Oilers sticking close to home
DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
|The Edmonton Oilers' Nick Schultz takes part in the Pros 4 Goals hockey camp at the Terwillegar Community Rec Centre, 2051 Leger Road, Thursday October 18, 2012. Five members of the Edmonton Oilers took part in the event which was a fundraiser for the Stollery Children's Hospital and Sports Central. The event gave 30 young hockey players the chance to skate with and learn from the Oiler players. (QMI Agency/DAVID BLOOM)
EDMONTON - There was early evidence of a long battle brewing.
Pretty much any hope of a peaceful labour negotiation between the NHL and its players’ association were dashed by the league’s initial proposal this summer.
While some simply considered it the first step in negotiations, others believed the league’s offer was so low, the gulf it created between the two sides would be too wide to bridge before the scheduled start of the season.
As a result, some players started making alternate plans even before the lockout was officially announced.
Others have decided to try to stick it out for now.
“It’s been tough, I went back to Montreal to play in a tour with a bunch of NHL players who were in Montreal and Quebec City to play games,” said Edmonton Oilers centre Eric Belanger.
“I went back last week to play in two games and it was fun. It’s the closest I’ve been to a game since April 7, so it was good to do that. I’ve been skating with the (University of Alberta) Golden Bears, who have been nice enough to let us skate with them. That’s as close to hockey action that we’ve been having.”
Belanger was around for the lockout in 2004.
Back then, he decided to go to Italy, where he suited up briefly for HC Forst Bolzano.
This time, however, things are a little different — at least for the moment.
“I think it’s better than it was in 2004,” Belanger said. “We don’t see the sides being too far apart. I think the system is in place, now it’s just a matter of sitting down and making sure everybody is happy with the deal.
“With two kids going to school, going to Europe is not that simple. You go over there, it’s not the NHL. I know that this time around it’s not going to be that long. I’m confident that we’re going to play this year. Last time, we knew we were going to be out for a long time.”
One of the perks of a work stoppage for Belanger and other players with families is getting an opportunity to spend more time at home.
“It’s been kind of nice having him be able to help out with the kids,” said Belanger’s wife, Alexandra. “He’s never around at this time of year, so he’s enjoying being able to bring the kids to their sporting events and be there for school events.
“We’re taking advantage of this, hoping that it’s not going to be for long. It’s just a little taste of what retirement is going to be like. For now we’re enjoying it and it’s fine, but don’t get me wrong, we can’t wait for hockey to start.”
That sentiment is shared by Oilers defenceman Nick Schultz, whose family settled in the community after he was traded to Edmonton at the deadline last season,.
Schultz, who played in Germany during the previous lockout, is going to wait out the lockout as he can.
“Back then, I was young, my wife and I were dating at the time, we didn’t have any kids or anything,” Schultz said. “But they told us right away it (2004 lockout) was going to be a long time, it was essentially about a cap or no cap, and the line was drawn in the sand.
“At that time, I was a young player, I had only been in the league for a couple of years, so I left right away. I missed the first weekend of games in Europe and I went to Germany for the year. It was a great experience, but obviously I would have rather been playing in the NHL.”
Schultz played with the Kassel Huskies during the previous lockout, collecting 22 points in 46 games.
“Right now it’s tough to go away, we have three young kids,” Schultz said. “Moving here over the summer, I wanted to get them settled and comfortable here. It will make it a lot easier for myself and my family for when things get going.”