SUN Hockey Pool

Song of silence

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Paul Lorieau wishes the National Hockey League and its players' association were singing a different tune. Had the two sides agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement prior to Gary Bettman pulling the plug on the 2004-05 NHL season, the 62-year-old baritone would be belting out national anthems at Rexall Place.

But like so many others in cities around the league, Lorieau has become collateral damage in the war between NHL owners and players.

"I think the owners are to blame," opined the Edmonton Oilers anthem singer. "The players have the right to ask for the moon. But if you give it to them you create yourself a helluva mess. That's what's happened."

Lorieau's lone appearance at the Pill Box this season was to sing O Canada! before the final game of the C.I.S hockey championships last week. Steve Knowles, who works with the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team and was on the Oilers' paryroll until getting his layoff notice, asked Lorieau if he'd be interested in performing.

WELCOMED THE OPPORTUNITY

Having delivered the national anthem at Golden Bears hockey and basketball games in the past, Lorieau welcomed the opportunity to exercise his vocal chords in a familiar venue.

"That was nice," smiled Lorieau, a dispensing optician by trade. "I haven't sung there since April. Just going in there, you get a little nervous about it. You're unaccompanied and you're naked as a jaybird out there."

Since taking over from Sharon Braun in 1981, Lorieau figures he's missed between 12 and 18 Oilers games. He attributes virtually all of those absences to a cold or flu.

Deprived of NHL hockey, Lorieau is content singing at weddings, in his church choir and other private engagements. As a result Lorieau's lifestyle is less frenetic these days.

"It took me a while to figure out what was wrong with me, but it's been kind of a drying-out period," chuckled the father of four.

Performing national anthems at the American Hockey League Edmonton Road Runners games was not an option. Lorieau loves to sing and would have gladly performed on the AHL stage but ...

"They did not want to mix any NHL people with the AHL," he explained. "There's no announcers; there's nothing from the Oilers there.

"It's all different people. If it was told properly, they have about 10 different anthem singers that they choose from."

Should NHL owners opt to open the '05-06 season with replacement players, Lorieau will be back in his familiar spot at centre ice. However, he's not convinced local fans will be happy with replacements players.

"I don't think the public would respond to that," he offered. "I think it's going to take generations for the NHL to get back to where it was.

"Look at Ryan Smyth's efforts in Red Deer and then in Winnipeg with his charity tour and nobody showing up. I think that's just the tip of it.

"The longer it goes, the worse it's going to be. With replacement players, we're going to end up with 10,000 fans in the stands. In a sense we're seeing that now with the Road Runners. There are Oilers players on that team."

GOLD-MEDAL PERFORMANCE

When the NHL is in full swing, Lorieau generally sticks around Rexall for the first period before heading home to watch or listen to the remainder of the game.

He hasn't been reaching for the remote or surfing the radio dial all that often since late September, traditionally the start of the Oilers' exhibition season.

Apart from watching Team Canada's gold-medal performance at the World Junior Hockey Championships, Lorieau can't bring himself to tune into the hockey being served up on the tube.

"I watched the juniors over Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed that," he said. "I tried to watch some of those NHL games in Europe (prior to Christmas).

"I just turned it off partly because I'm annoyed at the situation and probably because it just brings to the forefront that I'm watching a game and not singing at it. I don't need that aggravation."


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