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Hockey talk invades the links

Players Cup pro-am sees elite NHLers share opinions

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Put NHL players into a tournament-golf setting during the summer and after the wow of how well some of them can hit a ball off a tee, the interest turns to... hockey, of course.

Welcome to Tuesday's celebrity pro-am day of the Canadian Tour's Players Cup at Pine Ridge.

Winnipegger and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews led one side of Tuesday's competition, facing off against a rival group of nine foursomes under captain Shane Hnidy, ex of the Boston Bruins and now TSN 1290's Jets' colour analyst.

Among Hnidy's recruits (they went on to beat Toews' team) was Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian, who didn't get queried much about his golf game.

But what about the Jets' new free agent signings Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky and goalie Al Montoya?

"We've gotten bigger up front and that's something that will help us," Bogosian said under another day of sizzling sun. "And signing Montoya, having played a bit with him at world championships, he's a good goaltender and I think our management's done a pretty good job so far in the off-season.

"I think we've gotten better with those three signings."

The buzz of free agency has waned somewhat, though a few fish are still out there and Toews confirmed Tuesday he's piped in with a few texts to as-yet-unsigned Phoenix captain Shane Doan.

"I'm not going to lie, there have been a few text messages here and there with guys I know," Toews said. "It's been different than other years because this year we're in the mix to look for another player."

There's even some suggestion out there that Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo, who is likely to be moved, could wind up in Chicago.

"It's pretty interesting," Toews grinned. "We all know the pressure he's been under in Vancouver. He's looking for a fresh start. It's just kind of tough to comment on. We like our team, we like our goaltenders. Who knows?"

July's interest in free agency will transition soon, if it already hasn't, to whether a season might start on time this fall. The league and its players association are in negotiations for a new labour agreement. The current one expires Sept. 15.

Bogosian said he hasn't watched the process too carefully yet, but Toews has been to one NHLPA meeting and sounds engaged.

What would he tell fans getting anxious already?

"I always tell them it's a one-day-at-a-time type thing," Toews said. "You kind of learn what's going on in the negotiations and where we stand as players and where the owners stand. That always changes day to day.

"For myself, I'm the last guy who can predict anything because it's my first time being a part of something like this. The fans want to see hockey and the players want to play hockey. That's what it comes down to. It's all about reaching a fair deal and we want the NHL to realize that. We'll see how it goes."

Hnidy, who's been retired for a year but is still very well-connected, said he's choosing the optimistic view, even though he hears the pessimists out there.

"A lot of people know more than me and they're not as optimistic as I am," Hnidy said. "I think something can get done. They're talking about the simple issues now. Some need to be sorted out. I don't know if we'll see training camps but I think we'll see hockey start on time, but December the latest."

NOTES: Tuesday's field included former Jets defenceman Dave Manson, former Moose captain Nolan Baumgartner, now an assistant coach of the AHL's Chicago Wolves, the Ottawa Senators' Mark Stone and his brother Mike of the Phoenix Coyotes, defenceman Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues forward Ryan Reaves.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2012 C2

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