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Twitter remains at forefront of hockey world as tentative deal reached

Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall looks on during a stoppage in play against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., January 24, 2012. From start to finish, social media was an ever-present force during the NHL's lockout.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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Edmonton Oilers' Taylor Hall looks on during a stoppage in play against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., January 24, 2012. From start to finish, social media was an ever-present force during the NHL's lockout.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

From start to finish, social media was an ever-present force during the NHL's labour dispute.

Reaction was almost immediate early Sunday morning as word spread among players, media and fans that the 113-day lockout would likely be coming to an end after the league and the NHL Players' Association reached a tentative agreement.

"So excited to get back to Edmonton," said left-winger Taylor Hall. "See you soon Oiler fans!!!!"

New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson appreciated the time that went in to the final 16-hour negotiating session.

"Woke up to some great news," tweeted Moulson. "Big thank you to all who put in countless hours to get this thing done @NHLPA."

"To the fans that won't come back, I can understand," said Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette to his more than 360,000 followers. "To the ones that will, thank you for your patience. Welcome back NHL hockey."

Dustin Brown, the captain of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, was his usual pithy self: "Finally."

The official Twitter account of the Kings was more exuberant as the news broke.

"First order of business: raise banner," the team said in a tweet.

Hockey media members were excited to get back to covering the game itself.

"Who knew amping up my workouts 4 weeks ago would have more meaning. At least I have 2 Abs now," said former all-star Jeremy Roenick, who now provides commentary on hockey broadcasts for NBC Sports, adding the hashtags #SuitsFit #CameraAdds10lbs #HockeyisBack.

Social media—especially Twitter—has been an important forum for fans, players and media to voice their opinions throughout the lockout.

"There's been this giant conversation that's happened about this lockout that has never happened before because there was never the venue to do that," said social media expert Alex Sevigny. "The only place they could do that before was the pub or the cafe or the sports-themed restaurant. This time they had 24/7 access."

Sevigny, director of the Master of Communications Management program at McMaster University, said the league has missed an opportunity to communicate directly with fans by not embracing social media more.

"They completely missed the boat on the idea that fans were talking about this all the time, in their spare time, Facebooking, tweeting, adding comments on news stories online," he said.

The players, said Sevigny, "acted like human beings" on social media.

"Sometimes they expressed their frustration, because they were doing that as individuals," he said.

"Hockey Night in Canada" commentator Don Cherry appears to have embraced Twitter during the lockout. He posted his thoughts on the negotiations a few times, including a series of posts on Dec. 22 when he assured fans that a deal would get done to save a 48-game season.

"Look to the middle of January for the game to return!" said Cherry. "Those people who say it won't be good hockey because it's only half a season don't know what they're talking about."

He also gave credit to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a pair of tweets Sunday morning.

"For all you people that are going to watch NHL hockey this year, make no mistake about it, you're watching it because of Gary Bettman..." Cherry tweeted.

"Bettman was the guy that had to pull the trigger whether this was done or not. He saved the season," he added.

Winnipeg Jets left-winger Evander Kane was a lightning rod for controversy on Dec. 19 when he tweeted a photo of himself holding stacks of money to his ear like a telephone.

Kane told the Winnipeg Free Press that the picture was taken in November and he posted it "as a joke." He said it had nothing to do with the lockout. Still, he was sharply criticized for the photo.

"I wonder how many ppl can't pay bills because you guys still think you're not getting a sweet enough deal? #pathetic," posted one fan.

"Take your millions of dollars and shove it," read another angry tweet.

Some were kinder to Kane, however.

"Would be a good idea to delete the tweet with you and the cash. Some folks can't pay their bills because you guys aren't playing," said former Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicker Troy Westwood.

Twitter has also provided some of the lighter moments during the lockout.

On Dec. 5, the NHL erected a podium in the media room of the hotel where negotiations were taking place. Journalists waiting for an announcement of some sort snapped photos of the lectern and posted them on Twitter.

Soon, the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #PodiumWatch began trending across Canada and the United States, with several fake accounts being created for the podium.

"Media asking for interviews. I explained I'm an inanimate object incapable of sentient thought. They say no problem, we're used to Crosby," tweeted the parody account @NHLPodium.

It wasn't the last time a photo became a hot topic. On Jan. 3, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun tweeted a photo of the assembled media waiting for news as a mediation session between the NHL and NHLPA continued.

An unsuspecting Darren Dreger, a reporter for TSN, was in the foreground of the photo, coloured a shade of grey by the screen of his smartphone.

Soon hockey fans on Twitter were placing Dreger's face in pictures of historic events and the hashtag #DregerFace was trending worldwide, including No. 1 in Canada.

—With files from Ben Shingler in Montreal

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