Pros appraise hockey lockout

Vernon-based pro players weigh in on the affects of, and reasons behind, NHL lockout.

Last time Jerred Smithson spent Thanksgiving with his family, he was 15 and playing Midget Rep hockey in Vernon.

Due to the NHL labour strife, the 33-year-old forward is going through a new routine in his hometown and that included sharing turkey and trimmings with his immediate family.

He hits the gym in the mornings and skates every day with the BCHL Vipers.

“Skating with the Vipers is good,” said Smithson. “They’ve got some fast players and it keeps me motivated and keeps me in shape. It’s better than developing bad habits just scrimmaging somewhere.”

In the 2004 lockout, which wiped out the whole season, Smithson racked up a career-high 11 goals with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals. He made the Nashville Predators the next year.

“I just hear what you hear in the media and it’s pretty frustrating,” he said. “At the end of the day, us players believe it’s not fair what the owners are trying to do.”

Veteran forward Dean McAmmond, who now calls Vernon home, went through the ‘04 and 1994 (48-game season) work stoppages. He is four NHL games short of 1,000 as he coaches an Atom Rep team featuring his son Braeden.

“From what I gather, the fight is over the restructuring of the current agreement on how to allocate the funds between the NHL and the players. I don’t believe the game is in the same situation today as it was back then. The game has grown and the product is good.

“I have to say that I do side with the players, not just because I was one. Yes, the players are part to blame this time but only because they won’t just roll over and let the league have whatever it is they want.”

McAmmond said the owners set a hard salary cap of $31 million in ‘04 and that some 90 players never played again after missing the year.

“A year later, after the following season the LEAST amount of money a team could spend on salaries was way past $31 million. The NHL is almost a three-billion dollar industry and the owners are trying to do what they do best – make more money.”

During the ‘94 dispute, McAmmond drove a septic truck for his dad’s company. In 2004, he racked up 61 points with the AHL’s  Albany River Rats.

Sandy Moger, a retired NHLer now running the show for Vernon minor hockey, figures the fourth lockout in 20 years will hurt the game.

“The players are asking the highest  percentage of revenue over the other three major sports, so you have to wonder who is right, being hockey is the least popular of the four major sports,” said Moger, who pocketed 61 points with Providence Bruins and got in 18 games with Boston during the ‘04 stoppage.

“Obviously the two sides need to come to some kind of compromise. Not only the players and owners are taking a hit, but the restaurants, vendors and others depend on the league running.”

Jason Elders wired more than 100 goals during the Lakers’ 1990-91 dramatic playoff run.

Said Elders, who spent seven years in the minors and two in Europe: “As far as the labour strike is concerned, I think as a former player I would definitely believe in the rights of players to have a fair deal. However, in this world of economic crisis, it’s hard to believe that any side would be fighting to keep a small part of the pie when the whole pie could be at risk.  As a fan, I love the playoffs so if that gets cancelled, I will have to rely on 2013 PlayStation hockey with my son Dex to get my overtime excitement.”

Vernon-based journalist Tim Milne, a former writer with The Hockey News, feels for the common man affected by the dispute but will get by without the NHL.

“The NHL is such big business these days, it’s growing tough to relate,” said Milne, who coaches the Vernon Novice Black Widows. “I abhor Gary Bettman’s ignorance and have little time for millionaires and billionaires holding fans hostage (again) while squabbling over a $3.3 billion pie. So let the lockout roll and let’s can another season. I don’t have time to care.

“Like many Canadians, I’m too busy coaching minor hockey, playing a little shinny and getting my hockey fix via the Dub and BCHL.”

Detroit Red Wings’ amateur scout Marty Stein of Vernon is not affected since he still has to take notes at 90+ Junior games this year.

“Owners put out the main costs in hockey, but yet they pay out huge sums of money to players who are not worth it,” said Stein. “They then ask the players to fix it. Players are fortunate that salaries have gone up. Where else can a fourth-line player receive $2 million annually? Both sides need to allow some wriggle room.”

Former Arena Football pro QB Ryan Reid, a hockey nut who owns Kelowna Rockets season tickets, has a unique take on the situation.

“I think that this year’s dispute is going to be toughest on the rookies, especially if it goes for the entire season,” said Reid, who coaches his hockey-playing tyke son Oliver locally. “They will have to compete with another draft class next year without any big league experience.”

Added Reid: “I feel for the NHL and team employees. These are the middle-class families affected by the dispute and unfortunately, the people that we forget about in this whole thing.”