Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A good ol' hockey game

Diehard fans gather at Forks to play around with NHLers

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It was a slice of Canadiana, a scene very much worthy of being depicted on a painting or a postcard.


With the city's skyline and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights serving as the backdrop, roughly 200 hockey fans of all sizes and ages gathered on the top level of The Forks parkade late Tuesday afternoon for an impromptu road-hockey game featuring Winnipeg Jets players Andrew Ladd, Jim Slater and Mark Stuart and Kenora's Mike Richards, a member of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

"This is so cool," said a dad, decked out in a Jets jacket. "The last time we did this, it was Portage and Main and it was a bit bigger. But this is fun."

Yes, the last time Winnipeggers gathered en masse for a pickup game, the occasion was a bit more historic as the announcement of the NHL's triumphant return was celebrated with a game at the city's iconic intersection.

This game, the brainchild of Cabbie Richards of The Sports Network, helped rekindle -- even for a few moments -- the diehards' love for the sport and its players. But it only came about because of the ongoing lockout that has the NHL and the NHL Players' Association at war and has robbed fans of the first two months of the season.

"Obviously we'd like to be in the MTS (Centre) playing games, but this is a unique experience for everybody," said Stuart. "This brings you back to your childhood. I love outdoor ice. Growing up in Minnesota, there were so many outdoor rinks. My dad built a rink in the backyard when we were growing up and my two brothers and sister would get out there and we'd have a lot of fun."

Jet fans were at full throat for the road-hockey game as it took roughly 10 seconds after the first faceoff for the first "Go Jets Go!" to be heard. Later, after Slater set up a goal, another crew started up with the familiar "G-S-T" chant that became regular last season when the Jets' popular checking line of Tanner Glass-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn went to work.

Spotted in the crowd were Jets jerseys featuring the names Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Bogosian, Byfuglien, Pavelec, Kane, Burmistrov and Selanne, while other fans were decked out in Richards jerseys -- both of the Kings and Philadelphia Flyers variety -- along with a Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban, Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings and an Edmonton Oilers' Wayne Gretzky.

Just to add to the collection, one fan was rocking a Quebec Nordiques sweater and another was sporting the Atlanta Thrashers look. Of course, Mayor Sam Katz was there too in his Jets jersey.

All this came together quickly, courtesy of Cabbie, TSN's roving fun-meister.

"We came in 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 (back to Toronto) 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. I'm freezing, but I had a good time. And I suck at hockey and that's why I didn't play."

TSN crew

The event was filmed by a TSN crew, but was more impromptu than choreographed and gained momentum when both Richards and Ladd used their Twitter accounts to promote the gathering just a few hours beforehand.

"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."

Interestingly, Tuesday night's NHL schedule -- before the labour war wiped it out through to the end of November -- was to have featured the Jets in their 12th game of the 2012-13 season with a home date against the New Jersey Devils. And Richards, who has yet to receive his Stanley Cup ring, and the rest of his Kings' teammates were to be in Nashville to face the Predators.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2012 C1

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