Hasek standing firm

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

There were seven television cameras at the Ricoh Coliseum yesterday to record the first practice of the WorldStars.

The peak may have come when Anson Carter said he had spent the lockout "hanging out in California, working with my personal trainer."

Meanwhile, across town, Brendan Shanahan was preparing his own summit on how to improve the game.

Beautiful. Spared the indignity of playing for millions of dollars a year, hockey players are holding think-tanks and organizing European tours to fleece a whole new ethnic demographic. Next stop: Latvia. And to think, it'll be available on pay-TV.

The tour is called the IMG WorldStars. Presented by Reebok with special acknowledgement to IMG, the agenting people, and the NHLPA. How can't you cheer for a team of plucky underdogs like that.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you, The Hockey Sweater, a tale about a special WorldStars jersey given to a boy by his addle-minded mom who actually thought all this had something to do with hockey, or sports, or anything of value at all.

To get to the players, you had to walk past litter strewn about the dressing rooms yesterday, and we do not refer to the Original Stars of Hockey or the WHA II. We mean the boxes for equipment being handed out for the first and maybe the only time this winter.

The stick and equipment guys were there as were their fellow fluffers from the media, all eager to find out Anson Carter's workout schedule and why Sergei Fedorov seems to have borrowed his hair from Ric Flair.

Fedorov arrived late and missed practice but he was one of the people who had made the whole thing possible.

Fedorov was the benefactor of a front-loaded contract tendered by Carolina owner Peter Karmanos as a savage slap to Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch that ended up with him making $26 million US in bonuses and salary in one year.

Over there sat Alexandre Daigle, whose $12.5-million contract with the Ottawa Senators also made yesterday possible. Daigle overcame the corrosive effects of early wealth, good looks and all manner of corresponding boredom to claw his way back into the league. I can't think of him without getting a little misty.

In another corner of the room, Dominik Hasek, the greatest goalie of his generation, sat shirtless beside a bag of stuff that included a nicely painted Ottawa Senators helmet and mask set he may never wear into battle.

Hasek is 39 and oft-retired but he insists a lockout of this season and next would end his career.

"I would be 41 and wouldn't have played in three years," Hasek said. "It would be impossible."

Yet, Hasek would give up his final days to ward off the evils of a salary cap.

"If I didn't play again I would be very, very sad but I think it would be for the best, for the future of hockey players and for the game."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Hasek said, "cares about the NHL, but doesn't care that much about small-market teams." The union offer which Bettman will study tomorrow, Hasek said, would go a long way to ensuring their survival.

Hasek's economic demands, of course, prompted a trade from his own small-market team, the Buffalo Sabres and sent the club into a lengthy tailspin.

Hasek has no answer how a two-year work stoppage would be good for a league that would be in absolute rubble when the players and owners decided to get back to work.

The players of tomorrow already have been sold out in the form of an extended entry-level salary grid that is part of the union proposal. Still, nice to know the guy stands for something.

They held a going away party yesterday for a bunch of hockey players at the Ricoh Coliseum before they got on a plane for Latvia.

Two hours with them and you felt yourself saying: "Latvia, yes, that's about right. Now, how can we get the owners and GMs there too?"


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