Game on!

NHL returns to ice

Posted: Thursday, October 06, 2005


  Pittsburgh Peguins center Sidney Crosby (87) moves the puck past New Jersey Devils John Madden (11) during first period action at the Continental Airlines Arena Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, N.J.. AP photo/Mel Evans

Pittsburgh Peguins center Sidney Crosby (87) moves the puck past New Jersey Devils John Madden (11) during first period action at the Continental Airlines Arena Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 in East Rutherford, N.J..

AP photo/Mel Evans

PHILADELPHIA — 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 were already 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 cosiderably 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.

In Dallas, the Stars looked to the past while embracing the future. To mark the 12th anniversary of the team's first game in Texas, the Stars had youngster Haley Kesterson on hand to drop the ceremonial first puck. Haley was born minutes after that initial game and was picked on her 12th birthday to represent the team's fans.

Down South, Paul Kariya played his first game with the Nashville Predators, giving the still young franchise its first real superstar. He was cheered the first time he touched the puck, but the Predators' first goal of the season went to Scott Walker — no one rooting for the home team seemed to mind at all as Nashville is 1-0 following its 3-2 win over San Jose.

''Every game in this league is going to be tough,'' Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun said. ''There were a lot of surprising scores on the scoreboard tonight. You just don't know who's going to be good.''

The Flyers got instant dividends from former NHL MVP Peter Forsberg, lured back to Philadelphia 13 years after he was traded away for Eric Lindros. Forsberg notched assists on the Flyers' first two goals of the season, but was in the penalty box when Jagr scored the go-ahead goal in the third period that propelled the Rangers to victory.

''A two-goal lead at home in the old NHL was a pretty safe bet,'' Flyers captain Keith Primeau said. ''With the new rules, you'd better get the third one.''

That drew groans from the Flyers' faithful. But fans were much more upset over events up in Boston: When Michael Ryder scored with 11.1 seconds remaining to give the Montreal Canadiens a 2-1 win over the host Bruins, spectators threw garbage onto the ice.

Penalties and power-play goals will surely be on the menu at least through the early part of the season as players and coaches adjust to new rules meant to increase offense and cut out clutching and grabbing.

''The only negative comments you get — and there are very few — are that too many penalties are being called,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said while attending the Lightning game. ''That's the only way you're going to open up the game and give the skill players room.''

And if enough goals aren't scored in regulation and through five minutes of overtime, shootouts will be held to make sure every game produces a winner. The Ottawa Senators became the first beneficiaries by topping the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2.

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