By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Flyers All-Star Claude Giroux received the wakeup call he waited to hear for 113 days.
Locked out for months, the NHL was indeed ready to drop the puck.
"It's a beautiful day for Hockey," he posted Sunday on Twitter.
Call the overseas players and tell them to come on home to New Jersey and Pennsylvania and other states where the NHL only existed in the form of messy labor updates. The NHL and the players' association agreed on a tentative pact to end the lockout and save what is left of a fractured schedule.
Let the training camps begin.
"I'm ready to play," Flyers veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "We're just waiting for the season to get started. It's been a long four months."
But, finally, fans can stop thinking about board rooms and talking heads dressed in suits. Rather, it's time to get ready for Sid the Kid. It's time for the Los Angeles Kings to go defend the Stanley Cup. It's time to watch your team play, oh, about four times per week.
Sure, the Winter Classic was wiped out. The All-Star game went bust.
But at 48 or 50 games, it's still hockey at the highest level.
One of the questions that arises now, of course, and after any sort of stoppage for that matter, is will the fans come back? This is the third labor dispute in Commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure, and though the fans returned in the past, the jury is out this time.
NHL fan Steve Chase started the grass roots "Just Drop It" campaign that encouraged fans to skip one NHL game for every game canceled after Dec. 21st. He asked fans to pledge they would not spend a penny or a minute of their time on tickets, TV, merchandise, all things NHL.
Nearly 21,000 fans had clicked the "like" button on the group's Facebook page by Sunday afternoon. And Chase, who lives in Los Angeles, wrote on the site he would stay true to his commitment.
"AS IT STANDS RIGHT NOW: Games canceled from Dec 21 to Jan 14th average out to 10 per team," he wrote. "They took 10 from us, we'll take 10 from them. No tickets, no TV, no merchandise."
Chase said there was growing sentiment among his friends to skip the entire season. He said the league and players didn't think enough about the part-time employees and local businesses who needed the sport to help survive the winter months.
"Look at all the bars around the rinks and all the shops that sold jerseys. They're all getting killed," he said by phone. "We kept promoting, go to those bars and buy pizza. Keep them going. When hockey comes back, you're going to want somewhere to go."
At downtown Detroit's Rub BBQ Pub, manager Chris Eid said he was "ecstatic" when he heard the news Sunday morning. And the settlement and the promise of a return to NHL action was a big topic of conversation among his afternoon customers, he said.
"Everyone misses hockey," Eid said. "And now we're getting it back."
Many of the NHL players can understand the chilly reception from the fans.
"To the fans that won't come back, I can understand," Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette wrote on Twitter. "To the ones that will, thank you for your patience. Welcome back NHL hockey."
Amid the realization they'll have to repair the damaged relationship with the die-hards, Flyers chairman Ed Snider told The Associated Press he hoped the fans returned to support the league.
"I'm hoping that our fans understand this was something that had to be done for the strength of the league, for the strength of the Players Association," Snider said by phone. "I hope they don't hold it against us and just come out and see some great hockey. If I had to guess, I think we're going to be in great shape."
The Nashville Predators encouraged fans to wear team colors on Monday in a show of solidarity. Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tweeted, "Welcome back!" at a trio of Predators.
It won't be a rosy return for every player. The New Jersey Devils have four players still overseas, including star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who could well become the team's captain now that forward Zach Parise is in Minnesota. Giroux (neck) and his Flyers teammate, forward Danny Briere (wrist), were injured in their European stints. Giroux is expected to be ready for training camp. Briere's status is unknown.
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