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Local Teams Hate It, Whatever It's Called : Ducks: Tavares says both sides are to blame for impasse. Players are not surprised.

October 01, 1994|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The solitary fan sitting in a sea of empty seats is fast becoming a symbol of professional sports.

Tony Tavares, president of the Mighty Ducks, says the lonely fan will be him on Oct. 9, the Sunday afternoon The Pond of Anaheim was supposed to reverberate with the mega-hype celebration of the Mighty Ducks' home-opener against the Calgary Flames.

"It will be my protest," said Tavares--almost as if forgetting for a moment he is president of one of the 26 teams that gave Commissioner Gary Bettman their unanimous approval to call off the scheduled opening of the NHL season today, initiating a work stoppage.

"I'll be protesting the fact that we haven't been smart enough as a group--both sides--to figure out a solution," Tavares said.

The NHL-imposed work stoppage is a particular letdown for the second-year team, still giddy from last year's success and eager for the much-anticipated debut of rookie Paul Kariya.

Kariya says he is disappointed, but "this is not something that has just come out of the blue." The battle lines were drawn before he arrived, but he hasn't hesitated since reaching the front.

"It's easy for me to back the union, because hopefully I'm going to be in the NHL a while," he said. "The veterans don't need to fight for the younger guys, but they're in there fighting for the new guys and the guys who are 15-years-old and playing bantam hockey right now."

Duck players made a cursory appearance at the arena Friday to hear what they expected to hear: Games called on account of labor dispute.

"The gut feelings were shown yesterday on this team when we packed our bags and pulled out of here," said defenseman Tom Kurvers. "I'm not overly optimistic, I'm not overly pessimistic. I don't know. . . . We were ready to play. No matter how well training camp is going or how poorly, you're basically gearing up for the first game."

Bettman announced Friday the first two weeks of the season have been "postponed"--a rhetorical term that has inspired an incendiary war of words on both sides.

"You can say what you want about it, it's a play on words," defenseman Robert Dirk said. "We're not going to be playing. Is it a lockout or a postponement? I'm not working as of tomorrow, which I should be, and I'm not getting paid."

Because the regular season has not begun, Duck players will not receive their first paychecks, scheduled for Oct. 13. If the season were to start Oct. 15, they would receive their first checks Oct. 27. Players are not paid during training camp.

As of Friday, they had the weekend off, awaiting word from NHL Players Assn. chief Bob Goodenow on what their practice procedures should be.

Duck players have reserved ice time at Glacial Garden ice rink in Anaheim beginning Monday at a cost of $300 an hour, to be paid by the NHLPA, which declined Duck management's offer to pay.

"It's our understanding that we're going to stay sharp by skating at Glacial Garden and going to the fitness center as a team," Dirk said. "Management has been very good in letting us take our equipment to stay in shape. It's a little different here than some other places. There's good rapport between players and management in this organization. We both want there to be hockey."

It's one of the few pieces of common ground. Asked if he believes the owners' claim that "more than half" of NHL teams are losing money, Dirk said, "No."

"I believe a couple are. My question would be, why are so many people willing to line up to buy expansion teams if they know it's a money-losing business?"

Tavares--who notes that the NHL has offered to open its books--said the negotiations have little hope of going anywhere until the sides trust each other. For now, much of the discussion among the rank and file has been centered on the definitions of highly charged terms such as lockout and salary cap.

"We're spending too much time on terminology. Terminology is not the problem," Tavares said. "Too much time is spent on name-calling and what description we're going to use for not starting the season on time. It's highly irrelevant."

The most relevant thing today is that it's opening day, and the NHL season isn't opening.

Notes

In a work stoppage-related move, rookie right wing John Lilley, 22, was assigned to San Diego of the International Hockey League. Lilley made the Duck team but was assigned for conditioning purposes.

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