Hockey fans reacted to the news of a tentative agreement between the NHL and its players Sunday with a mix of emotions.
Many said they are excited for the season to start after months of waiting — but a bitter taste remains.
At Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Kevin Bourne said he’s happy hockey might be coming back but he’s not sure he’ll watch it as religiously as before.
“Now that it’s been gone for so long, I started gravitating to other sports,” said Bourne, 32, a self-described Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators fan.
Bourne said he feels fans like him were treated poorly during the lockout.
“I think fans were used as pawns,” he said. “I don’t think fans were really respected in the whole thing.”
The tentative deal to end the 113-day NHL lockout was reached early Sunday following a marathon negotiating session that went through the night.
Businesses, meanwhile, welcomed the news with open arms.
Arun Srivastava, who runs a tourism boutique in Old Montreal filled with Habs T-shirts and sweaters, said sales had dropped off considerably since the lockout began.
“We depend on this business in winter time when there’s not that many tourists,” he said. “A lot of tour groups bring passionate hockey fans to watch the games over here.”
Bars and restaurants near arenas were particularly hard hit.
A report released last month by credit and debit card processor Moneris found that overall spending at venues near NHL arenas in Canada had decreased more than 11 per cent from a year ago on a game day.
One fan in Toronto said he has no doubt that people are going to flock back to the games once they start up again.
“I think (people) love their hockey,” said Bill Mitchell, who was visiting Toronto from Potsdam, N.Y.
“There might be a few who might be upset, but I think they will come out in droves.”
A return to NHL action may have a downside, too: less free time around the house.
Natalie Ricard, who was visiting Montreal from Trois-Rivieres, Que., said the lockout gave her extra hours with her partner and their son. Now, they’ll be watching hockey.
“I’m going to find myself alone again, watching movies in another room,” she said.
Some fans may not be as quick to return, however.
Stan Milousis, who cheers the San Jose Sharks, said he used to watch the NHL twice a week, but felt there were a myriad of problems, even before the lockout.
The 35-year-old Toronto fan said even though hockey is still Canada’s sport, its popularity is fizzling in the United States.
“Even though the lockout is done and they made their deal, the NHL in general has a lot of work to do,” Milousis said at the downtown Toronto shopping centre.
“What they need to do now is to generate stars, not guys who are good on the ice, but guys who are ambassadors on the ice.”
He said the NHL needs more superstar players like Pittsburgh Penguin captain Sidney Crosby, who help the league rebuild its fan base.
For his part, Prime Minister Stephen Harper greeted the news with enthusiasm.
“Great news for hockey fans and communities across Canada,” he said on Twitter.
— With files from Linda Nguyen in Toronto