franchises, the Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, renewed their storied rivalry.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association chief Donald Fehr, who had held the ice hockey spotlight through nearly four months of negotiations, slipped into the shadows and left the stage to the players.

"Last week we announced that we reached an agreement on a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) and tonight the Bruins are back on the ice," said Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs shortly before his team got a 3-1 win over the New York Rangers.

"When the puck drops, we put the last four months behind us and celebrate the return of hockey to Causeway Street.

"The fact that we were unable to reach an agreement until just recently is a disappointment.

"I want to personally apologize to our fans and others who depend on this team for their livelihood. But these are just words. The best way to make it up to you is to play hard and win."   Continued...

A Staples Center employee hugs a Los Angeles Kings fan as fans return for the first NHL game of the Kings' season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Los Angeles, California, January 19, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson