London calling?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:24 PM ET

As the National Hockey League lockout enters 2005, the only sure winners are the travel agents. With the fate of the season expected to become more clear when the board of governors meet in New York on Jan. 14, there will either be a renewed exodus to Europe for about 250 players in the event of a lost season or a mad scramble back in the event of collective bargaining success.

Leaders of both the league and the players association did not respond to requests by The Toronto Sun for a New Year's Day comment on the possibility of restoring hockey sometime in 2005, a year which could go down as the Year of the Replacement Player.

A new European destination for locked-out stars could be England, where the London Racers are looking for impact players, not only for their fledgling Elite Ice Hockey League, but to give the sport the same boost as NHLers did in other major cities on the continent.

INTEREST IN LUONGO

Among the players the Racers are said to have approached is Florida Panthers' Vezina Trophy runner-up Roberto Luongo. Owner Roger Black would not confirm or deny.

"We're always seeking to improve our team and we've got our feelers out there," Black said. "This is a unique year with the amount of (NHL) players available and one must use what is at their disposal. It's important for us because hockey has not had the strong presence in London that it has had in the North, where Nottingham and other cities have big rinks between 7,000 and 10,000."

Black's team has Oakville-born defenceman Eric Cairns, who played with the New York Islanders last year, and up to Christmas, forward Scott Nichol of the Blackhawks.

A star goaltender (the team is also rumoured to be interested in ex-Leaf Trevor Kidd) would increase the Racers' profile. They currently play out of a converted skating rink that seats less than 2,000.

The Kloten, Switzerland, Flyers have announced Washington Capitals forward Jeff Halpern will resume playing for them this month after starting this season in the country's B-League side in Ajoie.


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