A season many feared would be lost is finally scheduled to start this weekend, and to welcome fans back the Washington Capitals threw open the Verizon Center doors Thursday for a fan appreciation night.
"I am so happy," said Capitals fan Debbie Tennant as she sat in the front row to watch an open practice that was part of the event.
The National Hockey League was supposed to start regular season play in October. But a lockout kept that from happening and threatened to cancel the season.
But within the last week representatives of the players and owners signed the final papers necessary to have a season, albeit a shortened one. The Capitals and other teams will play 48 games instead of the usual 82.
For some people, life goes on if their favorite sport is having labor troubles and no games are being played. But that's not the case with die-hard hockey fans.
"We are a unique breed of fan," said Tim Tennant of Sterling, Virginia. "I was stuck watching the minor leagues, I was watching Canadian hockey, I was doing whatever I could."
"Ask my wife, she'll tell you," said fan Matt Crocker of Waldorf. ""It's like, 'oh, what do you want to do?' 'I don't know what do you want to do?' 'Let's watch hockey.' But we couldn't."
But now the NHL is back, and the Capitals did what they could to rebuild goodwill with fans Thursday night. All food and drinks except beer were given away for free, and the event itself was also free.
The team opens its season Saturday night in Tampa. The home opener will be Tuesday night at 7:00 against the Winnipeg Jets.