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‘Hockey is back’ and fans and businesses are cheering

Hockey fans react fact thNHL NHL Players have come terms framework new collective bargaining agreement which will tentatively end lockout

Hockey fans react on the fact that the NHL and the NHL Players have come to terms on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, which will tentatively end the lockout and allow the league to resume regular operations. George Lemperis, owner of the Palace Grill in Chicago is very happy on Sunday, January 6, 2013. . | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:21AM



Yes, many Blackhawks fans conceded Sunday, the salvaged but shortened hockey season following a four-month lockout may be marked by rusty play, an asterisk and a lull in the organization’s juggernaut momentum, but mostly, they’re just happy hockey is finally coming back.

“I’m very, very happy,” said Bob Gertenrich, 66, who hasn’t missed a Hawks game since Jan. 23, 1966.

“This was the second lockout in eight years; it never should have come to this. I didn’t want to miss the whole year. I’m a bachelor; I look forward to going these games,” said Gertenrich, who’s retired and lives in Skokie.

Gertenrich attended a game in 1991 on the day his mother passed away because he didn’t want to sit around his house and sulk, and a few years ago he scheduled foot surgery for when his team was on road trip.

“I’m really worried about the level of play being sloppy from so much time off,” he said.

But the hiatus won’t hurt the game, he said: “Hockey is solid in Chicago. The fans are solid.”

A lockout-ending deal between players and owners still needs to be ratified this week.

Retired mailman Jerry Silar summed it up nicely: “It’s about time.”

Silar, 69, dusted off and donned his red Jonathan Toews Blackhawks jersey Sunday.

“The fans still love hockey,” Silar said while sipping a beer at the CrossRoads tavern just east of the United Center. “Some are saying they’ll stay away, that the lockout has left them with a bad taste in their mouth. But they won’t be able to stay away, they’ll come back.”

Seated at the next bar stool, Hawks fan John Dastice chimed in: “It was a slow, boring winter without hockey.”

Steve Blonsky, who sat around a table Sunday at the West End tavern down the block after playing hockey in a men’s league game at Johnny’s Ice House on West Madison, made his opinion clear: “We just want to watch hockey. That’s it.”

His teammates backed him up.

“A little season is better than no season,” said Brett Naugle, 32. “But the NHL shot themselves in the foot with this lockout. They had been gaining a lot of traction in terms of popularity.”

For George Lemperis, news of the lockout’s end was “pure ecstasy.”

“Fans will come back in droves. If they’d lost the season, that might now be true,” said Lemperis, owner of the Palace Grill, a West Loop hangout for Hawks fans and players.

His business, along with dozens of others in the neighborhood, was hurting without the game-day foot traffic of Hawks fans.

Seated nearby eating a breakfast skillet, Thomas Owens, 34, said he was excited for the hockey season, but thinks a drop in ticket prices would be a nice gesture for starved fans — and a playoff berth would be nice.

“There will be an asterisk on this season, but, for the most part, I don’t think this will change the perspective of loyal fans,” said Owens’ pal, Dan Brannagan, 26.

Jesus Palacios, 28, woke up to a text message Sunday from his brother reading: “Hockey is back.”

A lifelong fan and United Center cameraman, Palacios will benefit by picking up more work hours.

“I’m truly happy,” he said while watching his 11-year-old nephew, Moises, play in a hockey game at Johnny’s Ice House. “I get goose bumps when Jim Cornelison sings the national anthem before games. It’s the most beautiful thing.”



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