As fans entered Scottrade Center Sunday for the first St. Louis Blues hockey club's practice following a four month lockout, they were invited to pick up placards with the familiar "Let's Go Blues" cheer.
Jack Gillette and his daughter Joanie, of St. Peters, didn't need the freebie. They came prepared with their own sign, designed by Jack's wife Michelle with a slogan that pretty much summed up fan sentiment: "It's About Pucking Time."
The team estimates about 5500 fans came out to the free practice Sunday, followed by a Q&A session with players. The fans in the stands talked about the team's new Russian sensation Vladimir Tarasenko, but also how Tom Stillman, the new owner with ties to the Ladue-Frontenac area, was among the first in the league to issue an apology for the lockout.
"It's great to see that many fans out there and cheering for us," center Patrik Berglund told hockey blogger Louie Korac afterward. "I think everybody was kind of curious how many people would show up. When we stepped on the ice, it was great to see that many people out there," Berglund said.
"It's very troubling to see hockey doing well in St. Louis and then they have the lockout," Gillette told Patch. "I hate it when milllionaires quibble over pennies," he said.
He said he worried about the "little guys" caught in the business crossfire between players and owners, like the food vendors and restaurant owners near Scottrade.
Gillette's also concerned about the ability of his sport to bring in new fans, considering St. Louis tradition and the fact that the Rams have had something of a turnaround.
"I'm a hockey fan and I know St. Louis is a baseball town, so for the guys that are on the margin, its goinna be really tough ...The Rams are getting better, so thats gonna cut into the sports dollar too," he said.
Joanie Gillette, who count T.J. Oshie as her favorite player, sees goaltending as a key in this 48 game sprint. "I'm just excited to see all the fans get back into it," she added.
"It's going to be tough to get the people in the seats," her dad said. "They're gonna have a tall order but what I see them out there practicing it looks like they've got a little bit of jump in their step so they're gonna try to get our money back.
With the lockout now history and the season ready to begin, here's what we want to know from you: Do you care about NHL hockey anymore? Will you support the Blues with your wallets?
More Than The Blues
The St. Louis area has more than just the Blues to root for in the NHL. Cam Janssen (Eureka High School), Ben Bishop, Chris Butler and Paul Stastny(Chaminade) are just some of the local products who have made it to pro hockey heights...Players passed the time during the lockout with informal workouts at the Hardees IcePlex in Chesterfield...The official training center for the Blues is the IceZone in Hazelwood...Since the end of the last NHL season, former Blue and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and his wife, former Pattonville High School student Janet Jones, purchased a home in Frontenac.