Its not unusual to see a hockey practice this time of year. But the NHL singlets, which were turned inside out Tuesday afternoon at the Panorama Recreation Centre, were an indication this isnt like most other years.
Island pro hockey players are expressing solidarity during the first week of the NHL lockout, including not displaying NHL team logos, while they workout on their own time.
Its not very fun right now. Its tough on the players and the fans. But the players are together on this, said Dallas Stars standout forward Jamie Benn of Central Saanich, after skating with the group of other pro players from the Island.
If anybody was asked to take a 20 per cent rollback, they wouldnt like it. But be patient. They [both sides] will figure it out sooner or later.
Putting the group through its paces at Panorama the players must be physically ready to go as soon as the lockout is settled was Colorado Avalanche defenceman Ryan OByrne of Victoria.
Its difficult for the fans when they see billionaires versus millionaires fighting over revenue share, acknowledged OByrne, the NHLPA player rep for the Avalanche.
Its tough for fans to understand. But if you asked fans to take a 20 per cent cut in their jobs, they wouldnt be too impressed.
Fans are venting at both sides but empirical evidence seems to suggest public ill-will appears more heavily weighted against ownership this time around.
During the last NHL lockout [which cost the 2004-05 season], the players gave huge concessions and the owners got what they wanted, said OByrne, who returned to the Island on Sunday after meetings in Denver and New York.
Now, the owners are asking for a 20 per cent cut. As players, we cant give into [these] demands. We have to stay unified and strong. I was optimistic heading into this that a deal would be done. Obviously, that did not happen. This has been an educational experience about the business side of hockey. This may not be resolved until pressure is put on both sides, and that will come when the owners start missing revenue and the players start missing paycheques.
The situation is especially difficult for young players just starting to make their way in the NHL. Players in that category skating Tuesday at Panorama were defenceman and Nanaimo Clippers junior-grad Matt Irwin of Brentwood Bay, who recently signed with the San Jose Sharks, and defenceman Tyson Barrie of Victoria, who broke in with 10 games last season with the Avalanche. Both are eligible to return to their American Hockey League affiliates and Irwin is preparing to join the Worcester Sharks and Barrie the Lake Erie Monsters.
Its tough on guys like Tyson, who are on the cusp [of making the NHL], but he understands its a business, said Avs teammate OByrne.
More than most, since Tysons dad Len Barrie is a former owner of the NHLs Tampa Bay Lightning.
It sucks, for sure, because I only got a taste of it [NHL] last year, said Tyson Barrie.
Its obviously frustrating but this is a business, and thats evident more than ever right now. I have a neat perspective since my dad sat in the room with those guys [owners]. I stick with the PA [players association] 100 per cent. This is for the long term. It kind of has to be done. And it will get [settled] because there are a lot of smart guys in that room on both sides.
Irwin is philosophic about the situation.
I want to be playing [in the NHL] but thats the way it goes and its out of my control, he said.
Its frustrating but its part of this business. At least I get to play in the AHL so Ill try to make it business as usual.
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