Possible NHL lockout would hurt fans, Southern California businesses

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National Hockey League players and team owners have resumed talks on a new labor deal, hoping to reach a breakthrough ahead of a possible lockout.

If the sides can't reach a deal before the current collective bargaining agreement expires Saturday, the league could face its second lockout in eight years.

An interruption in the NHL schedule could hurt in Southern California where fans are still enjoying the thrilling end of the Los Angeles Kings' first Stanley Cup title season.

Redondo Beach commercial real estate broker and longtime Kings fan George Ross follows all sports, but he said his passion is hockey. That's where he spends his entertainment dollars, and he's been doing that since long before Wayne Gretsky pulled on a Kings sweater 24 years ago.

And if there's no hockey?

"Unfortunately, there’s not really a place to go," said Ross. "There are only a few places where there is minor league hockey to watch instead. So you just turn to other sports and say, ‘I’ll just wait for hockey to come back.'"

If Ross doesn't spend his money going to hockey games, he's not going out to celebrate wins or grieve over losses at the bars and restaurants near Staples Center, the Kings' home ice.

After the team's Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the New Jersey Devils in June, happy fans streamed out of Staples Center and into downtown bars and restaurants to celebrate.

At La Gran Cucina on Figueroa, they gobbled up pizza and guzzled down beer.

Manager Henry Martinez can't wait for those Kings fans to come back. Earlier this week, only two customers showed up for lunch at the restaurant, which seats 100.

Martinez said he's worried that a National Hockey League lockout will hurt his business, where a large portion of sales comes from the hockey crowd.

“Overall, that would be horrible for all businesses around this area. It all means everything to us," Martinez said.

Hockey means everything to Ross. He remembers lonely days watching games in the Forum in Inglewood.

"I could buy a $4 ticket and walk down and pretty much sit on the glass and watch the Kings get beat up pretty much on a nightly basis," said Ross.

That all changed when Wayne Gretzky came to town in 1988. No more cheap tickets and no more moving down to the glass. The Kings now pack Staples Center regularly, with 40 games sold out last season - their best performance since 1991.

But Ross predicts an NHL labor dispute that cancels games and dominates the sports page headlines will chill hockey’s popularity.

“There’s a lot of momentum in Southern California, having the Kings just win the Stanley Cup. I think the last thing the local fans would want to see is a stoppage here,” Ross said.

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