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Hockey-mad fans ready to have an ice day

Red Carpet Event Chicago Blackhawks Home Opener.  Blackhawks No.19 Jonathan Toews walks red carpet.  January 22 2013 I

Red Carpet Event Chicago Blackhawks Home Opener. Blackhawks No.19 Jonathan Toews walks the red carpet. January 22, 2013 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Like a lot of Blackhawks fans, Dror Milinki of Wauconda suffered through the NHL lockout, upset with the players, the league and hockey in general.

‘‘That’s an understatement,’’ Milinki, 35, said as he enjoyed a refreshment on the 100 level concourse at the United Center two hours before the Blackhawks’ home opener. ‘‘I blame everyone. Money makes the world go ’round.’’

‘‘He took a lot of crap from his friends,’’ said Robert Sadlowski, 37, or Gurnee, who attended the game with Milinki. ‘‘He’s a real, solid hockey fan. A lot of our friends are closet fans. He took a lot of crap as it got closer and closer to the deadline. I think I saw him shed a tear when they announced [the lockout] was over.’’

That’s all it took for whatever resentment Milinki and other Blackhawks fans held against the team and the NHL for the work stoppage.

‘‘I think most people are just glad they’re playing hockey again,’’ said Paul Matthews, a Chicago police officer from Edison Park. ‘‘There was more aggravation because people wanted to come out and see the games.’’

Though there was concern that the lockout would affect the NHL, there was no evidence of that at the United Center, where a sellout crowd watched the Blackhawks play for the first time since a 4-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals last April.

Hockey still is a hot ticket in Chicago. Matthews bought $150 tickets for the opener when tickets first went on sale in September. His money was refunded after the games were cancelled, but he re-purchased tickets as soon as the lockout was over.

‘‘Both sides were hard-headed, but I don’t think it hurt the Hawks. In Chicago, we’re die-hard hockey fans here,’’ said Stacy Pellegrini of Oak Lawn. ‘‘I went through the lockout of 2004, and I was a little aggravated back then. So that’s why this year I was like, ‘I’m just going to wait it out.’ ’’

Though the lockout reduced the regular season from 82 games to 48, fans are looking at the bright side.

‘‘Every game’s like a playoff game,’’ Milinki said. ‘‘There’s a lot more pressure to make it to the playoffs. I think it makes it more interesting.’’



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