It wasn’t exactly how Andrew Ladd & Co. figured they’d spend their afternoon in downtown Winnipeg when the National Hockey League’s 2012-13 schedule was first released.
Before the lockout, before the labour strife between the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association made November games moot, the Winnipeg Jets were supposed to meet the New Jersey Devils at MTS Centre in what was to be the 12th game of the Jets’ schedule.
Instead, Ladd and Jet teammates Jim Slater and Mark Stuart and Mike Richards of the Stanley-Cup champion Los Angeles Kings gathered on the top level of The Forks’ parkade for an impromptu road hockey game with fans. The idea was the brainchild of Cabbie Richards of The Sports Network, who orchestrated the proceedings and pick-up games that featured dozens of local hockey players and fans, approximately 150 in total, who gathered to take in an event that gained momentum through Twitter.
"We came just for this," said Cabbie after the event, won by Team Ladd 5-3 over Team Richards. "I hit up Richie (Richards) and Ladd and asked them if they’d be interested in doing a pop-up road hockey game. They both agreed, we found a date that worked. I flew here this morning and we’re flying tomorrow. We did something like this in Montreal and it was pretty successful. We knew Winnipeg was a diehard hockey market. It’s awesome to see how many people showed up."
It took just seconds into the first pick-up game before the first ‘Go Jets Go!’ chant was heard and the afternoon wrapped up with all the players gathering for a team photo, with the Museum of Human Rights prominent in the background. A number of fans wore jerseys from their favourite players, including Jets Ladd, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec.
"This is our way of staying in the community and, obviously with the situation (the lockout) it makes it a lot tougher for fans to see us and be involved with us," said Ladd. "This was a great idea by Cabbie to set this up."
Asked what he’s been doing to kill time, Richards was blunt:
"Not much. I’m just trying to stay in shape to be ready for hopefully when we do settle and get back on the ice. The fans are missing hockey just as much as we are. We’re not only the players of the game, we’re fans of the game and we miss being around the guys and around competitive hockey."
The two men are also scheduled to play in a charity game this Saturday at the University of Manitoba’s Max Bell Centre. The game will feature NHLers and members of the Winnipeg Police Service’s hockey team, the Patrolmen Hockey Club. Money raised from the event will go to Manitoba children charities, including the Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Dream Factory.