Sunday January 13, 2013

Brian Zanin coaches Squirts in the Sheffield-based Berkshire Rattlers youth hockey program. He acknowledges it wasn't easy trying to tell his
8-year-old son, Nick, why his favorite National Hockey League team wasn't playing.

"You try to explain that people are going to work and they have to have an agreement," said Zanin, who lives in Great Barrington. "It's tough for an 8-year-old to grasp."

That concept is one that Nick Zanin and the rest of North America no longer have to worry about now that the NHL and its players union have reached an agreement on a contract that will guarantee labor peace in the sport for the next 10 years.

"I'm happy for my son. He's excited," Brian Zanin said. "He's a big [Boston] Bruins' fan. He's excited to see it start back up."

According to The Associated Press, the NHL Players Association finalized voting on the deal on Saturday. The two sides continue to complete a memorandum of understanding that the owners and players need to sign before training camps can officially open and the league can begin play.

Reports had indicated that a 48-game regular-season schedule would be put forward once camps open.

NHL teams normally play an 82-game schedule.

The players and owners agreed to a new contract on
Jan. 6, 113 days after the owners endorsed a decision to lock out players when the old contract expired Sept. 15. Lost in the work stoppage are the Winter Classic and the All-Star game.


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Throughout Berkshire County, NHL fans are glad to have their sport back.

"I originally told myself I wasn't going to watch" when the lockout ended, "but I'm a true hockey person, and I can't wait," said Pittsfield resident Dave Curran, 55, who played at Taconic High School before graduating in 1975. He coached at Taconic in the 1980s, at Pittsfield High in the late 1990s, and has been an on-ice official for more than two decades.

Williams College men's hockey coach Bill Kangas said he's more than ready to sit down in his den and watch the NHL.

"We all missed not seeing them play, seeing the best athletes in the world not playing," Kangas said. "Living in the Northeast, it's part of our culture to watch a game."

Also excited about the players being back is Andrew Leitch of Lanesborough. Leitch, a senior at Mount Greylock High, is the starting goalie on the St. Joseph's varsity team. He said he didn't think the league and players were going to come to an agreement.

"As the year went on and it passed over the time of the Winter Classic, I was very doubtful if it was going to come back," he said.

Thomas Rumbolt, president of the Berkshire Bruins youth hockey program, which has more than 100 players throughout the county, said a season without the NHL could have been detrimental to his program.

"The Bruins winning the Stanley Cup [in 2011] did create a little more excitement locally for our program. Kids became more engaged in it," Rumbolt said. "If the season had continued without hockey, certainly, there are a number of kids and adults that would get frustrated with the lack of professional hockey. It may have turned away a few kids."

Perhaps the Berkshires native who is happiest about the NHL starting up again is North Adams' Don DelNegro. That's because DelNegro, who graduated from Drury High School, has spent nearly two decades as the athletic trainer for the Boston Bruins.

DelNegro, who joined the Bruins after spending five years as director of sports medicine at Williams College, said he's ready for the players to start training camp.

"We knew it was going to end at some point, so during the whole lockout you have everything as prepared as you can," he said. "It's just like starting camp in September, except we're starting up in January."

To reach Howard Herman:
hherman@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6253.
On Twitter: @howardherman