SUN Hockey Pool

Rod's warmin' up

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

Get a life?

That's easier said than done for Rod Phillips, who might be the poster boy for angst and thumb-twiddling during the NHL lockout that scotched the 2004-05 NHL season.

The radio voice of the Edmonton Oilers since 1973, the mouth that roared and hockey hall of famer had missed just two regular season games in 31 years before Gary Bettman put the padlocks on NHL rinks, wiping out 82 more games in one fell swoop for the 63-year-old.

It's not surprising, then, that Wednesday's announcement about a tentative agreement to end the 301-day detour in his routine shook Phillips from his slumber on the leather couch in the family room and has him warming up that voice of his.

Like an OT winner by somebody wearing copper and blue, or a thundering left hand, news it might soon be time to pack his bags and hit the road, has the man friends call ''The Skipper'', excited as all get-out.

Just like before he was so rudely interrupted.

"It just seemed like there was a big void in my life," says Phillips. "You kept hoping every day that something would happen.

"The last thing I did before I went to bed and the first thing I did when I got up was check the newspapers and TV to see if there was any news."

With only so many rooms in Phillips' Rio Terrace estate to paint, so many cigars to enjoy on the patio and so many nights to act as pressbox announcer at Road Runners games - his heckling of friend and scout Barry Long crackling over the speakers was priceless - it goes without saying the old radio man had been going stircrazy. Likewise, wife Debby, treated to many a home-cooked meal by her dutiful hubby.

So did Phillips get a lot accomplished with all the time on his hands?

"No," he laughs.

"That's the sad thing. I still have a lot of things I know I should do, but I guess when it comes right down to it, I'm very lazy. Whether they'll ever get done, I don't know."

Restless enough at the start of the season, Phillips was one of the many people who held out hope that owners and the NHLPA could salvage the campaign right up until it was cancelled.

"I just couldn't believe there wouldn't be some kind of season," Phillips says. "I always had it in the back of my head something would save the season. When it didn't happen, it was no fun.

'THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING'

"I thought, 'This can't be happening. Somebody is going to step up and they will get a deal done.' That kept me going until they announced it wasn't going to happen."

As ingrained in his life as the game has been, Phillips had no idea how much he'd miss it until it was gone.

"I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of the guys. It's been a long time," he says. "This is our lives. We have a lot of passion for this game. It's the way of life that changed so much - not going to the rink, not getting on an airplane, not being able to look forward to those big games."

SHORT-TERM PAIN, LONG-TERM GAIN

As difficult as the lockout has been for fans, hindsight tells Phillips the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gain.

"It was clear the NHL needed a new economic system," he says. "Whether it had to go as far as it did, I can't be the judge of that, but the economics just weren't right. They had to change it. Now we can begin again. Maybe five years from now we can look back and say this was the best thing that could ever have happened. I hope that's how it works out."

Phillips says it's time to turn the page on the season that never was and get back to the rink.

"What's happened has happened," he says.

"Now, let's get after it and make this thing work. I'm just so terribly excited about how this next Oilers team is going to look ..."

Clearly, all is forgiven.


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