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Penguins

NHL labor strife 'distraction' to Baby Pens

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Feb. 20, 2005

HERSHEY -- At the start of this week, even the tiniest nugget of news about NHL labor talks was greeted in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins locker room with great interest and anticipation.

Is a deal close• Should players start thinking about packing for Pittsburgh?

By the end of this week, the mood had changed dramatically.

Before they took on the Hershey Bears on Saturday night, Baby Pens players were looking at labor news like a 5-year-old eyes up a plate of broccoli -- with a scrunched-up nose and a total lack of enthusiasm.

"Right now, I think it's just a distraction," center Shane Endicott said.

If the average NHL player feels powerless and disconnected from the talks between the owners' negotiating team and union bigwigs, imagine how the average minor-league player feels.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Endicott said. "That's something I've been trying to do my whole hockey career -- not dwell on things I have no control over. I wish there was an NHL season, but I'm just going to do the best I can to try to get a spot for myself when it does start up."

If a last-minute settlement had been reached, Baby Pens players would have been lining up to take part in an abbreviated NHL season.

"It would take me a couple of seconds to throw my stuff in a bag and get going," defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

Instead, they are left with the disappointment of playing an entire season one small step short of their dream job.

"Everybody wants the NHL to get back on track," winger Ramzi Abid said. "It would good for hockey. It would be good for all of us. But all we can do is wait and see what happens."

When discussing the lockout throughout the course of the season, Baby Pens players usually stuck to two defense mechanisms, and yesterday was no different.

Players sometimes talk about how focused they are on making the team into a Calder Cup contender.

"I'm concentrating on being here, playing well and helping our team finish in first place," Scuderi said.

Other times, they say they are grateful to have a job playing hockey against solid competition in the AHL.

"I'm happy to be playing hockey, especially an NHL-style game, compared to some of the horror stories I've heard from some of my friends in hockey who went to Europe," Scuderi said. "It's the second-best league in the world. I'd rather play here than anywhere else."

For now, second-best will just have to do.

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