- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The prospects for labor peace anytime soon in the NHL are dim, so players are preparing for whenever they play hockey again — whether that’s this season, next season or the season after that.

“This is kind of insurance,” Washington Capitals veteran goalie Olie Kolzig said yesterday from his offseason home in Washington state. He had just met with his agent to discuss where the 34-year-old might fit best.

Kolzig is headed for Germany, the country he represents in the Olympics. Defenseman Brendan Witt is headed for England, where he will play for a pro team while trying to maintain some sort of competitive edge.

Right wing Brian Willsie and left wing Matt Pettinger already have played in Europe and returned, as has center Jeff Halpern. Willsie and Pettinger played for ZM Olimpija in Slovenia before returning a few weeks ago. Willsie is now playing for the Portland (Maine) Pirates in the American Hockey League, while Pettinger has returned to his home in Edmonton to allow a hip injury to heal.

Still in Europe are defenseman Josef Boumedienne, a Swede now playing in Finland; forwards Dainius Zubrus and Alexander Semin, both playing for Lada Togliatti in the Russian Super League; and left wing Alexander Ovechkin, the first overall draft pick in June who has been playing for Dynamo Moscow in the Super League but is on leave to play with the Russian national junior team in that age group’s ongoing world championship.

“No, I haven’t given up on a season,” Kolzig said yesterday. “If I go to Germany, it will be after Jan.15, depending on how that [Jan.[ThSp]14] meeting goes with the [NHL] board of governors. I’ll be ready to go over if they call the season off, or I’ll be ready to go to Washington if they say, ‘Let’s play.’”

Kolzig and Witt expressed strong support for the players association stand against management but said they have to play some kind of competitive hockey.

“They haven’t canceled the season yet, so there’s still some hope,” the goalie said. “After what transpired a few weeks ago [when both sides rejected offers], a lot of that hope was basically blown out of the water. [The NHLPA] made a pretty significant offer, at least the framework to get something done. [The NHL’s] rejection was a slap in the face. Their agenda is a salary cap, period.”

Said Witt: “They didn’t even study [the offer]. They have their minds set on canceling the season. The owners are saying their way or no way. That’s not fair.”

Witt will play for the Bracknell Bees in the British National League. He said he wants to resume playing but also to see Europe while he is there (his mother is from Ireland). He said Bracknell is about 45 miles southwest of London.

“A lot of the guys on the team are out of their development league,” Witt said. “They’re working to get out of the [Olympic] qualifying pool, so I’ll try to pass some knowledge along to them, be a teacher of the game.”

While Kolzig held out a little hope for a settlement to save this season, Witt didn’t.

“No, I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” he said. “I’m really disappointed at what’s happening. I thought we put a pretty good offer out there, but the owners didn’t even blink. But I can’t afford to take a whole year off. I have to play something better than the rec league.”

One other former Cap landed a new deal this week. Kip Miller continued his bouncing ride through pro hockey by rejoining Grand Rapids, Mich., in the AHL. There he rejoins another former Cap, older brother Kevin, who landed there last season after playing in Switzerland for three seasons.

Ray sues NHLPA

Veteran tough guy Rob Ray sued the NHL Players Association, claiming he has been shut out of the union’s lockout compensation fund as punishment because he said in October he would return to the ice if the NHL used replacement players.

Ray spent most of last season working as a TV broadcaster with his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, before signing with Ottawa in February. He played six games with the Senators and was on the team’s roster when it was eliminated by Toronto in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

The 15-year NHL veteran is an unrestricted free agent. He said he was notified early last month that an NHLPA committee ruled he was not eligible for compensation.

NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon declined comment yesterday on Ray’s suit, which was filed in New York Supreme Court in Buffalo.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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