It was like the movie Groundhog Day, Steve Rucchin said, as the only game in his future approaches.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks captain was expecting he'd be on a flight to California. Instead, he'll be playing in a Western Mustangs alumni game at Thompson arena tomorrow as part of Hockey Day in Canada.
Nothing wrong with that for the former Mustang. It's always fun to come back to your roots and line up with old colleagues.
But now he's in a vacuum, not knowing where, or when, he'll play for real again.
Like others, his hopes were heightened in the final flurries of negotiating with the NHL owners early this week. Then, the recurring groundhog theme turned into a mad bear that took a bite out of everyone.
Rucchin, who has been practising with the Mustangs, wasn't feeling as sorry for himself as for the fans and those whose incomes depend on a normal regular season. He was shocked and dismayed when league commissioner Gary Bettman pulled the plug.
"I thought Tuesday night I'd wake up to getting a ticket to California online," he said. "It took us by surprise to give up the salary cap. I'm bitter. I thought it was enough to get it going. I hear all this talk about how greedy the players are but don't know how much more we could have given. We talked their language on (the cap)."
Rucchin didn't discount the possibility of rifts developing within the NHL Players' Association and felt the parties were close enough to a deal had somebody followed through.
"Either side could have picked up the phone and something could have happened," he said. "From what I've seen, (the NHLPA) is still pretty unified but with 700 players there's going to be some players who don't agree."
For as long as he can remember, Rucchin was playing hockey at this time of year. He feels disjointed and uncertain about the future.
"It's uncharted territory for everyone. It's been nice to be around friends and family but pretty soon it's going to be spring and summer and we'll all have to get back to our routine and hope something gets done.
"It's strange. In ways, it was more difficult a few months ago. Now we've dealt with it. I don't know where to go from here. I've spent a lot of time here, and it's been good. In California, there's just a handful of guys and you can only get a few skates in."
Rucchin has had offers from Europe and "their leagues start in late July, early August."
In assigning blame for the end of hockey, the media has tended to dish it out to both sides with the emphasis on the owners. Rucchin honestly feels the players gave it their best shot, especially with the 24-per-cent rollback in wages they offered that many players thought was excessive.
"We knew the owners needed help and we tried to provide that, in my opinion, with the rollback and the cap."
He feels a bit guilty about what has happened but thinks all the principals should.
"I do feel guilty, responsible, but it's shared. I realize public opinion is against the players but every one of us can sleep knowing we made large concessions and I'm comfortable we gave legitimate offers.
"The bottom line is I can't apologize for playing in the best hockey league in the world and getting paid accordingly," he said. "There's not a day that goes by I don't realize how fortunate I am to be doing what I'm doing and getting paid for what I'm doing."
Wherever, and whenever, that may be.
HOCKEY DAY IN LONDON
Tomorrow's schedule of events
(all hockey at Thompson arena)
11:30 a.m.: Skills and drills and goalie clinic
12:30 p.m.: Police vs. fire department
1:45 p.m.: London Devilettes juniors vs. Etobicoke Dolphins juniors
4 p.m.: Western alumni vs. U.S. college alumni
5:40 p.m.: South vs. Beal alumni
6:50 p.m: Laurier vs. Clarke Road alumni
8 p.m.: Boys high school all-star game