'We just have to wait'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

It should be the start of another quest to win the Stanley Cup.

Maybe a light skate in the morning, a little rest in the afternoon ... and then Opening Night vs. the Montreal Canadiens. But in the midst of an NHL lockout, this is a different landscape.

So Chris Neil, Todd White and Mike Fisher will leave MacDonald-Cartier Airport today for a flight to Moncton.

There, they'll play for one of the Original Stars Hockey League teams tomorrow before travelling to Halifax on Saturday.

If all goes well and ticket sales are strong, they'll be gone for more than a week.

"This isn't what we want. We want to be playing hockey, but we really don't have much choice in this matter," Neil told the Sun yesterday from his Ottawa home. "It's too bad it has come to this. People keep asking why we're on strike? This is not a strike. It's a lockout. We just have to wait.

"It's tough and it's frustrating. We'd rather be playing in real games because that's why we play. Yes, there's a lot of money involved, but we love playing the games. We all work hard as players and we're not going to sell ourselves short."

The stalemate between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association over a new collective bargaining agreement is about to hit its one-month mark. There have been no discussions since then and none are planned.

That's the part Neil has a tough time stomaching. He can't understand why the two sides aren't trying to have some kind of meaningful talks because a season hangs in the balance.

"This is hard on everybody, you know,"he said. "This isn't just about the owners and the players. You see people getting laid off and losing their jobs, the restaurants that are having a tough time and you feel bad for everybody involved. I'm not the only one frustrated because of this.

"What I find frustrating is they're not even talking. It doesn't even seem like they have common ground. The players are willing to negotiate and we want to get back to playing hockey, but we've been locked out by the owners. It's just too bad it has come to this."

The OSHL, which is being revived after a three-week hiatus, has a new commissioner in former Senators defenceman Grant Ledyard.

TOUGH TO FIND ICE

Neil admitted it's been tough to find ice time. He's skated with junior and senior teams at his permanent residence near Flesherton. Neil and Fisher rented ice in Arnprior yesterday to ensure they had a good workout.

"There are some good players in the OSHL and it's just a chance to play some hockey," said Neil. "This is not about making money. The money is pretty well all going to go to charity and this is something we're trying to do for kids.

"Everything is geared towards kids. They've got some different rules to make the games fun. We give away jerseys at the end of the games and kids are invited into the dressing rooms. We're just trying to do something to make everybody happy."


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