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Many NHL fans are missing hockey

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 8:55 p.m. CDT

PHILADELPHIA (MCT) — Representatives from the NHL and the players’ association met briefly in New York on Tuesday and appeared no closer to signing a new collective-bargaining agreement.

The league said no progress was made, which seemed to amuse Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA.

“The definition of no progress that comes out of the NHL office seems to be, ‘They didn’t give us what we want yet,’ “ Fehr told reporters.

Meanwhile, about 90 miles south, where the top farm teams of the Flyers and New Jersey Devils played their AHL exhibition opener in Voorhees, the fans wanted the rhetoric to stop.

“Just get a deal done,” said Ed Brown, 57, a Northeast Philadelphia resident who was among a packed, hockey-starved crowd of 400 who watched Albany defeat the Adirondack Phantoms, 5-3.

Brown, out of work because of back surgery, was a longtime season-ticket holder with the Phantoms when they played in Philadelphia. He now has the NHL Center Ice TV package.

Both sides “disregard the fans. The fans always get the short end of the stick,” Brown said. “I watch a lot of hockey, and I’ve watched (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman for the last six years say how much the league is prospering. And now, after these teams signed players to contracts for $200 million in July, they’re crying poor mouth. I think they’re trying to get the players to play for nothing.”

The Oct. 11 NHL openers and the first few weeks of the season are expected to be canceled this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Tuesday said the league would lose about $100 million for the canceled preseason games.

“There’s a lot of money at stake, and they have to find a way to share it,” Brown said.

With the lockout threatening the regular season, New Jersey Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez wrote letters to Bettman and Fehr, urging them to get a new CBA in place because the stoppage negatively affects workers, businesses and families.

Despite the league’s third work stoppage in 18 years, some fans remain loyal to the game and refuse to part with their Flyers tickets.

“I have two daughters (20 and 23 years old), and they’ve been going since they were age 3, so we don’t give up our spot,” said Ralph Manoppello, 52, an insurance claims analyst from Conshohocken and a Flyers season-ticket holder since the Stanley Cup years in the 1970s.

There are those who believe that as long as the fans keep coming back — as they did after the 2004-05 lockout — that the owners will continue to use work stoppages as a bargaining tool.

The owners are “shooting themselves in the foot if they think these work stoppages mean people will keep coming back,” Manoppello said. “At some point, they’re not.”

Manoppello and his family won’t be among those who turn their backs on the sport.

“To say you bleed orange, that’s me,” he said. “It’s me. It’s my family. It’s my daughters. That’s what we do. It’s just too much a part of me to say I can’t go back.”

Amanda Kurtz, 25, a medical assistant from South Philadelphia who wore a jersey with the name of the Phantoms’ Brandon Manning on the back, said she will still get her hockey fix if the lockout lingers.

“There are a lot of college leagues that play around here that I’ll probably go to,” she said.

Frank McAleer, 68, a retired printer from Maple Shade who has partial season tickets, called the lockout “frustrating. Being a union guy my whole life, I’m with the players all the way. I was glad to see that some of them are going to Europe, because the owners always seem to figure they can hold out forever and win, and the last time they did. (The players) gave up major concessions.”

After the 2004-05 lockout, the players accepted a salary cap and a 24 percent rollback in salaries.

After the league locked out its players when the CBA expired Sept. 15, “I was on the verge of tears,” said Konrad Heppler, 18, a Phoenixville resident who attends Montgomery County Community College. “I thought this would be our year.”

Heppler said he would rather see the entire season canceled if the alternative is to play an abbreviated schedule of, say, 48 games.

“If we played a shorter season and won the Cup, everyone would say, ‘Oh, it’s a short season. It’s a fluke,” Heppler said. “I want to win the Cup in 82 games.”

Breakaways. Goalie Niko Hovinen had a shaky North American debut for the Phantoms, who had a shots advantage of 47-23. ... Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan, the pride of Cherry Hill, skated with the Flyers’ lockout brigade during their morning practice.

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