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Hockey fans celebrate as NHL season launches


Hockey fans across Canada are welcoming the return of the NHL today, as the puck drops on a season that has been shortened by a four-month-old lockout.

NHL players returned to the ice on Saturday, following a 113-day lockout that pitted the league against its players and threatened to wipe out the whole season.

Relief that the lockout is over can be seen in cities like Winnipeg, where the hometown Jets are taking on the Ottawa Senators at the MTS Centre.

"I just spent $200 on tickets and stuff," said Paul Andersen, who bought a tie, picture frame, trading card and other goods at the Jets' official store on Saturday morning.

Andersen said he expects to spend roughly $500 before, during and after the game.

"Yeah, it'll be good," he said. "I've been waiting since August for this."

The Winnipeg Jets thanked their fans by offering 50 per cent discounts on food and drinks during the game, which began at 2 p.m. CT (3 p.m. ET).

The Jets-Senators game is the first Canadian match-up of the lockout-shortened season, and the first to be broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada's 60th season.

The Montreal Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs afterwards, at 7 p.m. ET, and the Anaheim Ducks take on the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena at 10 p.m. ET.

In Vancouver, two of Canada's most "visible" hockey fans — the infamous Green Men, nicknamed Sully and Force — have donned their green body suits and are ready to mock any Anaheim player who ends up in the penalty box on Saturday night.

"I didn't do much — drank a lot of beer, gained some weight, hibernation," Force said, when asked what he did during the lockout.

"It was a depressing time for the Green Men."

Force said he believes Canucks fans have forgiven the team and pretty much forgotten the lockout.

"Everyone pretended to be angry for two days, posting messages to social media saying, 'I won't watch the games,'" he said.

"But based on the feeds on our Twitter and everywhere else, everyone's pumped."

There has been some talk by angry fans of boycotts in response to the NHL lockout.

In Winnipeg, a small group of fans staged a "mock" protest outside the MTS Centre on Saturday to decry what they describe as greed in the NHL.

But that anger has not been evident for the most part across the country, including in Montreal, where Canadiens fans showed up just to watch the team practice earlier this week.

"It's hockey, it's Canada. It's never going to go away," Habs fan Darren Clifton said Saturday.

"Last Saturday, I bought the tickets right away at 11:30 a.m.," said his friend, Cody. "[I paid] over a grand."

Bob Wilson, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan in Montreal, said it was nice for the Leafs to open their practice to the public to watch.

"It's tough for a [Leafs fan] here. In the Bell Centre, it's fine. You can feel the tension sometimes," he said.

In Calgary, fans of all ages were treated to free food and pop, as well as discounts on merchandise, as they watched the Flames practise Friday morning at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"I'm just so happy. It's sad that it's only half [a] season, but as long as they get to play," said Hayley MacKay, a Flames fan who watched Friday's practice.

The Flames are holding one more short practice on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's home opener against the San Jose Sharks.

A number of the NHL's U.S. teams are also facing off on Saturday.

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