SUN Hockey Pool

Loving the game

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

When you pare away all the extraneous stuff, not a lot separated the hockey luminaries last night from the guys who hope to join them soon.

This was at the Fowler-Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic at Western, where three members of the Memorial Cup champion London Knights met three National Hockey League veterans along with a crowd of young athletes for a barbecue preceding a fundraising golf tournament at Redtail Golf Course today.

Those who play sports do it for the joy of competition and the realization of their potential. It rarely leaves.

Eric Lindros, Steve Yzerman and Jeff Hackett play or played hockey for a lot of money. So far, Knights Brandon Prust, Dylan Hunter and Drew Larman have been in it as part of hockey's traditional apprenticeship.

But all of them play the game for the love of it. That's something that will surely become clear once an agreement is struck between the locked-out players and the NHL that will likely mean more modest paydays.

Lindros and Yzerman, who've been visitors to the clinic more regularly than they'd have liked, are itching to get back on the ice. Neither knows when that will happen after a year of no hockey. An ailment that affected his equilibrium forced Hackett from the game.

"From a personal standpoint, (the lockout down time) was a better chance to heal," said Lindros, who was knocked out of action in January 2004 on a hit by Washington's Jason Doig on an already-ailing shoulder. "My shoulder is even stronger than it was before."

Lindros suffered a torn labrum. A procedure by orthopedic surgeons Pete Fowler and Bob Litchfield removed a centimetre of scapula and gave him more freedom of movement. Rehabilitation has strengthened a shoulder beyond what it had been prior to the Doig hit.

Like everyone else, Lindros has no idea how the future of hockey will play out.

A free agent without compensation, Lindros can be signed by any team.

"It's ironic," he laughed. "You get to be 31 and are a free agent (and there's no season)."

What about the coming season, if there is one? What happens to Eric Lindros?

"We're going to have to wait and see," he said. "It's going to affect every team in so many different ways, whatever the deal may turn out to be. When you look at an older team with a large payroll, they're certainly going to be affected for three or four years before they can adjust."

Lindros's last contract with New York Rangers, with all bonuses, is reported to have been as high as $8 million a year.

Where, one wondered, would the towering Lindros prefer to play now that he's free.

"There are a couple of different circumstances (that are appealing)," he said. "I just want to go have fun again. The three years in New York were not much fun on the ice."

Fun. It's still there for the most veteran players and will remain there if the salary structure has a cap on it.

There was once a chance Lindros might have wound up with the Toronto Maple Leafs rather than the Rangers. He wouldn't say but it's something that would present an interesting scenario.

Yzerman, whose long-ailing knee was restored by Fowler and Litchfield, also wanted to continue enjoying hockey but despite some misgivings, didn't mention retirement.

"I'm a bit limited in what I can do," said the 21-year veteran and captain of the Detroit Red Wings. "Detroit will be in a bit of a bind if there's a salary cap."

If, as has been rumoured, the stalemate will be broken in the next couple of weeks, it's for sure everyone will be affected. But it will remain fun for the guys who get to play it at the top level.


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