Oliver: Lockout couldn’t cool NHL fans’ ardor for hockey

Oh NHL hockey, how I’ve missed you.

As hockey fans know, it was an excruciatingly long lockout. It lasted 119 days, but who’s counting?

At times, it sure looked as though there wouldn’t be any season at all. Trying to follow it all meant learning more about the league’s collective bargaining agreement than was healthy for someone who is more interested in power plays than revenue sharing.

Sadly, the ramifications of the deal that finally was reached might be felt for years to come as the league tries to undo the damage done by allowing out-of-control contracts for the league’s biggest stars.

But for now, I’m just happy that I get to see my beloved Blackhawks again, albeit for an abbreviated season.

Apparently I wasn’t alone in my excitement. Arenas across the country and Canada are posting sell-out crowds, and NBC saw ratings that rivaled Winter Classic numbers when it televised games Saturday, the day the season finally got under way.

Of course, the long layoff did allow me to mostly forget the way the Blackhawks’ season ended last year.

Well, everything except that wicked hit that the Phoenix Coyotes’ Raffi Torres put on Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa. It sent Hossa to the hospital with a concussion, ended his season, and probably had something to do with the Blackhawks losing the series, 4-2.

It was a disappointing end to the season and the series, though five of the six games went into overtime.

Torres originally was suspended for 25 games for that hit. In July, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reduced the suspension by four games. Because the Coyotes continued on in the playoffs until being defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the L.A. Kings, Torres had only eight games carry over to this season.

Perhaps players like Torres finally will get the message, but I doubt it.

I suppose one benefit from the long off-season has been to allow banged-up players the chance to get healthy.

Needless to say, it has been sweet to see Hossa back on the ice. Not only that, but he’s been playing great, scoring two goals in each of the first two games. Against the Kings and the Coyotes, no less.

Two games is hardly a large enough sample size from which to draw any conclusions, yet the Hawks’ season is off to a good start. Eleven goals in two games isn’t a bad way to welcome back the faithful.

Then again, they got off to a fast start last season, only to swoon in January and February, at one point losing nine consecutive games.

Frankly, there’s no time for that this season. Instead of the usual 82 games, this season is condensed into a mere 48.

Nonetheless, it’s pure joy to see Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, David Bolland, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford and the rest of the boys back in action.

Welcome back, NHL hockey. It’s about time.

You’ve been missed.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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