Long wait over for hockey fans

It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh.

Those are words Penguins fans around the Tri-State Area have been waiting to hear for too long, words that until two weeks ago they were not sure they would hear at all this season.

That’s when the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association, which represents the league’s players, were finally able to reach a resolution to their latest contract dispute, one which wiped out more than 40 percent of the 2012-13 season.

The announcement that a deal was reached in the morning of Jan. 6 was good news for hockey fans in general and Penguins fans in particular, who will certainly be paying close attention when Pittsburgh visits Philadelphia at 3 p.m. today. That the abbreviated 48-game regular season schedule begins against the arch-rival Flyers is not lost on Penguins fans, who remember that last year’s season ended in not-so spectacular fashion on April 22 with a 5-1 loss to Philadelphia and a four-games-to-two elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Penguins will play a 7 p.m. game Sunday against the Rangers in New York before opening their home season at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Toronto in the Consol Energy Center. That’s good news, not only for the fans of our region, but for the many businesses and workers who depend on the bump in revenue delivered by each home game.

Sadly, that the latest labor dispute led to the loss of so much of the season should have come as no surprise to hockey fans.

The sport has gone through three lockouts in the 19 years Gary Bettman has been commissioner, with one lockout leading to the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. Donald Fehr, meanwhile the executive director of the NHLPA, was in charge of the Major League Baseball Players Association during a 1990 lockout and a 1994-95 strike.

Hockey, by its nature, requires toughness and resilience from its players, traits that are also seen in its fans. Because of that, they’ll return to the arenas and be more than willing to resume following their favorite teams through the Stanley Cup finals, no matter how late into summer the season eventually runs. For fans, any ill-will or anger that’s developed during the past several months while players and owners fought over what to most are incomprehensible billions of dollars will disappear today when we hear once again those six familiar words:

It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh.