Troy Brouwer hesitated momentarily before collecting his thoughts.
What do you say to fans that for four months have had to endure the incessant bickering between NHL owners and players?
How do you ease the pain of loyal fans that had their season tickets confiscated while the league and its players haggled over how to divide $3.3 billion in annual revenue?
“Were very sorry that it took this long; it shouldn’t have,” Brouwer told CSNWashington.com.
“For the fans that don’t come back, we understand. For the ones that do, we want to say thank you for being very patient with us.
“There has been quite a bit of damage done to the league and its reputation. To be able to get that back we’re going to have to work hard and provide a very quality product, something fans can enjoy and be proud to support.”
It won’t be easy.
The NHL has endured three work stoppages in the past 19 years. Each time, it rebounded with record growth. But at some point, will fans say enough is enough? How long before the league suffers the consequences of its actions?
“I think this lockout will definitely have an impact,” Caps left wing Jason Chimera said. “In [the last lockout of] 2004-05 I don’t remember this much negativity toward the league.
“This is a different animal. The game was growing and I’m sure fans think we were foolish. It’s going to take some time.
“I think hockey players and hockey fans are very loyal people. I think hockey fans will come back. It’s the people who got on board the last couple years who may not come back right away.”
Many of those are Capitals fans who were drawn to the sport by the 2005 arrival of Alex Ovechkin, who helped revitalize the region’s interest in the NHL. Ovechkin is expected to arrive from Moscow in the coming days and begin training camp with the Caps later this week.
Fans anxious to see the Capitals under new coach Adam Oates will return to Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the start of what promises to be a 48- or 50-game sprint to the playoffs.
Getting back on that ice, Brouwer said, is the first step in the healing process.
“We did some damage, but getting back on the ice was really important,” he said. “We couldn’t afford to miss the whole year. That would have been terrible.”
“I’m just sorry the business part had to get in the way of such a good game,” he said. “You realize how much of a business it is when you go through this. They’ve stuck with us. I got a ton of emails and texts today saying, ‘Congratulations, I’m ready to watch.’”
Chimera, who stopped at Kettler on his way to Fed-Ex Field, said he was looking forward to mingling with fans at Sunday’s Redskins-Seahawks playoff game.
“There was a lot of negativity out there,” he said. “It was embarrassing for the game … especially when we agreed to money a month and a half ago. It was nice to walk my kids to the park today and have a clear mind and no gloom and doom.”