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It's All a Little Hard to Believe : Hockey: Kings were prepared for worst, but still held out hope for a late settlement. Says Donnelly: 'It's not going to sink in for a while.'


King left wing Mike Donnelly was home Thursday night, listening to news of his immediate future as he heard of the NHL owners' rejection of the players' no-strike, no lockout proposal, which clears the way for Commissioner Gary Bettman to postpone Saturday's season openers.

"I can't believe this is happening," he said. "It's not going to sink in for a while. When we left practice today, the plan was to practice at Iceoplex and travel to San Jose at 6. Isn't that sad?"

Nevertheless, the developments didn't surprise any of the Kings, although they had been holding out a small measure of hope.

"The (same) proposal was rejected not long ago and Bettman gave all indications he was going to go that way," goaltender Kelly Hrudey said. "It's in keeping with what we expected. We were hoping for the best and the wisest decision. But. . . . "

Said Donnelly: "It's frustrating because you didn't know if it's going to happen or not. You try to block it out as much as possible, even though it's so important to all of us."

Hrudey has been frustrated by people asking him about "going on strike." He continues to correct them and makes it clear that the work stoppage is a lockout and it is coming at the worst possible time for hockey.

"What's disappointing is that we're all trying to make this game grow," he said. "No one has done a better job than Wayne (Gretzky). In some small part, we've all done a lot to help it. We're the ones who grew up with it.

"Not only are we employees and players, we're fans. Ask any player if he watches games and he'll tell you, 'Tons of them.'

"That's what's upsetting. I truly believe some of the people who make the decisions aren't fans. Just executives trying to make money."

He also believes the perception of sports as a business has changed.

"What's important is that I don't think people are fooled by rich people owning big businesses, saying they're losing money," he said. "With the economy and the climate of the world we live in, (people) are more business-wise now."

As of late Thursday night, the players had no specific plan of action and were waiting to hear from union leadership this morning. There has been some talk of a players' meeting in Toronto this weekend.

"If it lasts a long time--more than a couple of weeks--maybe I go home for a while," said defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, a native of Ukraine.

For Hrudey, it all hadn't quite sunk in yet as he said: "Tomorrow, it'll really hit us."

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