Hnidy left twisting in the wind

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

We don't expect you to feel sorry for Shane Hnidy. Or any locked-out NHL player, for that matter.

No, considering he's coming off a year in which he earned some $700,000, nobody is going to take up a collection for the guy back in Neepawa, his hometown.

But we thought you might find his story interesting, nonetheless.

It's a story that began in rural Manitoba when Hnidy started playing hockey as a five-year-old.

By the time he was 16 he was in the Western Hockey League, where he split five seasons between Swift Current and Prince Albert.

A big, rugged defenceman, Hnidy was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1994, and two years later he turned pro, suiting up for Baton Rouge of the East Coast Hockey League.

He'd never have guessed that, eight years later, he'd be back in The Coast.

"I'm trying to make the best of it," the four-year NHLer (Ottawa and Nashville) told The Sun from Fort Meyers, Fla., yesterday.

Thing is, Hnidy isn't being allowed to play in the ECHL, either.

Here's what happened.

When the lockout began, the 29-year-old, his wife and their three kids -- aged six, three and one -- settled at their home near Clear Lake.

Talks between the NHL and the players' association crawled along, and by December Hnidy figured he'd better start playing.

"We didn't want to go to Europe," he said. "I was optimistic for a long time. Thought if we came down here and I got to play some games, I'd be ready if the season started in January."

So when the Florida Everblades assured him he wasn't taking a minor-leaguer's job -- they'd been holding a roster spot for a fourth veteran -- he packed up the family and headed south right after Christmas. Moved into an apartment, put their daughter in school, the whole bit.

Just one problem.

It turns out Hnidy had the wrong work visa, and a couple of weeks later he couldn't play anymore.

"So not only can I not play in the NHL, now I can't play in the States," he said. "So that's kind of the cap on top of everything. That just adds to the frustration. You uproot your family and move and change schools ... I'm not about to move back right away."

Hnidy is still hoping the visa problem gets worked out, but it's already been close to a month.

And now it seems the NHL season is about to be written off.

So the uncertainty of where, when, or even if he'll play this year continues.

"It has probably been one of the most frustrating times ... having your life just sitting in idle for this long," he said. "When you have kids you just want to settle in and kind of set up where you're at. But this has been going on right from the summer, not knowing where we're going or what we're doing.

"Since I'm five years old, this is the first year I haven't been playing hockey."

Like the rest of us, Hnidy is simply tired of waiting for a final word on the NHL season.

At this point, even hearing it's cancelled would be a relief. At least he'd know he's in Florida for the rest of the school year.

Beyond that, who knows?

Heck, who knows what the NHL will even look like when it does return? Will there be a spot in it for someone like Hnidy, a sixth or seventh defenceman most of his career?

"It's scary," he said. "I don't know where we go from now. The biggest loser is the game and the fans. Being down in Florida, you just see how much the game isn't marketed. If it wasn't for the website ... I wouldn't have a clue there was a lockout."

Maybe not.

But all he has to do is look at his dry game jersey to see something's out of whack.

"It took a long time for me to get here," Hnidy said. "And now this."


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