Apologies for the audio- it was all over the map and I could not get it equalized well.
Want more? Follow Pete on Twitter here: @teddier
It came out of nowhere but within a few hours everyone was talking about it, ball hockey at the Forks (Click HERE to learn about the location) with Andrew Ladd and Mike Richards. It was the first real sign of life from locked out NHLers other than a few sightings around town and the MTS Iceplex skating group of Jets and Winnipeg native NHL players.
More importantly this game, or event as it was organized in part with Cabbie from TSN, was about getting Winnipeggers involved and that’s exactly what happened. At the 4 o’clock puck drop, handled by Winniepg Mayor Sam Katz, there were at least 100 people down at the top level of the parkade at the Forks. There was no formal rink and no real game plan other than to play hockey with everyone and anyone who showed up.
The crowd was adorned with various jerseys, mainly Jets ones, but there were old Philly Richards jerseys, Habs, Detroit and others too. Mostly there were a lot of happy people just watching a few of the players they have come to adopt as their own, play a bit of hockey. Along with Richards and Ladd were Jim Slater and Mark Stuart, both of whom in full Movember form. It was a good pairing to bring, as both Stuart and Slater appear more comfortable in the masses than Ladd. While Ladd may be captain he has a reserved demeanor in public and in a crowd today long after a season should have begun, it showed just like rust from the off-season.
Stu and Slater
Ladd’s reserved approach is not off putting and certainly was not affecting any of the fans there but Stuart and Slater were far more at ease amongst the crowds than Ladd. Be careful not to take an uneasy public image as uncaring, Ladd stayed to the bitter end signing anything and taking photos with anyone who asked. Some guys are more relaxed out in the public and others less so, Ladd probably falls into the second category.
Then you see this picture and wonder what I am talking about.
The games itself were just like you would imagine on a cold November afternoon in Winnipeg. The 25 cms of snow had been cleared from the roof and there was a nice thin base of the white stuff on the cement roof of the parkade. The boutique hotel Inn at the Forks and the Red River across to the new Museum for Human Rights provided one panoramic backdrop and the diminutive skyline of Winnipeg the other on this overcast afternoon. There was no score and the right kids got to score some great goals along with participating in chatter with NHL heroes. “Hey look Ladd’s cherry picking!” was one favourite call out.
The battles within the game
It easy to ask fans what this meant to them and the responses were almost to be expected but no one seemed to care about more than what was in front of them. When pressed for thoughts on the lockout the there were some but no animosity, in fact there may have been appreciation towards the players because they were there. Four millionaires were on a rooftop playing ball hockey with fans for the fun of being out. There was no money, no PR director choreographing the event or herding media. Just Cabbie calling shifts and making sure everyone got a turn, especially the kids.
While hopes of any kind of NHL season may seem distant to almost all, those who braved a chilly afternoon were rewarded with something special and a bit different. It was not a picture perfect image on a frozen pond with light snow and a few trees but it was real and honest for everyone there. No business, even one with 3.3 billion in revenue, can take away the purity of enjoying a simple sport in a traditional setting like road hockey. Richards, Ladd, Stuart and Slater had no interest in taking away from the moment and neither did the fans it was exactly what everyone needed even if they couldn’t really talk about it.