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Monday, November 19, 2012

Living With the Lockout

Former Minnesota State forward David Backes is part of the
NHL PA negotiating team
Normally at this time of year, the National Hockey League is well into its regular-season schedule.

Teams would have been done with training camp and done with the preseason games. However, with the league owners locking out the players due to the fact that the two sides lack a collective bargaining agreement, two months worth of games have been lost. And while negotiations have been taking place, it appears that things aren't about to change.  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been quoted as saying that with the two sides deadlocked, that maybe they should step away from the process for a couple of weeks.

We thought we might check in with a couple of former Mavericks who have been affected by this situation.

St. Louis Blues team captain David Backes, who played for Minnesota State from 2003-06, has been heavily involved with the National Hockey League Players Association the last several months as member of the organization's negotiating team.

"(This involves) being at the meetings and having input on which direction we should go," said the Blaine, Minn., native. "We inform those that are not at the meetings and learn about the process and history of negotiations."

He and a number of his teammates also head to the rink where they skate four times a week under the guidance of their own hired coaches, then go to the gym to work out. Backes, who with his wife Kelly assists Five Acres Animal Shelter with Backes' Buddies, currently is in enrolled in six credits of online courses at Minnesota State and expects to complete his degree next fall.

Forward Ryan Carter of the New Jersey Devils, who patrolled the ice for the Mavericks from 2004-06, is riding things out in the Twin Cities.

"Having a long season last year and playing in the finals through mid June can take its toll on the body two fold," said Carter, whose Devils lost to Los Angeles in last year's Stanley Cup Finals. "Obviously it's a lot of games in high-intensity hockey. And it makes for a much shorter off season and less time to recover. This is part of the reason I have not looked into playing in other leagues throughout this lockout and have decided to make sure that when a season begins that I am healthy and ready to play. Another reason is the quality of skates and workouts that I have been involved in. Fortunately for me I come from Minnesota and the Twin Cities seems to be a hot spot for NHL players to reside. Four to five times a week a group of 30 NHL guys get together for an hour-and-a-half and play. Half the time is spent practicing drills being run by coaches that kindly step in and guide us and the other half is spent scrimmaging. Intensity is high, though there is no bone-crushing contact and the pace keeps us in pretty good shape. To supplement, I spend a few hours a couple times a week in the gym and training on a skating treadmill at Acceleration Minnesota."

Hockey continues on in other venues outside of the world's top league. Several former Mavericks are playing in Europe or in North American minor professional leagues. Forward Kael Mouillierat, who spent most of last year one step below the NHL as a member of the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers, is in Boise enjoying a banner season with the Idaho Steelheads of the East Coast Hockey League. Mouillierat, who spent 2006-10 with Minnesota State and one and half seasons with Idaho before making the jump to the AHL last season, ranks second in the ECHL with ten goals and stands seventh in scoring with 20 points in 13 games. With several former NHLers assigned to AHL-affiliates as a result of the lockout, it's likely that the Edmonton, Alta., native is back in Idaho due to the trickle-down effect.

"Boise is a great city and definitely one of the best places to play in the ECHL," said Mouillierat. "I've enjoyed my time here and have been treated extremely well. Obviously I would have liked to have been back in the AHL, but am happy to back here for another year.  It was a great experience in Bridgeport last season and I was lucky enough to get a chance to earn a full-time role on the team and tried to make the most of it.  I learned a lot in my time there and what it takes to get to and stay at that level, as well as what it takes for guys to make the next step to The Show."

Given his domination of the competition at the ECHL level, it's possible he could be back in the AHL once things are settled at the NHL level.

And depending on how the NHL and the NHLPA continue to work with each other, Backes and Carter could be back on NHL ice soon. But one never knows for sure.

Brad Smith, a 1992 MSU graduate who interned in the Maverick athletic communications office in the early '90s, worked with the Minnesota Wild in media relations and team services from 2000 until the 2004-05 season in which an entire season was lost due to a lockout. No NHL games were played that year and Smith, who also worked for the Minnesota Twins prior to joining the Wild, said that the situation was tough.

"The lockout in 2004 was nerve wracking and awkward in many ways for the front office during that time," offered Smith, who transitioned to a successful real estate career after leaving the Wild.  "There were so many unknowns and so many erroneous reports about was happening with the negotiations ("they're close and an announcement could come tomorrow" and it wouldn't happen).  Even after they announced the official cancellation of the season, there were reports that maybe they would open the season back up. There was a lot of animosity in the front office because they chose to lay some people off, cut different hours for others, etc. A lot of people moved on to different careers at that time, including myself."

Here's hoping the NHL is back up and running soon. It'd be nice to see MSU alums performing in the best league in the world and others continuing on with the goal of getting there.

It's great to be a Maverick!