The National Hockey League lockout has reached Day 40-something, the Winter Classic may be deep-sixed later this week and indifference among the game's faithful seems to be setting in across the map.
But one side-effect to the lockout is just now becoming apparent:
The watchability factor of charity hockey games in North America is going through the stratosphere. And now a marquee event will be held in Winnipeg on Nov. 17 at the Max Bell Centre.
Details of "The Goals for Dreams Hockey Challenge" -- which will benefit the Dream Factory and The Children's Hospital Foundation -- were released on Monday by the Winnipeg Police Service Patrolmen Hockey Club and the NHL Players' Association.
The two teams will be captained by Andrew Ladd and Mark Stuart of the Winnipeg Jets and the collection of stars participating tentatively includes Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Jim Slater, Olli Jokinen, Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac, Tanner Glass, Colin Wilson and Shane Hnidy.
"We'll try and get a bunch of guys out, have some fun and raise a bunch of money," Ladd said Monday after another skate with teammates and local NHLers at MTS Iceplex.
"It's fun to mix things up. You get into such a routine right now where it's skate, work out, skate, work out. After a while it gets a little old. So just to mix it up and do something different and play games or simulated games. It's fun to have that break in between the monotony of skating and working out."
NHLers who don't head overseas or who aren't currently playing in the American Hockey League are admittedly craving the competitiveness of "real" hockey action -- the kind of intensity that can't be duplicated in practice or in a shinny game.
Now, in no way will these charity contests replace a fierce divisional rivalry or a battle for first place, but they do help get the competitive juices flowing.
Ladd, for example, suited up last Friday in Chicago for a Champs for Charity game that pitted members of the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks against a grab-bag of NHLers. That game drew almost 12,000 fans and helped raise over $300,000.
"It was great," said Ladd. "It's fun to get back on the ice. The game didn't mean much, but it went to a great cause. It was a bit of a Harlem Globetrotters-type game and a lot of fun.
"The legs were definitely feeling a little tired. Even practising during the summer there's always a different intensity level once you get to camp and then into games. That's always the case. It doesn't matter how hard you are skating, it always seems to be another level beyond that so you've got to try to be ready for it when it comes."
Meanwhile, the expectation the plug will be pulled later this week on the Winter Classic -- a marquee New Year's Day game slated to be played between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in front of over 100,000 -- only led to further doom and gloom among the local NHLPA fraternity.
"That's obviously a big game," Stuart said. "It's a big thing for the league, a big thing for the game and the fans love it. If you have to lose that, it's a big deal. People were looking at that date and that game as a pretty important thing, whether it's going to happen or not. If it doesn't, I think it's a big step in the wrong direction."
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GOALS FOR DREAMS HOCKEY CHALLENGE
When: Nov. 17, Max Bell Centre, University of Manitoba
The matchup: Team Ladd vs. Team Stuart, featuring NHLers and the Winnipeg Police Service Patrolmen Hockey Club, many of whom have played in the NHL, AHL, ECHL, junior hockey and NCAA.
Puck drops: 3 p.m.
Tickets: $20 -- on sale beginning today at 11 a.m. Available at all Boston Pizza restaurants, the Dream Factory Office, 303-1 Wesley Ave., and The Children's Hospital Foundation, RM CE501-840 Sherbrook Ave.
The charities: all proceeds go to the Dream Factory and the Children's Hospital Foundation. The Dream Factory is a Manitoba-based charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
FYI: After the game there will be an autograph session and fans in attendance will have an opportunity to win the NHLPA player jerseys.