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Slater clan off to Churchill in lieu of contest vs. Hurricanes

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It would be so easy for Jim Slater to stew. If he wished, he could storm about his Winnipeg condo cursing the NHL lockout and how it has completely messed up plans he had made for this week and beyond.

Thursday was supposed to be Opening Night for the NHL and the curtain was to rise on the Winnipeg Jets' 2012-13 season with a matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

Slater's mom and dad are already here -- all the way from Lapeer, Mich. -- and the idea was for them to soak up all the fun surrounding the Jets' opener along with his fiancée.

So now what? Dinner and a movie with his sweetie and the folks, perhaps?

"We're going to Churchill to see the polar bears and do the polar-bear thing," Slater said Thursday after skating with a dozen Jets and local NHLers at the MTS Iceplex.

"They say this is the high season for it and if we were playing, you don't get the opportunity to do that. But now that we're locked out you've got to find different things to do and I'm really looking forward to going up there and checking that whole thing out."

It was at this point when one media wag chimed in with:

'So, it's polar bears instead of Hurricanes...'

"Yup," added Slater with a chuckle. "That's a good headline."

Yes, it's come to this for Slater, his Jet teammates and the rest of the locked-out NHL: anger and frustration has given way to resignation and now, a size-large case of the blahs.

"Are you guys getting bored yet?" Bryan Little asked a pair of reporters Thursday.

"Sure," came the answer. "You?"

"Oh yeah," said Little. "Every day is the same. And it's not fun.

"I went home a couple of weeks ago for a few days. I think guys are just trying to change the scenery a bit just so you don't get too bored with things. Basically when the weekend comes you try and change things up just to keep it interesting.

"It feels like we should have been playing a long time ago. Everything is going by slow. It's hard to believe it's the middle of October. It's strange. I've found myself watching lots of baseball, which I don't normally do. That's all there is to do right now, watch baseball playoffs.

"That's pretty upsetting when you're supposed to be playing and you're sitting at home."

A number of the Jets currently in town don't exactly go into hiding after practice either. And so when they are out and they are recognized, they do get a sense of fans' frustration -- aimed at both the owners and players.

An example, courtesy Slater:

"We were at a bar one night and guys are yelling, 'You should be playing hockey and not drinking.' I mean, everyone has their own opinion and you try to laugh it off and walk away. But just so fans know, we want to be out there more than anybody."

That much is obvious, especially when the first round of paycheques disappear in the middle of the month.

"It's frustrating when you see them meeting for an hour and then taking a couple days off for a break," said Little of the NHL and NHL Players' Association big wigs. "It's like, 'Good thing you guys get a break after meeting for an hour.' The best line I heard was from Bobby Orr, saying, 'We should lock them in a room and give them some bread and water until they figure it out.'

"Usually when you see people at the grocery store or wherever, they're pretty polite and they say, 'Get back soon. We miss it.' I'm sure they're not as polite behind (our) backs. If I was a fan I'd be frustrated and angry with everyone involved. For them, they don't really care whose fault it is, they just want to see hockey.

"I think they're being patient," Little added, "but we're definitely testing their patience right now."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

OPENING NIGHT IN THE N-H... OH, NEVER MIND

The first chunk of NHL regular-season games was scheduled for Thursday night -- before the lockout shelved them.

Here's who should have been in action as the curtain raised for opening night:

Ottawa Senators at Montreal Canadiens

Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers

Vancouver Canucks at Calgary Flames

St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2012 C2

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