With lockout over, hockey fans eager for puck to drop
Penguins fan Kevin Jaworski enjoyed a beer Sunday at Jerome Bettis' Grille 36 on the North Shore, but not just any beer. It was a frosty Canadian lager, which he said he drinks only during hockey season, meaning the NHL.
Sunday marked the start of hockey season. Finally.
Jaworski was celebrating the end of the National Hockey League lockout. The league's 30 clubs, including the Penguins, likely will play no fewer than 48 of the scheduled 82 games, probably starting next week. A lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season.
A season-ticket holder since 2005, Jaworski, who is from the North Side, said he was “absolutely” thrilled that hockey is back.
“You miss coming to the games with your friends,” he said. “It's nice to come to work on a Tuesday knowing you have something to look forward to.”
Jaworski, 30, said he bore no malice toward players or owners, to whom he referred as “millionaires and billionaires,” seemingly resigned to the reality that this is a business. “That's sports. That's life,” he said.
However, Jaworski said he was “angry” for those workers whose jobs were affected by hockey's absence during the 113-day lockout.
“People say they miss hockey and they're mad they're not playing,” he said. “I'm mad for the people who are struggling.”
Seated nearby at a table watching a National Football League playoff game, Barry and Angela Faust of South Park expressed their delight over the lockout ending, although Angela added, “I wish it didn't take so long.”
“Now that college football is over and (the NFL) is just about over, this happened at the perfect time,” said Barry Faust, 43. “January to April would have been terrible.”
Bettis' general manager Matt Marco said the lockout “hurt the business” on what would have been game nights. At TGI Friday's inside Consol Energy Center, a person who identified himself as “one of the managers” declined to comment.
Each missed game cost the local economy about $2.2 million, said Craig Davis, CEO of VisitPittsburgh, which promotes tourism.
“The biggest losers of revenue were the Penguins, but there are so many other businesses that depend on that as far as rounding out their revenues,” he said. “Local restaurants, parking, retailers who sell Penguins gear.”
One such retailer is Perani's Hockey World, a hockey supply store in Mt. Lebanon.
“It's been such a detriment,” store manager Carla Jeke said of the lockout, noting that custom jersey sales for Christmas were severely hampered. “It'll be a great thing to get hockey going again. But I don't think we can recover fully from this.”
Penguins star Sidney Crosby said he does not blame fans for feeling frustrated but hopes “everyone is excited by the news and by the idea of hockey being back. Their support means an awful lot to us.”