by Bruce Strand
Normally, Paul Martin and Nate Prosser would not show up Thanksgiving morning for a hockey charity event at Elk River Arena.
But this year, the two National Hockey League players from Elk River had nothing else to do, with their league shut down due to a labor impasse, so there they were, skating with Elk alums against the current varsity. Donations for the CAER food shelf were collected.
“I am definitely surprised it has gone on this long,” said Prosser about the lockout that has wiped out the season through mid-December so far. “I was thinking middle of November. It was a huge deal when they canceled the Winter Showcase, because that’s a lot of money for the league and the city that hosts it.”
Prosser, 26, a defenseman, played in 51 games for the Minnesota Wild last season, after signing his first full NHL contract (as opposed to part minor league, part NHL). Over the summer, his team generated huge excitement by signing two premium free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
But there have been no games, due to the second work stoppage in the last decade.
Martin, 31-year-old defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins the last two years after six with the New Jersey Devils, has been through both of them. The 2004–05 season, which would have been his second, was wiped out completely.
“Paul said the situation is not the best, and he’s just hanging on and hoping something gets settled,” said Dave Bleyhl, former Elk coach who headed the alums group on Thanksgiving Day. “He didn’t say much more about it.”
Prosser, thrilled last July to see Wild jerseys popping up all over the place after the signings of Parise and Suter, says it’s been “frustrating, obviously, and stressful” to be waiting this thing out.
“My dream was always to get a one-way contract, and I got one, and then the lockout happens. So we are hoping and praying it will get settled.”
Martin and Prosser, who both have homes in the Twin Cities, and the other hundreds of idled players are doing fitness workouts on their own and getting together for impromptu practices.
“We skate four times a week at the ‘U’ (Mariucci Arena),” Prosser said, “with a lot of the local NHLers, guys like (Kyle) Okposo and (Zach) Parise and (Niklas) Backstrom and (Josh) Harding. So that’s about the best ‘shinny’ hockey game around.”
They practice for 45 minutes, then play an hour-long scrimmage. Sometimes a hockey coach will show up to run the drills; otherwise the players run them on their own.
To keep updated on the lockout, Prosser said, the guys listen in on conference calls conducted by players association negotiator, Don Fehr, or a district representative. They check in with team player rep, which for the Wild is Darroll Powe.
For Prosser, there’s one upside in this unfortunate situation. He and wife, Brittani, also of Elk River, had their first child, daughter Emory, in August. Normally, an NHL player would be gone up to half the time during the season.
“It’s kind of a blessing right now, that I get to be home with her a lot,” said Prosser.
But he adds: “At the same time, it would be fun to have her going to the X, too, to watch some games!”