Fans of the National Hockey League have taken a beating over the course of the Commissionership of Gary Bettman. Sunday’s announcement that the league and the NHL Players’ Association have reached an agreement in principle to end to the third prolonged lockout of Bettman’s tenure means NHL hockey will return, but the big question is whether or not its fans will follow suit.
No matter who the fans believe should carry the majority of the blame for the nearly four-month long work stoppage, the players feel that it is imperative that they do their part in bringing fans back to fill arenas, sell jerseys, and try to regain all the momentum that was lost following September 15th’s owner-imposed lockout.
Several Nashville Predators players have stayed in town during the lockout, choosing to work out and skate on their own in Franklin at A-Game Sportsplex. The players were not scheduled to skate Sunday, but the end of the lockout changed that, and several gathered to prepare for the new season.
Following their on-ice session, the players said they know that they have a big responsibility facing them over the course of the coming days and weeks.
“Especially Nashville, maybe we can earn their respect back,” Martin Erat said. “Nobody said it is going to be easy, but we hope the fans didn’t forget about us. We tried our best to get the deal done as soon as possible and it is too bad that it worked out this way (taking so long). I hope we can put everything behind us and get the fans back.”
Still sporting his lockout beard, captain Shea Weber said he had a difficult time answering the question of when the lockout would end when he would run into fans.
“It is a tough situation obviously because we love the fans and they are very good to us here,” Weber said. “It is tough because we didn’t know. We didn’t know when it was going to end or if it was going to end at all. Hopefully they bare with us and we are in for a good half of a season and an exciting time nonetheless.”
Even though today’s session was unplanned and unannounced, many youth hockey players and their families ringed around the boards in A-Game’s Rink 2 to watch the players go through their workout.
“It was cool to see the excitement build up,” Nick Spaling said. “I don’t know if they knew we were coming, but people came in and that is always good to see.”
Back in Nashville for his third tour of duty with the Predators, goaltender Chris Mason is very much excited about wearing a Nashville sweater when the team takes the ice again.
“I am looking forward to playing in that rink again, being on the home team, and seeing all of our fans,” Mason said. “I have always loved playing here and I can’t wait to start again.”