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After long labor standoff, NHL players finally back on ice

By Greg Botelho, CNN
January 20, 2013 -- Updated 0014 GMT (0814 HKT)
Hockey officially returns in North America after NHL players were locked out of the first half of the season.
Hockey officially returns in North America after NHL players were locked out of the first half of the season.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NHL owners locked out players in September, seeking a new labor agreement
  • The two sides went back and forth for three months, before reaching a deal
  • After a week of practice, teams had their first regular season games Saturday

(CNN) -- After being on ice for several more months than planned, National Hockey League players are back where they belong.

And that is, of course, on the ice -- as players dashed, dipped and scored around pro rinks around North America on Saturday, the first day of the league's now abbreviated regular season.

The return was long awaited, but hardly guaranteed. NHL owners locked out players September 15, and in the subsequent months the two sides engaged in a sometimes acrimonious process to reach a new labor deal.

In that stretch, league officials canceled the All-Star Game, the annual outdoor Winter Class game and hundreds of regular season games. And they threatened to scrap the entire campaign -- like they did for the 2004-2005 season, which was also due to labor strife -- if a deal couldn't be reached in January.

But one was reached, on January 12, when the NHL Players' Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement. The schedule came out that night, giving teams one week to get together, get in shape and get ready for the new season.

On Saturday, they were back.

Those back on the ice included the Los Angeles Kings, nine months removed from winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship despite being one of the two lowest-seeded squads in the playoffs.

A raucous Staples Center crowd reveled in their return, as the championship banner was raised aloft.

The team's captain, Dustin Brown, said the response was great. But, mostly, he and other players were just itching to get back on the ice.

"It's a pretty proud moment for the team," he told NBC. "But as players we just wanted to get it up there and start playing."

The game did not quite work out the Kings' way. They fell to the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-2.

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