Jets learning to grin and bear NHL lockout
PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
|Jets forward Jim Slater during warmups prior to facing the Panthers at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., March 01, 2012. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - You’ve heard the old saying about making lemonade when life hands you a lemon?
Winnipeg Jets forward Jim Slater has come up with a new lockout-flavoured twist on it.
Slater and the Jets were supposed to open their NHL season against the Carolina Hurricanes here, Saturday night. His parents are even in town for the non-occasion, having booked flights up from Michigan long ago.
Of course the game is already cancelled, with no end in sight to the dispute.
So Slater, his parents and his fiancee are flying to Churchill, Friday, for a polar bear expedition.
“They say this is the high season for it,” Slater said, Thursday. “And if we’re playing, you don’t get the opportunity to do that. Now that we’re locked out you’ve got to find different things to do.”
Slater’s latest foray into the offbeat should probably come as no surprise.
This is the same man whose first year with us included a photo shoot with a ballerina and off-days doing non-hockey jobs like welding and playing with the symphony as part of the Take-a-Jet-to-Work promotion.
The trip north, though, was Slater’s creation.
“I’m amazed how many people haven’t done it here in Winnipeg,” he said. “When I first got here I heard about it, I was like, ‘Man, that’d be awesome to do one time. Maybe when I’m done playing I’ll have to do that.’ But since the lockout is here, now... we’re really pumped about it.”
Slater has been scrambling to book the trip since the NHL cancelled the first slate of games,
He’s the only Jet going this weekend, but he may not be the last.
“They all want to,” Slater said. “They’re all saying that would be an awesome thing to do. It’s expensive, but it’s going to be well worth it.”
More and more it appears players will have all kinds of time this winter to hobnob with polar bears or the exotic creature of their choosing.
Because the grunts out of New York indicate the game is about to go into a lengthy hibernation.
It might be best for these guys to head out of town, since the natives are getting a tad restless.
Slater has found that out, firsthand.
“Everybody has their own opinions — they’re pretty honest,” he said. “We were just at a bar one night and guys are yelling, ‘You guys should be playing hockey and not drinking and stuff.’ Obviously you just laugh it off and walk away.
“They’re mad at both sides. If I was a fan, I would be, too.”
Teammate Bryan Little says his encounters at the grocery story or the mall have been warm and fuzzy, so far — on the surface.
“Usually when they recognize you, they’re pretty polite and say, ‘Get back soon, we miss it,’ and stuff like that,” Little said. “But I’m sure they’re not as polite behind our backs. If I was a fan, I’d be frustrated and angry with everyone involved.
“They’re being patient. But we’re definitely testing their patience right now.”
Little’s patience isn’t exactly on vacation, either.
Seeing the glacial pace of progress in the negotiations has him chomping on his mouth guard.
“Every week it’s like, hopefully something happens this week and we’ll get a better idea. But every week it’s the same. There’s been hardly any progress made.
“It’s frustrating when you see them meeting for an hour, and then taking a couple days to take a break. It’s like, ‘Good thing you guys get a break after meeting for an hour.’ Best line I’ve heard is from Bobby Orr, saying you should lock them in a room and give them some bread and water until they figure it out.”
I say throw in a polar bear, too, and see what happens.
“I’d trade in polar bears for the first game of the season, any day,” Slater said. “But we don’t have that option.”
No, but fans will when this thing’s over.
As Slater is finding out, there are plenty of things to do here besides hockey.
And polar bears never lock you out.