Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Locked-out players locked out

Jets can't get into dressing room, key locked inside

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This isn't how a handful of Winnipeg Jets figured the start of the 2012-13 season and the scheduled first day of training camp would unfold...

There they were -- Olli Jokinen, Mark Stuart, Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov, Derek Meech, Kevin Clark and Ryan Reaves of the St. Louis Blues -- all hunkered down in a hallway at the MTS Iceplex with the only key to the dressing room locked inside.

The sole duplicate, it seemed, was in downtown Winnipeg at the MTS Centre.

So they waited. Stuart sat on a table, Little found an adjacent room to peel off his skates, Jokinen hunkered down and stared at the opposite wall and Reaves was grimacing after trying to test the door with his shoulder.

"Now it's official," said Meech with a smirk, "we are literally locked out."

Yup, solidarity can be a real pain in the backside sometimes.

Now, there's no question player spirits remain upbeat after another three practice sessions at the Iceplex this week that included the Jets, local NHLers and other pros, but their internal body clocks are also screaming for a change. "This is frustrating," said New York Islanders' defenceman Travis Hamonic. "We're tired of skating... I've been skating since July. I'll be heading to Bridgeport (for training camp with the AHL's Sound Tigers) next week because I'll start the season there.

"I would go crazy, completely out of my mind, if I was just sitting here skating every day. You want to play.

"We're players. We were put on this earth to play hockey."

Another dozen or so players found work in Europe on Friday, especially after the Swedish Elite League lifted its restriction on not wanting NHLers to sign temporary deals until a new CBA was ratified. That exodus included Jets' defenceman Toby Enstrom, who was in Winnipeg as recently as last week, but returned to Sweden to hook up with his old club team, MoDo.

Most others, however, have opted to cross their fingers and pray for a quick resolution to the lockout.

"It just feels like it's about that time to start," said Little. "It's definitely frustrating."

Bombarded with questions about the lockout and when it might end, the players also hear the comments from NHL legends like Mike Modano, who said this week the 2004-05 lockout wasn't worth it, from Guy LaFleur, who believes the revenue split should be 50-50 and from Bobby Orr, who suggested the two sides be put in a room with bread and water and not allowed to exit until they have a deal.

"It's hard hearing that," said Little. "But I can understand it. It seems like they're not really siding with either side in this, but are like fans. They want to see hockey, just like everybody else. No disrespect to them, but it's a different time now. Some of the circumstances are different. But those guys are legends and it probably boggles their minds that we don't want to come back over millions of dollars."

Good point, that. But Hamonic also said the NHLPA has to have the courage of its convictions right now, even as fans, media, friends, family -- and legends -- are whining about the lockout and the lack of negotiations.

"Hey, those guys are legends and some of them have been through (a lockout) before. They're obviously entitled to their opinion," said Hamonic.

"Whether you're six years old or 86 years old, you know this is when camp is supposed to start. Let's hope that the league and the NHLPA can come to a quick resolution."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2012 C2

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