Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frustrated puck fans fuming

Groans greet latest breakdown in NHL talks

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Hockey fans eager to see the Winnipeg Jets back on the ice felt like they'd been bodychecked by Dustin Byfuglien on Thursday night after labour negotiations between the players' union and the NHL went south.

Eyes were glued to the wide-screens at 4Play Sports Bar as news hit that after a couple of days of optimism, the talks had broken down yet again.

Fans' disappointment quickly turned to frustration and anger.

"I just want it so bad. I need it," said Chris Grandy, who watched the news conferences of both NHL Players' Association boss Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on the televisions at 4Play.

"They're proposing the same deal over and over. I want my hockey."

Grandy noted that a year ago, local hockey fans were celebrating the long-awaited return of the NHL and hoping every Jets game would go into overtime to soak up a few extra minutes of the game. Now, he and other hockey lovers are missing out on what they waited 15 years to see come back to Winnipeg.

He's heard some fans grumbling they plan to boycott the NHL when play resumes, but he hopes there will be a second wave of enthusiasm for Winnipeg's hockey team when the labour negotiations are finally settled.

Several sports fans at 4Play said they are watching more football during the lockout than they would have if the NHL were playing a regular season.

"It's no good... it's sad," said Fraser Gilbert, who noted downtown sports bars that were filled with hockey fans during the frenzy of the 2011-12 Jets season are practically empty this winter.

Vancouver resident Mike Metzak, who is visiting the city, said he hoped both sides would reach a deal Thursday, but now thinks fans are unlikely to see a hockey season this year.

He thinks politics on both sides are to blame for the impasse and the result is not good for hockey fans.

"It's disappointing," he said. "It's not good news."

Elizabeth Kritch said it's unfortunate the Jets lost part of a season before they left Winnipeg and part of a season following their return.

A lockout in 1994-95 resulted in the cancellation of part of the NHL's regular-season games. The Jets left Winnipeg in 1996. The NHL's 2004-2005 season was also cancelled due to a labour dispute.

"One year after the Jets come home the lockout happens. I'm upset. I hope we see some hockey this season," Kritch said.

After watching the televised update on the lockout, Damon Irons said all he really heard from the Fehr and Bettman was, "blah, blah, blah" and "legal-speak."

He said lockouts are bad for any sport, as they take enthusiasm away from the game.

He said he won't be surprised if people follow other sports or spend their hard-earned cash on other forms of entertainment to fill the void.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 B1

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