SUN Hockey Pool

Ice-cold reception

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

RED DEER -- Well, it was cheap movie night.

Let's not forget The Amazing Race was on TV.

So was American Idol.

Truth is, there were plenty of perfectly good reasons for the fine folks of Red Deer to stay away from the Centrium last night.

Apparently, one of the biggest was the fact a few dozen NHL players showed up there for a shinny game.

If last night's crowd for the Ryan Smyth and Friends All-star charity tour is any indication of the type of reception the game's best players will receive whenever they return to the NHL, then hockey's future is as bleak as Jose Canseco's.

One night after the Oldtimers drew a near-capacity crowd of 5,700 here, a long list of prominent NHLers attracted a meagre 800 fans last night.

Yes, the Calgary Canucks and Brooks Bandits outdrew the likes of Sean Burke, Daymond Langkow, Jason Arnott and Robyn Regehr.

Oh sure, maybe the ad campaign fell flat.

Maybe residents thought $25 a ticket was too steep.

Maybe the locals just don't believe the Canadian Cancer Society or minor hockey are worthwhile causes.

Then again, maybe, just maybe, people in even the most hockey-mad of cities are so sick of the NHL's stupidity they've decided they've had enough of anything to do with the game's big boys for a while.

Supporting that belief is the fact the loudest ovation of the night was reserved for tykes who took to the ice during the first intermission.

Whether it was the smattering of applause that welcomed Roberto Luongo and the rest of the locked-out players to the ice or the lone whistle/boo that welcomed Mike Comrie's first goal, those in attendance couldn't help but feel sorry for the 30 lads donating their time to an honourable cause.

In a building that absolutely rocks when the Rebels take to the ice, last night's game was so uninspiring, fans were looking to Cotton-eyed Joe to break up the monotony.

There was even a crew of hecklers mocking Comrie throughout.

By the time the night ground to a close, promises to finish the game with a shootout were shunned by many departing patrons who chose not to draw things out any further.

On a day when Smyth and a handful of others in the lineup including Regehr, Luongo, Kris Draper, Scott Hannan and Wade Redden proudly accepted invitations to represent Canada at next month's world championships, the man spearheading the noble four-day tour received a rude awakening when a gathering he hoped to eclipse 1,500 was half that.

"Maybe we could have done a better job marketing but I just don't think we had enough time," said Smyth, tirelessly signing autographs and throwing freebies to the crowd during intermission.

"It's frustrating with what's gone on but this has nothing to do with that. This is for the fans who took the time and made the effort to be here and support the charities."

Kudos to Smyth and his pals for doing their part to try bridging a gap with the fans that widens every day this lockout lingers on.

Apparently, most fans aren't quite ready to share the sentiment.

They'll need plenty of time -- something of which the NHL as we knew it has run out.


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