Alexei Ponikarovsky has been there, done that with all this lockout stuff before.
And so maybe it’s the experience of having lived through the lost NHL season of 2004-05 that has given one of the newest Winnipeg Jets a sense of perspective. In Winnipeg since last Wednesday, the 32-year-old product of Kyiv has taken a calm, cool and collected approach to what NHLers might be facing as early as this weekend if the league and NHL Players’ Association can’t quickly hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the current one that expires Saturday night.
"I was through that in the last lockout in 2004. It’s the same as before," said Ponikarovsky Tuesday after skating with several fellow Jets and local NHLers at MTS Iceplex. "You’re waiting to see what’s going to happen, you’re still training hard to get ready for the training camp. If it’s not going to happen maybe you’ll take a little break and then regroup and go again. We’ll see. It’s hard to say right now how long it’s going to take and how long we have to wait for it."
Ponikarovsky, married and with three children, arrived in Winnipeg last week. During the 2004-05 lockout he packed up and left the Toronto Maple Leafs to play 19 games with Khimik Moscow Oblast of the KHL. He plans to be more patient this time to see how negotiations unfold before exploring other options.
"If I was a single guy... I have a family and there are some other things you have to look after," he said. "It’s not just Plan B and you leave. No. We’ll see. I’m going to take it one day at a time and see what’s going to happen and how the negotiations happen and we’ll go from there. For me, to be in shape and have some games played is pretty important, too. There’s nothing like a game. You can practise as much as you want, but if you don’t play games it’s a little bit different. When the season starts you want to be ready."
More than anything, Ponikarovsky simply wants to get acclimatized to his new surroundings and get comfy with his new/old teammates – he played with both Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood back in the days with the Leafs.
"It’s nice to be back in Canada," he said. "You see all those things, like I was in Toronto with all the same stores. In the States it’s a little bit different... it’s that feeling you’re back in Canada and I know everybody is paying a lot of attention here to hockey, especially in this city. I know the fans are great here and I’m looking forward to actually starting the season, if it’s going to happen.
"Winnipeg is probably, what, 600,000 people? In my mind it’s a pretty good community in terms of hockey. Everybody is crazy about it. When I played against the Jets here with other teams you get a great crowd here. It’s nice to play on the other side now."