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In ways big and small, handful of NHL players try do their part to go green

TORONTO - Andrew Ference, Zdeno Chara and Mark Stuart make a habit of riding their bikes to practice, and sometimes they convince Boston Bruins teammate Chuck Kobasew to use pedal power, too.

Scott Niedermayer increased the energy efficiency of his home with a handful of renovations, and, to the barbs of some on the Anaheim Ducks, traded in his pickup truck for a hybrid car.

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell is active in salmon preservation efforts and uses wind-powered electricity at his Minneapolis home, while Matt Bradley helped launch a recycling program in the Washington Capitals dressing room and convinced his teammates to switch to reusable water bottles.

While player parking lots are still filled primarily with gas-guzzling SUVs and flashy sport cars, to varying degrees a growing group of NHLers are embracing the move to a greener lifestyle, riding the wave of environmental consciousness that's swept the public in recent years.

Much of the awareness in hockey circles was triggered by the NHLPA's Carbon Neutral Challenge, in which players buy carbon credits to offset the emissions produced by their frequent travel and boasts the participation of 420 players, or about 60 per cent of the membership.

The US$320 a head payment certainly isn't a burden given the salaries they earn, but the voluntary nature of the initiative is what makes program catalyst Ference believe headway is being made. Given the option of doing nothing, most players at least do the minimum, with some going above and beyond.

"Those are the impacts that are greater than plunking down the Visa card and paying for your sins," said Ference. "We considered using NHLPA funds to make the entire union carbon neutral, but that's easy. We came to the consensus that that ruins the whole idea.

"It's not right if it's not volunteered on players' own terms and guys taking responsibility for themselves, not having somebody do it for them."

The idea is to start small, the way Ference did a few years ago by getting some of his then-teammates with the Calgary Flames to think about going carbon-neutral, and having that lead to bigger things, like the league-wide program he launched last year with the help of the David Suzuki Foundation.

"I'm sure 95 per cent of the PA had never heard of an offset before," said Niedermayer. "Now at least they've heard of it and if they want they can learn more about it and do it."

And, ideally, motivate others to follow in their footsteps.

Ference, inspired by now-retired Canadian Olympic skier Thomas Grandi, says fans he meets at various team functions often tell him how the carbon-neutral challenge helped them teach their kids about being green, or prompted them to act.

The same goes for the Bruins and their home arena, the TD Banknorth Garden, which earned the best environmental rating a building of its ilk can get through increased recycling, including the conversion of cooking grease into biofuels, more efficient lighting, and the use of local food sources in the concession stands.

Arenas in Buffalo, Phoenix, Montreal and Ottawa have or are following suit, said Ference, and the expectation is that others will too in due course, especially if more and more players use their influence.

"I've always felt there's an even bigger responsibility for professional athletes to be aware because our lives are magnified and we have a soap box to stand on," said Ference. "It's irresponsible to not take advantage of being a mentor for kids that love hockey, showing them that we care about these things, that they're important."

Niedermayer - who grew up in B.C.'s Kootenay region hiking, skiing and fishing - began taking a bigger interest in the environment a few years ago when he became concerned his four boys and other kids might not be able to enjoy the outdoors the way he did.

To do his part, Niedermayer had new insulation put in around his house and a radiant barrier installed on the roof of his Newport Beach, Calif., home reducing its energy use. He's looking into solar panels and takes reusable bags shopping.

At the Honda Center, Niedermayer enlisted the help of the team's training staff to begin a recycling program in the dressing room, and he traded his pickup for a hybrid, although the family still uses a truck when all six of them have to pile in together.

"My first vehicle when I got into the NHL was a big pickup truck, coming from the Kootenays that was the mode of transportation you wanted to have," said Niedermayer. "Now you realize what you're burning in fuel and all the effects. I enjoy driving my Prius now.

"I did (get teased at first), but those things bother you less and less as you get older," he added. "It was all in fun, but maybe it made guys think a little bit and if it did, than good."

The hope is that peer pressure can be used in a positive fashion in dressing rooms across the league, and eventually influence others in the general public to do the same.

Ference, for instance, used to be the only Bruins player to ride his bike to the rink, before Chara and Stuart chose to join him. Some of those who don't use the subway or carpool.

"If you see one of your teammates doing it, it kind of opens your eyes that it exists in the first place and that it's a pretty darn good way of getting around," Ference said of Boston's subway. "Everybody carpools now, it's kind of unheard of now to come to practice on your own. It's definitely what we're looking for.

"We were hoping that snowballs."

Note: One hockey player's gas-guzzler will be back on the road soon when former Ottawa Senators goalie Ray Emery gets his Hummer back after the luxury SUV and his driver's licence were seized for seven days by the OPP, according to the Ottawa Sun. Police say the Hummer was pulled over after an officer noticed the vehicle travelling at excessive speeds on Hwy. 416 in the Ottawa area. Emery has been charged under the stunt driving provisions of the Highway Traffic Act.


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