DALLAS -- They packed Victory Plaza before entering American Airlines Center. Then they gave a rousing ovation to Mike Modano, the beloved hockey icon who returned to the Dallas Stars earlier last week as an executive adviser and dropped the ceremonial puck.
They rose to their feet when Trevor Daley unleashed a slap shot early in the game, but couldn't celebrate as the puck was deflected wide. And they held their breath when Jaromir Jagr raced in on a power play minutes later, but didn't convert.
Finally, after more than 18 minutes of play, they were given a reason to cheer loudly. Jagr, in his Stars debut, scored the team's first goal of 2013, taking advantage of a timely pass by Loui Eriksson to put them up 1-0 on the Phoenix Coyotes.
The excitement and drama went from there, and the Stars capped off a memorable hockey night with a 4-3 victory before an announced sellout crowd of 18,532.
Among those in attendance were Cowboys offensive lineman Tyron Smith and Rangers starter Derek Holland. While the Stars announced a sellout, there were a few empty seats as the video board jokingly suggested that Manti Te'o's girlfriend occupied one of them.
Still, the crowd was loud and passionate for the first game since the 113-day lockout ended. The effects of the lockout appeared minimal to the casual hockey fan. There were moments of sloppiness, specifically in the first period, but nothing overly obvious.
"It's wonderful to have hockey back," said Nancy Shollenberger of North Richland Hills. "The lockout was annoying and there was nothing to watch on TV. Hockey is our sport, so it's nice to have it back."
Said Ron Horner, a 52-year-old from Dallas who brought his son and a friend to the game: "Labor disputes have become a part of sports today, but it's great to see them back on the ice. We try and get out here for a few games a year."
Tyler Foreman and Danielle Tipton made the 90-minute drive from Santo. Unlike most Texas sports fans, hockey ranks higher than football on their list.
"I'm tired of everyone talking about the Cowboys and football, so it's nice to have the Stars back," said Foreman, 22.
Said Tipton, 27: "Oh yeah, so tired of football. I've been waiting months for this."
The fans certainly left an impression on the players. Jagr, the star of the game by having a hand in all four goals, saw highlights from last season and was pleased to see a vastly different turnout.
"The clips from last year weren't very pretty," Jagr said, chuckling. "I said, 'Oh my God, there are like two or three fans.' But I'm glad the fans showed up. Hopefully we can play the way we played tonight and get some wins and fans are going to come to the game."
Added Brenden Morrow: "Hopefully we keep giving them a good product and they keep filling up the seats."
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760