Estranged times

Andrew Ference (Bruce Bennett Studios)

Andrew Ference (Bruce Bennett Studios)

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

While once blurred, the lines being drawn between NHL clubs and their locked-out players have quickly become clearer. And it doesn't sit well with Andrew Ference at all.

"They're not even letting our trainer give us (workout) programs to train with," said the Flames defencemen yesterday.

"I just don't see the point of it. If they're starting to worry about stuff like that ... What's p---ing me off is that it's just so well-organized and well-planned because (the owners) have been planning for it for the last two years instead of spending time constructively trying to fix the problem."

Understandably frustrated by a lockout that will cost him more than a half-million dollars in salary if indeed the season is wiped out, the 25-year-old Canmore resident says he's not the only one angry over what he considers unnecessary pettiness by the owners.

"A lot of guys feel the same way," said Ference, who stands to lose a crucial year of development after establishing himself as a dependable top-four defenceman with a brilliant playoff performance.

"I've never really talked to a (player) who is not bitter and doesn't have a bad taste in his mouth over this. It's not like guys are walking around feeling proud that they're 'doing it for the good of the game.' Especially for the guys on our team, we go from one extreme -- passion, emotion and the very basics of why you play, to the other extreme of the pure business side, which is really cold."

So cold in fact that men caught in the middle, like communications director Peter Hanlon -- used to spending every day of the year working closely with the players, have been instructed by the league to have to no "professional contact" with the players during the labour impasse.

The hard-working Hanlon is so well respected by the players he'll undoubtedly stay in touch with players on a social level, ensuring they continue to be well-represented in community, marketing and fundraising events during the lockout.

However, for the most part, he'll have to rely on coaches, management and alumni to support the club's charitable endeavours.

"There isn't going to be a Warrener's Corner (Rhett Warrener's section for children's charities) or things like that and the Townsend Tigers (charitable floor hockey) game probably won't go -- I guess that's just another crappy part of all this," said Ference, who will continue to donate time and money to help fund cancer research. "But I think a lot of the guys do the charity work beyond what you hear about. Behind the scenes, basically almost everybody does things on their own that are important to them."

Team president Ken King understands the frustration players such as Ference and fans in general are experiencing but points out the nature of the team/players relationship had to change somewhat after the CBA expired.

"We don't have a professional relationship with these players anymore -- they're not being paid by us and that changes a lot of things," said King, who announced yesterday the entire pre-season and first two regular-season games have been cancelled. "The spirit of the relationship hasn't changed. It just adds a level of formality that's required. To suggest it's in any way punitive would be a classic exaggeration. We're doing nothing other than what anyone would expect in this environment.

"When things get back to normal, that will change again and hopefully there won't be damage to that."

As for the club's community involvement, King said the culture of his organization is such that he figures most players will continue to be active.

"They would be made aware of opportunities and can make their call," said King.

"We'd be more informational. It's not a negative thing in any way."

As GM-head coach Darryl Sutter said last week, "I'd give the shirt off my back for each and every one of our players but this is business."

Given the situation, it's just the way it has to be.

And it still stinks.


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