They’re back, and not a moment too soon.

Businesses that catered to Buffalo hockey fans suffered mightily during the National Hockey League’s 113-day lockout, while Western New York’s hockey fans went through an extended period of withdrawal. There was hardly a “Woo-hoo!” to be heard as the cavernous First Niagara Center stood empty and silent.

No more. Today, the Sabres play hockey in the first game of a radically shortened season. Teams will play just 48 regular season games. Fans will savor them all, having apparently made peace with the fact that professional sports is, first and foremost, big business. Strikes and lockouts are part of the deal. All will be forgiven.

But it has been a burden. Livelihoods have been threatened and, while that is not the primary concern of the billionaires and millionaires who make up this league, we hope they will at least keep those people in mind before they create another disruption in play. They aren’t in this alone. The players and owners signed a 10-year deal, so there should be some respite from what has become an all-too-familiar ordeal.

This afternoon, the Philadelphia Flyers will take on the Sabres in Buffalo and, even if it’s a bad game, it will be a thrill. How long has it been since fans have been treated to the sight of waves of attackers swarming the net, of defensemen heading off trouble and of goaltenders snatching a sure thing out of the air? Too long.

The Sabres have become a part of the Buffalo DNA. For more than four decades, the team has played hockey in downtown Buffalo, quickly establishing itself as a contender. There have been many heartbreaks since those early days and, thus far, no Stanley Cup.

Will this be the year? The experts will argue about that but, for our part, we’re happy the team has a chance to show what it can do.

Is it 12:30 yet?