Perhaps the best way to describe Sundays first practice of Boston Bruins training camp was a carnival atmosphere that was missing only the calliope music and the sword-swallowing bearded lady.
Close to a thousand diehard Bruins fans traveled to TD Garden to watch the Bruins open up training camp after the first 119 days of the 2012-13 NHL season were wiped away due to the greed, stupidity and stubborn turns taken by the NHL lockout.
It was a celebration of NHL hockey with fans applauding and cheering as each Bruins player walked down the runway and hopped onto the ice.
There is nothing better. These fans are unbelievable. It feels good as a player stepping on the ice and hearing those fans cheering, said Nathan Horton, who has been envisioning that moment for nearly a calendar year after being knocked out of commission by a Tom Sestito hit back on Jan. 22 of last year against the Flyers. There is nothing better. It felt so good.
Quite simply: it was a continuation of a love affair thats raged on between the Boston sports fan and this particular set of Black and Gold skaters over the last five years.
It was a great day for hockey, said Claude Julien, simply and correctly.
All across North America there were hockey revivals in places as far-reaching as Vancouver and Sunrise, Florida, and there was quick forgiveness for many that had smoke coming out of their ears just a few weeks ago. It helped that both the NHL owners, executives and players and pretty much everyone involved with the sport was ready to say Im sorry in some form or fashion once the four months of madness ended with a signed Memorandum of Understanding around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night.
First it was the NHL schedule for everybody to pore over, then information on a quick six-day training camp and on Sunday morning Cam Neely was talking about free healthy wraps, fountain sodas and other concession items the Bruins will be giving away free at all January home games at TD Garden.
These are things that hopefully our fans can appreciate because Lord knows that we appreciate our fans, said Neely.
Neely followed up the free goodie offers by posing for an endless amount of pictures and signing autographs during the Sunday practice session as a steady stream of Bruins-garbed fans walked up to the private section where Neely, general manager Peter Chiarelli, assistant general manager Don Sweeney and assistant general manager Jim Benning were evaluating the players on the ice.
The message was pretty clear: the fans do matter to the Bruins and its more than just a Thank You, Fans painted in blue lettering on the ice.
Some may continue a bitter jihad against the NHL after their latest work stoppage that should have been avoidable. Some will watch the Bruins games on TV and swear to never spend another dime on a league that has taken its fan base for granted far too many times in the past. There might even be NHL teams in places like Phoenix or Florida that wont ever truly recover from the Great Lockout of 2012 and will instead relocate to a hockey city with a much warmer fan embrace.
But most Bruins fans in the city of Boston simply wanted their Stanley Cup-worthy team back out on the ice, and yearned for another Tyler Seguin rush up the ice, another Milan Lucic beat-down of an unfortunate opponent and another scorched Zdeno Chara slap shot that seems to defy the laws of physics.
They simply wanted their Bruins back and that finally happened on Sunday after a few more drawn-out moments courtesy of the lawyers doing their thing while drawing up a workable contract.
It was very exciting. Everybody was just pumped to be out there and skating in front quite a big number of fans, said Dennis Seidenberg. To hear them cheer for us was a good feeling. I think everybody here is just looking forward to playing on Saturday in the home opener vs. the Rangers and playing Bruins hockey again.
So now amid the good-feeling and Hakuta Matata moments at TD Garden as fans pass around free peanuts and discount-priced Dougie Hamilton jerseys from the souvenir shop, there will also be the matter of a 48-game regular season to be played. It will be immediate and exciting, and every game is going to have ramifications that couldnt even be imagined in the customary 82-game meat grinder.
It took pain and more than a little gnashing of the teeth to get to this point, but Sunday proved that the NHL and the Bruins are back with a vengeance as the New England Patriots enter the final weeks of their playoff lives, the Boston Celtics seem fated for Old Man Basketball oblivion and Red Sox spring training doesnt have quite the luster of 10 years ago.
Its been said all along that it would have been disastrous for the sport if the entire 2012-13 NHL season was cancelled, and a second entire year within the last eight was gone. Instead there will be life over the next four months and there will be a full round of Stanley Cup playoffs that will cause hard feelings to fade as they did for the NBA last season.
Sunday was the first step, and it was a good one. All that was missing from the scene was a Black and Gold Bozo the Clown handing out Bruins Balloon Animals to hockey-loving tots in the Gardens lower bowl.
But its not too late. Maybe thats the plan for Tuesday nights free Black and Gold scrimmage where the good vibes will just keep on coming.