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NHL lockout might send players overseas; fan fest postponed

Blackhawks players won’t be allowed use private team facilities during lockout. They also will have rent ice time. | Richard

Blackhawks players won’t be allowed to use private team facilities during the lockout. They also will have to rent ice time. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:49AM

Steve Montador went to France.

With the NHL’s 2004-05 season lost to a labor dispute, the Blackhawks veteran defenseman, like many other players, went overseas to make some money, stay in shape and play hockey.

“It served a lot of purposes,” said Montador, who was with the Calgary Flames at the time. “I enjoyed myself, and I had a lot of fun there. I wish that the hockey was a bit better and I would have been challenged more that way, but nonetheless, it was a lot of fun.”

The option players have of playing in other leagues — particularly in Europe — has been the most publicized reality of the lockout, which officially began at 11:01 p.m. Saturday.

The lockout also means the Blackhawks’ annual training camp festival, which was set for Saturday, is postponed. Teams also can’t use players for promotional activities. Purchased tickets will be honored when the event is rescheduled.

No formal negotiations between the NHL Players Association and the owners, represented by commissioner Gary Bettman, were held Saturday, and it’s uncertain when they will resume. Both sides have been unwilling to budge.

So watch what happens overseas.

Notable player agent Allan Walsh, who represents Hawks forward Michael Frolik, tweeted Friday that his agency would begin announcing “several” signings in Europe on Sunday morning.

Pittsburgh Penguins forward and Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin and Ottawa Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar reportedly have started practicing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Jonathan Toews confirmed at the NHLPA meetings that he’d consider playing in Europe, and other Hawks will, as well. The longer the lockout goes, the more likely more players will go.

Montador played 15 games in France when the 2004-05 season was lost. Hawks teammate Jamal Mayers played in 19 games in Sweden and 13 games in the United Hockey League.

If players do opt to join another team — which will be the last resort for some — they have to insure their contracts in case of injury. If injured, their NHL teams can suspend them when they return without pay until they’re healthy.

But there are benefits in playing.

“The people that hosted myself and some of the other Canadians over there treated us really well,” Montador said. “I think part of the challenge that guys might face is just having something to focus on.

“Obviously, we’re competitive guys and you go over and if you’re going to play somewhere, it’s nice to have your attention placed in something. That’s possibly the challenge of not going somewhere. I think that’s why guys are going to prepare so much to figure out where they’re going to be and why and who they’re going to train with [during the lockout].”

Much will change for the 700-plus players who make up the NHL.

The biggest difference for many will be the lack of contact with the organization. Players won’t be allowed to train at private team facilities during the lockout and will have to rent ice time. Hawks players, for instance, won’t be able to use their standard locker room at Johnny’s IceHouse West. They’ll have to use another one in the vast building.

Some injured players will continue to be paid, but others will miss their first paycheck in October. That’s when the union’s resolve will be tested.

“We do believe there is a fair deal, not just any deal,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said after the NHLPA meetings in New York. “We’re prepared as players to stick together. We made huge concessions last time.”

There were plenty of roster moves and signings before the lockout began, but general managers are banned from trading players during the lockout. Plenty of young players who would be on NHL teams have been assigned to the American Hockey League or junior leagues.

Nick Leddy, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen played for the Hawks in the playoffs last year, but now they’re on the Rockford IceHogs’ roster.

For many veterans, it’s 2004 all over again.

“It does feel like déjà vu,” Iginla said. “It feels like we’ve just been there.”

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