Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Now it really hits home

Cancelled regular-season games considered a lock

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National Hockey League players have seen this coming for days, if not weeks and months.

The other shoe is expected to drop today or tomorrow when the NHL -- having already wiped out the preseason -- is expected to start cancelling regular-season games as part of its third work stoppage in the last 18 years.

"Everyone has seen this coming," said Winnipeg Jets' captain Andrew Ladd. "Everyone wants to be optimistic, but seeing how the negotiations are going and the fact they (the owners) haven't really given us anything... no matter what they say there's been no give back whatsoever.

"We even asked for one extra trainer on the road and they're trying to make us pay for that. I mean, when you look at it that way, you can see it coming.

"It's unfortunate, but it's part of the process."

Ladd was one of five Jets who skated Wednesday at the MTS Iceplex, along with Olli Jokinen, Antti Miettinen, Mark Stuart and Bryan Little. Also joining them was Toronto Maple Leafs netminder James Reimer, free agent Eric Fehr, St. Louis Blues winger Ryan Reaves and former University of Manitoba goaltender Steve Christie, now with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

But where there was once a tiny bit of optimism, a cold, hard reality is now settling in among the pros who have regularly gathered at the Iceplex. The cancellation of exhibition contests and shortening training camps is one thing, spiking regular-season games is another matter altogether.

"It kinda sucks," said Reaves. "This is an owners' lockout that doesn't really need to happen. We want to get back on the ice, we're kind of going stir crazy here.

"When the lockout starts you're, 'OK, we'll miss the exhibition games, we'll miss camp.' And you smile about it a little bit. But when it gets to the point where regular-season games are getting cancelled... now we're really missing paycheques. Now it starts hitting home a little more.

"We're all sticking behind what we're trying to get accomplished, but it's a different feeling now."

Jets centre Olli Jokinen said Wednesday he believes more NHLers will head over to Europe in mid-November. The pro leagues in Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic annually shut down for 10 days at the start of next month for national team training camps.

It's his belief NHLers might look at signing one-month deals that take them from mid-November to the Christmas break.

And in the meantime, they train and they wait.

"We say we're optimistic and it's a good thing the two sides are talking but, to be honest, I don't think there were too many players who felt the season was going to start on time," Jokinen said. "Nobody had their hopes up high that we were going to be playing on Oct. 11th. The biggest question is how long it's going to be and when we're going to be playing.

"If we miss one game this season, I think it's a shame, with what the players went through, what the fans went through and what the owners went through seven years ago with missing the whole year."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 C4

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