Yesterday in Winnipeg, Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings co-hosted a road hockey tournament with Andrew Ladd, captain of the Winnipeg Jets. Among the locked-out NHLers who participated in addition were defenseman Mark Stuart and forward Jim Slater, both teammates of Ladd in Winnipeg.


The end result was a 5-3 win for Team Ladd but that mattered little. Yesterday's tournament resulted in a great turnout from many fans who, like the players, are itching to have the NHL back in business in the near future.


While Richards and Ladd had fun trash-talking each other via Twitter, it was a great day to connect with the fans who, with each passing day, become increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress involving working out a new collective bargaining agreement.


“This is our way of staying in the community and being involved,” Ladd told the Winnipeg Sun. “With the situation, it makes it a lot tougher for fans to see us. This was a great idea by Cabbie to set this up.”


Ladd emphasizing staying in the community is certainly a breath of fresh air to those fans who are disillusioned to see more and more NHLers making the trek to Europe as, while not necessarily true, the ones jumping overseas is a sign of surrender - a sign that there is very little, if any, hope of NHL hockey this season. While many are skeptical, many remain optimistic that a deal will be struck sooner rather than later.


The tournament also brought out some great childhood memories, particularly from Mark Stuart who reminisced about playing street hockey as a boy growing up in Minnesota. Even Jim Slater told the Winnipeg Sun about being a street hockey goalie growing up, emulating none other than current Kings' goaltending coach, Bill Ranford.


“This is awesome,” Slater told the Sun. “I used to love playing goalie. It’s always awesome to get back and play some hockey like how you grew up.


So, while there's still no NHL to speak of, some players did the next best thing and connected with the fans while staying in shape and putting on a show in the process. The connection with the fans was arguably the most important aspect of yesterday's event as during these tough times, no one feels more slighted than the ones who support the NHL (and hockey in general) by buying tickets, merchandise and coming out to see either their favourite teams at watch parties or their favourite players at autograph sessions.


While it's difficult to stay positive during the lockout, the silver lining is there and it shows that the players indeed care about the fans and are willing to show how much they are appreciated.




Photo: Courtesy of Jason Halstead/Winnipeg Sun/QMI Agency