ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — What lockout?
Minnesota Wild players and team officials have apologized for the half-season lost, and the fans who lined up Wednesday morning to buy tickets at the Xcel Energy Center were quick to forgive.
John Maher, the vice president of marketing, said single-game tickets have been especially brisk this year, despite the uncertainty caused by the lockout. Saturday's season opener against the Colorado Avalanche and Feb. 17's game versus the Detroit Red Wings both sold out within an hour of the box office opening.
"We're so grateful to the fans. We certainly didn't know what to expect," Maher said.
About 150 people were waiting to buy tickets when the box office opened at 8 a.m., including more than 20 fans who spent the night inside the arena.
Pat Vos, of south Minneapolis, staked out his spot at the front of the line 24 hours early and was able to snag tickets to three home games, including tickets for Saturday's game for him and his son, Kyle.
"I'm just really relieved the lockout is over and we've got hockey back," said Vos.
Kyle Vos, who has been attending games with his father since the Wild's 2000-01 inaugural season, said he can't wait to see former New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise skate in a Wild jersey for the first time.
Matt Majka, the team's chief operating officer, said the summer signings of Parise, a Minneapolis native, and fellow star free agent Ryan Suter, who grew up in Wisconsin, "makes coming back a little less challenging." The team sold 4,000 season ticket packages after signing the duo and another 100 last week after news broke that the lockout would soon end.
Like the 29 other teams, the Wild have been working extra hard to win back fans after the 119-day lockout, which was the NHL's second lockout in eight seasons.
The team's "Wild Wednesday" was to conclude with an intra-squad game open to fans. Those lucky enough to get free tickets to the 7 p.m. scrimmage were to receive $10 concession vouchers. All Wild fans got a 50 percent discount on jerseys and other apparel at the team's three metro-area stores.
"We think we owe it to our fans. We're really committed to winning their faith and trust back," Majka said.
Not all fans are ready to forgive and forget.
Blake Bennett, a 25-year-old Target worker, said he used to drive down twice a year from Duluth to watch the Wild play, then went to 10 games a season once he moved to Minneapolis. But he plans to watch games from home this season, because he feels the players and owners took the fans for granted in their dispute over revenue sharing and contract limits.
Wild fans rushed back after the 2004-05 lockout: A record 19,398 fans attended the first home game after a season-long breakdown. League-wide attendance rose by 500,000 that season, compared to 2003-04.
Kyle Reinhardt drove up from Rochester to get in line at 2:30 a.m., hoping to get as many tickets as possible for Sunday games before heading back home for work Wednesday morning.
Reinhardt said he initially blamed the league's owners for cutting the season short, but that's in the past. He won't let the lockout stop him from enjoying his sixth year of Wild hockey.
"They understand that they might have been a little wrong," he said.
With the first game just days away, expectations are high for the Wild to perform. Kyle Vos said he expects the team to clinch its first playoff berth since 2008.
Wild players know the pressure is on.
"It's not enough for us to say we're sorry ... We have to go out there and play good hockey and worry," goalie Niklas Backstrom said. "We have to do our job to repair the damage."