Yost Ice Arena and hundreds of fans welcomed a slew of current
NHL players and recent graduates back to Michigan for the Hockey
Summer Showcase, and no one was disappointed.

The game was a chance to get back on the ice with former
teammates and share Michigan memories. But with a lockout in the
NHL looming, it might have been the last chance for the fans and
players to see that much NHL talent on the ice for the foreseeable
future. And that had everyone disappointed.

“Right now it doesn’t look too positive,”
Hobey Baker Award-winner Brendan Morrison said. “Both sides
are talking, but I think they’re at an impasse. A resolution
is there, we just have to get together and get it done because
there is too much at stake here.”

For established NHL players like Mike Knuble and Morrison
— who is also the player representative to the NHL Players
association for the Vancouver Canucks — the lockout is a
threat to the livelihood that they have worked so hard to build.
Both have signed contracts to play in Sweden should the lockout end
part or all of the upcoming season, but for Morrison the process is
still unnerving.

“It’s the uncertainty of the situation (that is
frustrating),” Morrison said. “Everybody would like
this settled, but from our perspective it’s the owner’s
stance — that they won’t move off of a salary cap
— while we feel like there are ways around that. We made a
pretty significant offer to those guys like a luxury tax or an
escalating luxury tax, but they didn’t want to have anything
to do with it. It’s disappointing from our side, but
hopefully we can get something done.”

But for recent Michigan graduates who have just broken through
into the NHL, the lockout is aggravating because they have yet make
a name for themselves at the game’s highest level. One of
Knuble’s teammates in Boston is former Wolverine Andy
Hilbert, who saw his first big chunk of ice time with the Bruins
last year.

“I’m definitely just getting my foot in the door,
just biding my time,” Hilbert said. “Guys like us are
just hoping that there is going to be a season. Then we can keep
working hard and continue to move up the ladder.”

In contrast to Knuble and Morrison, former Michigan defenseman
Mike Van Ryn isn’t interested in playing in Europe.

“I don’t have any (plans). I’m kind of
counting on them getting it done,” Van Ryn said.
“I’m a little bit of an optimist. I think it might come
down to the last minute, and they might get it done. For my team,
it’s awful because we’re all young guys and we all need
to play. A lot of guys are going over to Europe, but I don’t
see why. To risk it, to go over there and lose an eye or something
like that, I just don’t understand why guys are going to do
it.”

Former winger Josh Langfeld — who scored the winning goal
in the 1998 national championship game — is in a similar
situation to Hilbert, having come of his first season of
significant action in the NHL, but feels like he has to stay on the
ice. Langfeld was called up to the Ottawa Senators for the second
half of last season where he scored seven goals and 10 assists in
38 games.

“I finally just broke into the league and finally made my
mark. And now I can’t play. I’m locked out,”
Langfeld said. “I’m not one of those guys pushing the
salary cap way up, so it’s a lose-lose situation for hockey.
I think it’s going to hurt the game a lot. I don’t
think there’s anything good about it.”

The effects of a long stoppage on the game was the other common
sentiment expressed among all players this weekend. Although
Michigan head coach Red Berenson feels that the lockout would
probably not affect the college game, most believe the lockout
could be disastrous for the NHL.

“I think it could have a big impact on the game,”
Morrison said. “A lot of markets in the U.S. probably
won’t be able to sustain themselves. People will find there
are other avenues to spend their money. The game will always come
back in Canada, it’s a religion up there, but it still would
suffer. You look what happened to baseball a few years ago and I
don’t even know if they are back to where they were
pre-strike, so there is a lot at stake.”

Despite the impending labor problems, all of the alumni were
happy to return to Ann Arbor for a chance to play and catch up with
their friends and teammates.

“It was great. It’s great to see everybody playing
with their class and their guys and having a good time,”
Langfeld said. “It’s good camaraderie for the whole
University, for the whole program. You can definitely see the guys
who built the program into what it is — something special
— it was fun.”

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