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Archive for Thursday, October 6, 2005

Crosby, Gretzky mark return of hockey

October 6, 2005

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— Sidney Crosby's debut was so-so, Wayne Gretzky couldn't wait to start his new career, and the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated winning the Stanley Cup - remember the Stanley Cup? - on opening night for the new-look NHL.

Hockey is back after a year of labor unrest, and the league hopes people are actually watching.

The NHL started down the long road of trying to wow its returning fans, win back those that were lost, and convince those that never cared to take a peek at the new product. Across North America on Wednesday night, all 30 NHL teams got back on the ice following a season lost to the lockout.

Even here in Philadelphia, fans accustomed to disappointment were enthused by the return of hockey - and most still expect the Flyers to skate off with their first championship since 1975. Seeing the home team blow a two-goal lead wasn't quite in the plans, however, and the Flyers lost to the Rangers, 5-3.

Out in Vancouver, the Great Gretzky made his first real appearance as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. He did all he could as a player, setting 61 NHL records that many believe Crosby has the chance to break.

Now he's looking to make his mark off the ice.

"I'm probably as excited as anybody who is dressing and playing in a game tonight," he said before the opening faceoff.

The "Next One," meanwhile, will have to wait for his shot at a first NHL victory until, well, the next one. Sidney Crosby, the 18-year-old Canadian phenom, had an assist in his debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins - but he'll probably want to forget the rest of the 5-1 loss at New Jersey.

Crosby will shoot for his first goal and first 'W' on Friday at Carolina.

"The kid's going to be a great player in this league for a long time," said Mario Lemieux, Crosby's teammate and boss who turned 40 Wednesday. "I thought he played well and didn't look out of place at all."

Crosby helped set up Mark Recchi's third-period goal, but by that time the Penguins already were down by four. Devils rookie Zach Parise stole some of the spotlight in his NHL debut, racking up a goal and two assists.

The night went considerably better for Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in 2004 - one year before Crosby. He scored his first two career goals, both less than 90 seconds after Columbus took a lead. The Capitals won it 3-2.

But Wednesday night was less about what happened on the ice and more about those who showed up to watch it. From coast to coast, the words "Thank You Fans!" were stenciled into NHL rinks.

"I am so excited for things to be back - last year was horrible," said Amber Turbyne of Waldorf, Md., who attended the Capitals game. "I usually hold a grudge like something awful, but I'm too happy to have hockey back."

Down in Florida, Lightning fans got to celebrate just as they did over a year ago as the Stanley Cup championship banner was raised - only a whole lot later than anyone anticipated. They were happy again with Tampa Bay's 5-2 victory over Carolina.

A 10-minute ceremony commemorated the almost forgotten season that preceded the long layoff. On display were individual awards given to Lightning players, including Martin St. Louis' MVP trophy, and the one Brad Richards took home for his starring role in the playoff run.

But nothing could compare to the presentation of the Stanley Cup. The Lightning still are the rightful owners to the trophy that wasn't awarded in 2005, the first time that happened since a flu outbreak in 1919 canceled the finals.

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