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September 14, 2004 - League to make lockout official

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League to make lockout official

TORONTO -- Think of tonight's World Cup championship game as that first big back-to-school fraternity mixer at the ol' college.

That's when hockey will have one big party, as if nothing bad is going on behind the scenes.

Then imagine Wednesday afternoon as Lockout Day - a houseful of empty pizza boxes, beer bottles and massive hangovers.

Right about then is when reality will set in.

Hockey is over. The NHL has scheduled a 3 p.m. news conference in New York to make it official.

For the Flyers, a very possible ice-less winter offers a bigger headache than most.

They're one of the big revenue teams and ownership really doesn't have its heart in pushing for a labor stoppage to restructure the game's financial system.

The Flyers are big spenders. Thanks to the partnership of cable giant Comcast and charter team owner Ed Snider, revenue is not an issue as it is for the Pittsburghs and Nashvilles of the league.

But come Wednesday, the day the collective bargaining agreement expires, everyone is, like it or not, in the same boat.

By NHL order, Flyers general manager Bob Clarke will have to lock the doors at the Skate Zone in Voorhees sometime after commissioner Gary Bettman formally announces the lockout's commencement.

It means the players, with the exception of youngsters Joni Pitkanen, Patrick Sharp and Dennis Seidenberg (who are eligible to play with the Phantoms), won't be able to train at the practice facility.

Clarke, however, wants to make it clear that team management harbors no grudge against its players.

"The fight isn't between the players and the coaches and myself,'' he said. "The fight is at a lot higher level than we are. We just have to work by the rules, same as we always have.

Lower Bucks Hospital

"We don't want to have a fight with our players.''

That aforementioned headache is compounded by the loss of momentum the Flyers had going for them after last year's run to Game 7 of the conference championships.

"I thought last year we had a legitimate shot of winning the Cup,'' Clarke said. "We proved that ... the injuries to our defense were hard on us but this year we're improved. I think we would be a legitimate Cup contender again this year.''

Like Flyers captain Keith Primeau, Clarke is concerned about what effect the lockout might have on fans.

"I think it hurt baseball a lot [in '94], so I think we would be foolish to believe if we don't get an agreement there won't be some repercussions. I just think there will be less in Philadelphia than some cities.''

Primeau and his teammates are supposed to clear out their lockers. What happens from there is anybody's guess.

"It doesn't look encouraging,'' said Primeau in an understatement. "I've said all along I didn't think we would get any sort of resolution until, optimistically, January.''

If the owners think they can starve the players out, they're probably mistaken.

Primeau said: "At least 99 percent of the players are in a position where they're going to be able to survive.''