- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Beginning Thursday night, hockey will return to Quebec after all.
Hockey played by NHL players, although not technically NHL hockey.
But in these days of the great NHL-NHLPA stare-fest, an immoveable object that threatens yet another season, this gathering of NHL stars nominally from or connected to the Montreal area who will lace 'em up against a team ostensibly representing longtime rival Quebec City is something.
The 5-on-5 event, dubbed La Tournée des Joueurs or The Players' Tour, will begin Thursday in the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay and is the brainchild of NHLers Max Talbot and his pal Bruno Gervais, both of the Philadelphia Flyers and both of whom are from the area.
The two sat down during the summer and wondered aloud, if there is a lockout, what then?
They decided a good way to stay sharp physically while raising money for charity would be to play some actual games.
Although the first game will be in a relatively small facility -- Talbot estimates about 1,300 fans will pay $20 each to attend the game played in a local AAA minor hockey facility -- plans call for future games to be held in larger facilities, likely major junior rinks, all across Quebec.
"We want to bring back that Montreal-Quebec city rivalry, so we'll have a couple guys be the core of each team so this rivalry can be something people really rally around," Gervais said in an interview.
"People want to play in this because it helps you stay sharp and keeps you ready to go."
As for goaltenders ... well, there's a glut.
"We have too many goalies that want to play," Talbot said.
Chicago's Corey Crawford came out last week, and Talbot's old friend Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jonathan Bernier, a backup in Los Angeles, will take to the ice in Thursday's charity opener. Carey Price also is interested in playing, Talbot said.
It's expected the lineups will change depending on players' schedules and where the games are being played.
"We'll see, maybe he'll come down," Talbot said. "I'm sure he's got lots of options."
Jerseys with names and numbers have been designed and the teams will have skate sharpeners and trainers on hand to help out..
The pair is hoping for two games a week starting Oct. 5 and 6.
Interest from players, sponsors and charities has been strong, and Talbot said they are in negotiation with a major sponsor that might lead to more sponsorship money.
"A lot of people are talking about it," Talbot said.
Money raised will go to local minor hockey charities in each city.
The group did a kind of test run last week, and Talbot said he was impressed with the pace.
"I'd definitely pay 20 bucks to go see this," Talbot said, joking.
Former NHLer Joel Bouchard helped put together a series of charity games in Quebec during the 2004-05 lockout, but those were 4-on-4 matches that were more exhibitions in nature. Talbot said there should be a high level of competition playing 5-on-5, although the games will be no-contact.
It's not clear yet who will coach the two teams.
"We're thinking about that, celebrities, ex-coaches, ex-players that we
thought about," Gervais said. "We want to have colorful people that can have fun behind
the bench and make it interesting for everyone."
Both Gervais and Talbot said they'd rather be playing in the NHL, which, under normal circumstances, would be in the midst of its training camp and preseason schedule. But in its absence, it's good to know that the fans in Quebec will get at least a taste of something resembling the NHL -- and all for a good cause.
Although the tour has a name, how about a trophy or something for the champion?
How about The Lockout Cup or Max and Bruno's Lockout Extravaganza Trophy, or the Moo Cup, given Detroit Red Wings executive Jim Devellano's recent comments that the owners were like ranch owners and the players the cattle that eat there?
Of course, there's always the Stanley Cup; sadly, it doesn't look like it's going to be all that busy.
Just a thought.
--with files from Katie Strang