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Hockey fans rejoice as puck drops on NHL action after lengthy lockout

01/19/2013 06:21 EST | Updated 03/21/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Hockey fans from coast-to-coast were celebrating the return of NHL action on Saturday, with many saying they were ready to forget the lengthy lockout that nearly cost the season.

Teams opened the season to frenzied crowds that cheered – and sometimes booed – the product on the ice. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield even sent out a series of Tweets from space welcoming back NHL hockey.

Before the opening night game in Montreal, many Canadiens and Maple Leafs fans said they were far too excited about the matchup to harbour any more anger over the work stoppage.

"I've played hockey my whole life and I can't live without it," said Myles Resnick, an 18-year-old Leafs fan who made the trip from Toronto with friends.

Resnick said he was angry during the lockout but loved hockey too much to stay away.

"As soon as it was over I jumped right back on."

The Canadiens lost 2-1.

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, the city’s famously loud fans welcomed their home team back for a second season.

The Jets played the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon in front a sellout crowd, with the Senators winning 4-1.

The team reached out to fans by offering half price food and drinks. Draft beers were $4.25 instead of $8.50, and $8 hot dogs were $4.

Kasia Dolna, who was wearing a Daniel Alfredsson Senators jersey in a sea of Jets gear, said she appreciated the gesture and had no misgivings about supporting the league.

"Not at all,'' Dolna said as she headed into the arena. "I'm a huge hockey fan. (The lockout) sucked... but I can't wait for the game."

Another fan, Billy Kent, whose family has season tickets, said he wasn't about to stop being a hockey fan _ especially with the Jets back in town.

"It's a little frustrating," he said.

"I don't even know what side to side really with, I guess. But it's back now, and it's over with."

There were some signs of discontent, however.

A scattering of boos greeted Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey during the pre-game introductions. Hainsey was the team's representative during the labour negotiations with the league and was often front and centre during talks with the owners.

The frenzy around Montreal's Bell Centre began early in the day.

Despite steady snowfall, thousands turned out to see the Canadiens and Leafs during their game-day skates, which were made open to fans as part of an attempt to make amends.

Later on, the rock band Simple Plan played a free concert outside the arena, while a nearby boutique offering 50 per cent off Habs merchandise attracted a crowd three people thick.

The Canadiens opened the game with a tribute to the team’s former greats and a “passing of the torch” to the current team.

In Boston, though, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs began with an apology to fans.

At a press conference prior to Saturday night's opener against the New York Rangers, he said the Bruins would try to make it up to their fans by playing hard and winning.

And in Philadelphia, the Flyers thanked fans for sticking with them in videotaped messages throughout the game. About 20,000 fans filled the Wells Fargo Center.

All seven Canadian teams were scheduled to play over the weekend.

The Anaheim Ducks were matched up against the Canucks on Saturday in Vancouver.

On Sunday, the Calgary Flames host the San Jose Sharks, while the Canucks play against the Edmonton Oilers.

- with files from Avi Saper and Judy Owen in Winnipeg and The Associated Press

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