They were lined up for the Toronto Maple Leafs open practice a half-hour before it opened on Monday morning.
Sunday, as NHL teams welcomed their players back, the concerns that the fans might stay away melted like ice in a mid-winter thaw: there were 1,200 people in Columbus for a Blue Jackets skate. In Frisco, Dallas Stars president Joe Nieuwendyk gushed about the "buzz" at their first day of camp and Jets fans lined up outside the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
Hockey is back and fears about its bubble bursting can seemingly be put aside for now.
Interesting that one of the architects of its return -- hammered out in a 16-hour, overnight bargaining session just a week ago -- spent the first day of hockey season at home, on the couch, watching the NFL playoffs and waiting for the phone to ring asking him to come to work.
Chris Campoli was part of a small handful of NHLPA members deeply involved in CBA negotiations from the beginning to the not-as-bitter-as-it-could-have-been end. He was in New York for meetings in the sweltering heat of summer and there over the frigid New Years week as the deal finally got done.