NHL agreement changes Albany's hockey landscape

Posted at: 01/06/2013 11:31 PM
Updated at: 01/06/2013 11:35 PM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - After nearly four months of negotiations, the National Hockey League and its players association have reached a tentative agreement that will apparently salvage a portion of their season.

That was welcome news Sunday for the players, coaches, and fans who attended the Albany Devils game in Downtown Albany.

The turnstiles were turning, the tickets were ripping, and the Devils were skating at the Times Union Center Sunday afternoon. It was a typical day on the ice, but not-such-a-typical day for professional hockey player Stephen Gionta.

"I think my wife looked on line and told me (about the agreement)," Gionta said, wearing a wide smile after the Devils 5-2 win. "It was a good wake-up call. My wife is probably happier than I am because I'll be coming home."

Now that the NHL season will finally begin, Gionta expects to be back with the New Jersey Devils soon, along with other Albany teammates, which figures to alter the talent level here.

"We've been fortunate enough that we're close to New Jersey and got many of their fans here to visit us," said Pat Brady, president of the Albany Devils Fan Club.

Daniel Mutchler of Latham is someone who says he usually feasts on NHL hockey this time of the year, and it bothers him that he's had to live without it.

"I love hockey, I've always loved hockey, and I always will love hockey," Mutchler says, "It's going to be an uphill battle just to keep it on the top of major sports in this country."

Albany Devils attendance has been up slightly this season. It's not clear if the NHL lock-out played a part. The team also used an aggressive marketing campaign to double their season ticket sales.

At a time when minor league hockey shines, one wonders about the big league luster.

"The work stoppage tarnishes them alright," says long time hockey fan John Bourdeau, of Pittsfield. "It tarnishes everybody. Can you imagine the people in Los Angeles, who win the Stanley Cup and they have to wait until the middle of January to see a game?"

But hockey insiders are mindful that the last time there was a work stoppage, fans did come back.

"I think hockey fans are too passionate," says Albany Devils Coach Rick Kowalsky, "I think people are anxious (to see NHL games) and I think it (the lock-out) will soon be forgotten."

Kowalsky says he's not sure yet which players will lave Albany and which ones will stay but he suspects the New Jersey management has a pretty good idea because, in his words, "They've had nothing else to do, they've been watching."