Tonawanda News

Local Sports

December 29, 2005

No: 3: The return of the NHL

BUFFALO — For National Hockey League fans, 2005 was the worst of times and the best of times.

The year started off on a sour note, with the league in the midst of a lockout that wiped out all of the 2004-05 season, including the Stanley Cup playoffs. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the cancellation of the season Feb. 16. It was the first time a major professional sports league in North America canceled an entire season.

Teams were forced to lay off front-office personnel. Restaurants and other businesses near arenas lost the business that 41 hockey nights would bring.

But things are brighter not only for the NHL, but for the Buffalo Sabres as well, as the year comes to a close. The game is back and the product on the ice is better than it’s been in a long time. Scoring is up, the pace of the game is faster and there’s less thuggery. On the local front, the Sabres are among the best teams in the NHL, taking advantage of the new rules that have reduced clutching and grabbing.

The fans have noticed, as well. Attendance in most cities is up from the 2003-04 season. While the Sabres struggled at the gate at the beginning of the season — the result of fan resentment, apathy and the normal lower attendance figures during football season — the box office has been bustling as of late.

“I’m sure it’s tough if you’re a fan and a working family to watch athletes sit out for a whole year. I’m sure there were a lot of disappointed people,” Sabres forward Mike Grier said. “We’re doing our best to get the fans back by working as hard as we can and showing them that we care by taking time out for them. Fortunately, we’ve been able to win some games along the way and that always helps.”

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