Nobody's home

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

On a night he and teammates would be receiving a standing ovation for the magic they created in last spring's playoff run, Andrew Ference spoke his mind.

At risk of receiving a slap on the wrist from the NHLPA, the affable defenceman, who would have been playing against the Vancouver Canucks in the Flames' home opener at the 'Dome last night, slammed both parties involved in negotiating the game through a lockout.

"It's asinine and it's both sides," Ference said. "How are you going to solve a conflict without communication? I don't understand the motivation behind sitting around.

"Even if you're not going to talk to the other guy, why not put forward some ideas you have so the public can see them and can say, 'These guys are putting forward an effort.'

"I understand there's an art to negotiation but right now, they're pretty s----- artists."

Harsh words -- but things are pretty harsh for hockey fans everywhere these days.

Last night, fans would not only have been watching the Flames live in their first crucial tilt since last June, they would have seen the Western Conference champions banner hoisted to the rafters -- the first such ceremony in these parts for more than a decade.

Instead, super fans like Kim Thomas were forced to come up with alternate plans, like watching the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees game on TV.

That and a little tidying around the house.

"I'd much rather be watching the Flames game," the NHL club's No.-1 fan ruefully said.

(Housework instead of a hockey game? Can't the parties involved see how much of a toll this lockout is taking on the fans?)

"It sucks," said Thomas, also known as Santa. "It's not going to have the same impact when they eventually do raise the banner, either. It'll be so far in the past and there's going to be resentment from the fans to the players or to the owners."

On a day that should have been celebratory, Flames president Ken King was in the office taking care of business nowhere near as electrifying. Among the orders of the day was taking some steps to restart the team-owned American Hockey League franchise that's been dormant for more than a year.

"It's business as usual with the notable exception we won't be raising the Western Conference championship banner," King said.

Pressed if that bothered him, he replied: "It's our living. Imagine if you were writing for a newspaper that would never be published."

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA president Bob Goodenow have not met since before the lockout began Sept. 15 and no talks are scheduled.

With cost certainty -- the NHL's buzzword for a salary cap -- the major sticking point and neither side willing to see the other's point of view, the apparent message to the world is talking won't solve anything, so neither party will bother.

"I don't understand it," said Thomas, who travelled to several road playoff games at a hefty expense. "Both sides are at fault. The longer they're out, it becomes out of sight and out of mind. You've got to talk to have negotiations. Maybe now that the players are losing some cheques, something will start to happen.

"There's got to be some compromise where they can at least talk."

Ference, who's been biding his time in Canmore by helping coach the AJHL Eagles, said yesterday was no worse than any other lately.

It was no better, either.

"I don't want to make it any darker than it is," he said. "It's not any harder today than it was yesterday or than it will be tomorrow.

"It's another element but playing hockey takes precedence over raising a banner. It'd be nice to have that ceremony but I'd rather just be playing."

The way it looks, it'll be a long wait for that to happen.


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