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Merrimack Valley

December 2, 2012

NHL lockout leaves local fans in the cold

Karen Czifrik is a typical hockey fan. To say she’s passionate about the game would be an understatement on par with describing 6-foot-9 Bruins captain Zdeno Chara as on the tall side.

Czifrik ranks Boston’s Stanley Cup-clinching victory on June 15, 2011, as one of the best days of her life — rivaled only by the birth of her children. Hitting the Powerball jackpot? Czifrik said she’d trade that just to see the Bruins back on the ice.

“Hockey’s my escape,” said the 41-year-old from Salem, N.H. “I’m not even in the holiday spirit. It’s already been a hard winter.”

She’s not alone. In September, the National Hockey League locked out its players for the third time in 18 years. All the action since has taken place in the boardroom, leaving hockey fans to play an all-too-familiar waiting game.

A third of the NHL’s regular season has already been cancelled due to the lockout, along with the league All-Star Game and popular Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year’s Day.

In question is $3.3 billion in annual revenue. But progress has come slow on a new collective bargaining agreement between team owners and the players’ union, leaving fans to wonder if the entire season will be erased just like it was in 2005.

“We bounced back from the last lockout pretty well,” said Tim Corcoran of Lawrence, who plays pickup hockey in Methuen and coaches his son’s youth team. “Hockey was doing great. I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I don’t know if they’ll survive this one.”

Puckheads in the Merrimack Valley are blessed with a number of alternatives. Top-tier college hockey is played in North Andover, Lowell and Boston and the NHL’s feeder league — the American Hockey League — has franchises in Manchester and Worcester.

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