All bad feelings aside

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

The logo they wear features the Maple Leaf.

Not the NHLPA.

It's a major difference the players suiting up for Canada at the 2005 World Hockey Championships hope fans distinguish.

Seeing as the 2004-05 NHL season never came to fruition thanks to the lockout for which a majority of fans blame the players, the charges who'll battle for the nation's third straight world crown understand fans will be down on them.

However, they're hoping the anger and disappointment will change to support, at least during the April 30 to May 15 tournament in Austria.

Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who'll play at the world championships for the first time since 1996, is optimistic fans won't hold a grudge against him and his Team Canada teammates.

"We're here making a commitment to our country," said the New Jersey Devil, who's backstopped the nation to Olympic and World Cup gold. "They've won the last two world championships and we want to keep it going."

If the attendance at yesterday's practice at Father David Bauer Arena is an indication, the love will return. About 400 fans were on hand at during the afternoon session, the first of five to work work out kinks before the squad plays a pair of pre-tournament exhibitions out east.

Robyn Regehr even received cheers, which added strength to his theory hockey fans from coast to coast will support the team.

"I have no idea how people are going to react but I can say from previous situations that when you play for Team Canada, a lot gets pushed aside," the Flames defenceman said. "People have a lot of pride in our country and whenever we see a sports figure -- like Mike Weir, for example, winning the Masters -- people generally support him and root for him.

"I don't think we'll have problems but maybe this camp will help build up that relationship again with the fans. If that connection is severed at all, we can work at rebuilding it."

Which, undoubtedly, will be a long-term project if and when the league and its players can work out a new collective bargaining agreement.

With or without a world championship gold, the relationship between fans and NHL players will again be tested down the road.

Vancouver Canucks forward Brendan Morrison believes that will be one of the biggest keys to getting the league back on track.

"The game has taken a beating and it's going to be the job of the league, and the players especially, to campaign to win back fans," Morrison said. "We're going to have the fans come back in Canada, some markets quicker than others. But in the U.S., it may not be repairable, who knows.

"We'll have to campaign once it's resolved.

"We know the fans are a major part of what we do. Without the fans, we can't be doing what we do. We have to make sure we re-connect and establish our relationship with them."


Photos