'Every day is Groundhog Day'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

TROY, Mich. -- Still no hockey, still no hope. For Bryan Smolinski, it's the same old song and dance.

And like Bill Murray in the old Hollywood flick, he's tired of waking up to the same story every day.

"I'm pretty sure Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow," the Senators centre mused yesterday to no one particular. "That means six more weeks of winter. I'm not sure how much longer that means for this lockout, but right now every day is Groundhog Day for us."

Smolinski hasn't exactly stayed idle -- he's spending some of his off-time working at Auto-Lab, a Detroit-area shop he partially owns.

But the frustration is clearly building for Smolinski, who signed a four-year, $10-million US contract with the Senators in 2003. While Smolinski doesn't do much manual labour at the shop, he steps in to do an oil change or give estimates. It's not that he doesn't like toying around with engines. He just doesn't want to mess anything up.

"I've spent a lot of time there because it keeps me busy," Smolinski told the Sun yesterday. "It's something I started doing in the summer when one of my partners wanted to leave and they wanted me around a bit more.

OIL CHANGER

"I can't use a wrench, but I can change the oil if they really need me. I have fun with it. I've always enjoyed being around cars. I've got a couple of hot rods because I have a need for speed. That's why this has been tough. This has been so slow for all of us."

Three times a week -- every Monday, Wednesday and Friday -- Smolinski, Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom and others including Atlanta defenceman Chris Tamer and Carolina blueliner Aaron Ward, gather at the Troy Sports Center for a game of 4-on-4.

Then, after taking a spin for an hour, they head out for lunch to talk about the impending doom and what exactly happens next for them if the NHL season is officially cancelled.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Smolinski said. "I've thought about a few things, but nothing in particular. I'm bored. Am I going to keep skating? I don't know if there's any point.

"Sometimes you just do it because you need to get out of the house."

Smolinski has no plans to follow the lead of Red Wings Chris Chelios, Derian Hatcher and Kris Draper and sign with a United Hockey League team. There have been conversations with the East Coast league's Toledo Storm, but the insurance necessary makes it too restrictive.

That's meant Smolinski has had to find other things to do. He's spent a lot of time with wife Julie and his two children: Daughter Ashtyn, four, and son Max, who is 22 months.

He's also decided to try his hand at coaching. Five or six times a week, Smolinski is on the ice with Cranbrook Kingswood High School's team as one of the assistant coaches. "That's been something different," said Smolinski. "The opportunity to work with the kids has been great."

The NHLPA's decision to reject the league's latest proposal yesterday is another nail in the coffin.

"I have no idea how long this is going to go or how this is going to get settled," said Smolinski. "It just looks so bleak and you even go through times where you try not to think about it. I've quit checking the website every day for updates.

"You would hope they would be able to find a solution to all of this and we could get back to playing hockey, but it just doesn't look good. You look at the jobs that have been sacrificed in all of this and you just wonder what's going to happen because there's no end in sight."

No end in sight, but some cars to fix.


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