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Joyful Amid Labor Noise

Canada's 3-2 victory over Finland clinches the World Cup title but the impending NHL lockout makes it a bittersweet ending.

September 15, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — The trophy Team Canada's players hoisted above their heads was light. But their hearts were heavy, knowing the celebratory lap they took after their 3-2 triumph over Finland in the finale of the World Cup of Hockey might have been the last lap of an imperiled season.

As the lively crowd of 19,370 filed out of the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, players on both teams reached the edge of an emotional abyss. With negotiations stalled on a new labor agreement between the NHL and the players' union -- and with the league expected to impose a lockout today that will prevent training camps from opening on Thursday -- players were all dressed up and psyched up with no place to go.

"It would be nice if everything that we've done, the momentum we've gained, could be rolled over into the start of training camp and the start of the NHL season," said forward Kris Draper of Canada and the Detroit Red Wings.

"But the reality is, that's not going to happen."

Said center Saku Koivu of Finland and the Montreal Canadiens: "The rumor is nothing will happen [to avert a lockout]. We're together 100% As long as they want us to take a salary cap, it's going to be a long one."

Canadian Coach Pat Quinn, who had begged out of previous discussions of labor issues, acknowledged that the glow of victory was dulled by the imminent labor dispute and concerns for hockey's future.

"It is bittersweet in a lot of ways," said Quinn, who coached Canada to an Olympic gold medal at Salt Lake City in 2002. "A wonderful experience and a great thing that occurred for our players, and the World Cup is a tremendous feat, and yet a little sour."

Canada, which has won the last two World Championships, took the lead for good Tuesday when an unchecked Shane Doan took a pass from Joe Thornton and banged the puck past Finnish goalie Miikka Kiprusoff 34 seconds into the third period. Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, voted the top goalie of the tournament, made 10 of his 27 saves in the final period to preserve the lead.

The teams had traded first-period goals, by Canada's Joe Sakic at 52 seconds and Riku Hahl's deflection in front at 6:34. Canada took a 2-1 lead at 3:15 of the second period on a fine individual foray by defenseman Scott Niedermayer, but Tuomo Ruutu of Finland (and the Chicago Blackhawks) dodged defenders Brad Richards, Simon Gagne and Niedermayer before beating Brodeur to the goalie's glove side at the 19-minute mark.

While they played, the clock moved toward a confrontation. The last labor talks took place Thursday and none were planned today. Officials of the NHL Players' Assn. said they'd be at their Toronto office today while the NHL's governors meet in New York and Commissioner Gary Bettman holds an afternoon news conference. "They wrote their lockout speech months ago, so they're focused on that," said Ted Saskin, the NHLPA's executive director.

Bill Daly, the NHL's senior counsel, apologized to fans during an interview on Canadian television, adding, "We shouldn't be where we are.... [but] player costs are 75% of our revenues and that's not an equation that works."

And so, after one of its brightest moments, the NHL is poised to turn out the lights in 30 arenas. "The next few weeks are going to be very important for the game and for the future of the game," said Mario Lemieux, who owns and plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's not a question of going to war or winning a battle. It's just a question of what makes sense for the business and what makes sense for the players. We have two different views."

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