Nobody cares

Pat Grier, in Plaster Rock, N.B.

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

News that the National Hockey League and its Players Association were again meeting in an effort to "save" the season was met with almost universal indifference at the World Pond Hockey Championship in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. The nearly 400 players here were far more interested in actually playing hockey rather than following the breathless TV reports from Manhattan.

"I'm indifferent right now. I don't really care whether they come back or don't come back," said Butch Coughlin, 38, who drove up from Boston with three buddies for a weekend of free-wheeling hockey under a brilliant New Brunswick sun. "(The NHL and players) can't break up ($2.1 billion) dollars and we're paying $400 just to play and have some fun."

A much harsher assessment was delivered by Frederiction's Brian Whitehead, a former junior player now in his mid-40s whose team made it to the semi-finals here last year.

"I hope that when the NHL does come back, that if they do a single game to open the season that nobody goes," Whitehead said. "Nobody. The place is empty.

"That would be what both sides deserve."

Coughlin doesn't disagree with the sentiment, but is resigned to some fans being more willing to forgive and forget.

"That's one of those things that sounds good on paper but it really doesn't translate because they will offer (deals on tickets) so there will be some amount of people at the games," Coughlin said.

This is the first trip to the tournament for Coughlin and his three teammates. They heard about the event after a foursome from Boston (all Canadians, mind you) dominated last year in winning the wooden trophy that goes to the champions.

"We hope to come back next year, but it sounds like it's getting tougher to get in and the competition is getting better," said Coughlin's pal, Mark Glover, 38.

This tournament has become big business for Plaster Rock, and wouldn't it be a shame if the championship's popularity and growth eliminated those teams like Glover's that make the trip as much for the companionship as the competition.

There is a danger that what began here four years ago could outgrow itself and the town, and there already is talk of doing regional tournaments in other parts of the country as a lead-up to a true world championship.

I don't think most of the players here would want that to happen. Travel down that road too far and you end up in hotel meeting rooms in Manhattan instead of just playing the game.


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