Lightning fans showed up at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Friday for a free lunch and a chance to see the team before the big season opener.
Fans arrived in jerseys and hats, expressing relief that after a months-long delay, professional hockey was returning to the Tampa Bay area.
"I'm addicted to hockey and I've been waiting forever," said Tampa resident Beth Hunt, whose blue jersey said "GrandmaBeth" on the back.
The question for the Lightning now is whether all fans will return with as much enthusiasm and goodwill after waiting for a collective bargaining agreement to signal the start of the season, delayed from the fall.
"We all weren't happy were weren't playing hockey," said Lightning chief operating officer Steve Griggs. "Jeff Vinik wasn't happy, we weren't happy, the players weren't happy. So we're excited that it's back. We're glad it's back. And we're going to work very hard to get all the fans back."
Fans were offered a free lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers outside the Forum on Friday, and a chance to see the team practicing inside on the ice.
The season opener is Saturday against the Washington Capitals.
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