Hockey players scatter

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2004

NHL players began scattering across the globe Thursday in search of work on Day 1 of the lockout, with no negotiations scheduled between union and management.

While rinks from Pittsburgh to Montreal to Anaheim figure to be quiet in the coming weeks, the ice will be crowded with high-priced talent in places such as the Czech Republic.

Jaromir Jagr skated for the first time with the Czech team Rabat Kladno, wearing the blue and white colors of the club that nurtured him before he arrived in the NHL in 1990. His father is the club president.

''He should start playing as soon as he is healthy, hopefully next week,'' said Ota Cerny, the team's general manager, referring to the hip injury that bothered Jagr during the World Cup of Hockey.

The Finnish league had its season-opening games Thursday night and several NHL players were involved.

Ville Nieminen, who played for Stanley Cup finalist Calgary Flames last season, set up Tappara's only goal in a 6-1 loss to Ilves.

Esa Pirnes of the Los Angeles Kings had three assists and Tomi Pettinen of the New York Islanders had two assists as Lukko routed Assat 6-1.

Two of Sweden's biggest stars, 2002 NHL MVP Peter Forsberg of the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto captain Mats Sundin, will likely skate in their home country later this season.

Other NHL stars returning home include forwards Martin Rucinsky, Vaclav Prospal and Martin Straka and defender Jaroslav Spacek. Their presence should be a major boost for the Czech league.

Jagr, who would have been working out with his New York Rangers teammates if not for the lockout, also returned to the Czech Republic during the 1994 NHL lockout. He scored eight goals in 11 games for Kladno.

Pavel Barta, a Czech league official, said about 30 of the 73 Czech-born NHL players will come home to play in local leagues during the lockout which both NHL owners and players say could wipe out this entire season. Among them is Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche, who is expected to join HC Moeller Pardubice.

''This is a great bonus that makes the local league much more attractive,'' Barta said. ''The fans will finally see the big names they otherwise see only on television.''

In North America, the predominant sound Thursday at NHL practice arenas was silence. In Columbus, Ohio, the speakers outside the Blue Jackets' arena were quiet instead of blaring franchise highlights.

Some players held informal workouts, while others were busy looking for work either overseas, or in the revived World Hockey Association that plans to open Oct. 29 or in a six-team circuit called the Original Stars Hockey League that will feature four-on-four play.

Others are expected to appear in the AHL, where the season begins Oct. 13. Three Ottawa Senators regulars will play for a farm team in Binghamton, N.Y., and Ottawa goalie Dominik Hasek is expected to at least work out with the minor league team for two weeks.

The league is seeking massive economic change, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the confrontation possibly could extend to the 2005-06 season and jeopardize the NHL's place in the 2006 Winter Olympics.

He said the teams combined to lose more than $1.8 billion over 10 years, adding management will not agree to a deal that doesn't include a defined relationship between revenue and salaries. Union head Bob Goodenow said players are ''not prepared to entertain a salary cap in any way, shape, measure or form.''

The 30 teams 24 in the United States, six in Canada had been set to start opening training camps Thursday, the day after the expiration of the current labor contract. The deal was first agreed to in 1995 and extended two years later through Sept. 15, 2004. Bettman termed the extension ''a mistake, in hindsight.''

While players and owners defended their positions Thursday, one player reflected on what could be his second lost season in recent years.

Several Sabres players and New York Islanders captain Michael Peca gathered at a rink in suburban Buffalo for an informal workout. Peca missed the entire 2000-01 season because of a contract dispute with the Sabres and eventually was traded in June 2001 to the Islanders.

''Speaking from experience, sitting out a season is not the easiest thing to do,'' he said. ''But (now) you have 700-plus guys on your side, and not just you standing alone. Obviously, the principles are very strong and we'll stick by them.''

The stoppage is the first for a North American major league since the 1998-99 NBA lockout cut each club's regular-season schedule from 82 games to 50. It is the third stoppage for the NHL.



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