WINDSOR, Ont. – Locked-out NHL players returned to the ice to raise money for charity on Saturday.
Kevin Westgarth of the Los Angeles Kings scored four goals as Team White beat Team Black 17-11 in Rock Out the Lockout at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ont.
Proceeds from the game went to Sparkles from Above, a charity for children with cancer, with 4,500 enthusiastic fans giving the players a standing ovation after the final buzzer.
The score-fest saw goaltenders from the Detroit Red Wings competing at both ends of the ice. Jimmy Howard suited up for Team Black while Jonas Gustavsson shared netminding duties with Michael Leighton of the Philadelphia Flyers for Team White. Shootout goals from intermission competitions counted in the overall score of the game.
While the game highlighted the offensive prowess of many players, it was also a showcase to show their resolve in the face of negotiations with NHL owners that came to a halt on Thursday.
Steve Ott of the Buffalo Sabres, who organized the game along with Dan Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings and Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers, said the players have dug in and are ready to negotiate as long as necessary to get a deal done.
“There is a bargaining process that has to be done in order to get a deal done, but it’s really frustrating when Gary (Bettman) comes out on Thursday and says that everything is off the table now,” said the 30-year-old centre.
Ott hasn’t looked for temporary employment while the strike has dragged on, instead choosing to stay close to home in Windsor and take in the occasional Spitfires game.
“I haven’t looked for a place to play because I still believe there’s a process to be followed,” said Ott. “If a deal doesn’t get done this week, then maybe next week or the week after.”
“I’m not prepared to throw in the towel as I still think the season is going to start.”
Added Ott: “I’m not going to look for a place to play until the season is officially cancelled and then I’ll wipe away my tears and then go out and find a place to play.”
Westgarth, who sits on the NHL Players Association’s bargaining committee, also said he’s not interested in looking for a place to play as the lockout drags on.
“I wouldn’t do that. I made a commitment to myself and my fellow players to stick with this until we get a deal done,” said Westgarth. “I’m not interested in playing anywhere until the NHL starts up again.”
He joked that his offensive outburst in the game could help his own contract negotiations once the NHL started up again.
“Maybe I can use this once I go in for my own contract negotiations,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve never scored four goals in my life.”
Westgarth has one goal in 90 career NHL games with the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
“I think that a deal is closer than most people think,” said Westgarth.
At least one European player who participated in Rock Out the Lockout re-affirmed his determination to stay in North America until the labour problem is solved.
“I haven’t talked to any team over in Europe and I’m not interested in playing over there either,” said Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings. “I’m staying in Detroit so I’ll be ready once we do start playing again.”
Kronwall was taken aback by the ups and downs of last week’s negotiations.
“It was a roller coaster last week, for sure,” he said. “To have (commissioner Gary Bettman) come out and say that no progress had been made when there was, is really frustrating.”
Kronwall, who is staying in shape during the lockout by hitting the gym and skating a few times a week, shrugged off a suggestion that he and other players would not be in as good shape as players who are now playing in Europe or the AHL and other minor leagues.
“We might have some catching up to do once the season re-starts, but it won’t take long for us to catch up in our conditioning.
“Hopefully we’ll get a deal done soon so we can all get back to doing what we love the most, which is playing hockey.”