Labor log: Team USA/412Hockey; NHLPA and pensions; Johnstown Jumpback (Staal’s return).


A late good Thursday evening to the dear reader; so, what have you done with your day?

♦ The opening note on this otherwise sour day for hockey fans was played pitch-perfectly by Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. Anytime the Americans play for a gold medal at arguably the planet’s second best hockey tournament is an accomplishment, but to play for that gold this season, with the Canadian and Russian teams aided by players available because of the NHL lockout – well, that accomplishment should be celebrated.

As you might have heard there are some Pittsburgh connections with Team USA:

There should be parties scheduled around the gold game at 8 a.m. on Saturday. This may be only the start of a golden age for Pittsburgh hockey, but it will never feel this fun again. There will be expectations on our young hockey players from this point out.

Right now, the only expectation for Pittsburghers on Saturday morning should be to sit back and enjoy a great day for hockey, whether the Americans win or lose.

That said, speaking with three of those Pittsburgh Juniors on Thursday morning not long after the Americans’ domination of Canada, it would be tough for this blog author to predict a loss. Those kids expected the big win over a stacked Canadian squad, and they expect gold against Sweden.

(Side note: Kind of cool that Pittsburgh’s own Steve Mears, of the Penguins Radio Network, is calling the game for NHL Network.)

♦ There is probably no use in analyzing the wild Thursday as it played out in New York, but here is the latest on the NHL labor zaniness:

Look, everybody has the same question: When will this lockout end?

The hockey world’s worst secret is that nobody knows.

Not team officials.

Not players.

Not the scribes.

There is a lot of stuff flying, and most of it is honest-to-goodness well reported information. Though the hockey media has been fatigued and nearly defeated by this Never-ending Story, a vast majority of this blog author’s colleagues are doing their best to get things right.

But there is so much misinformation from even the oft-most connected sources that this story has almost become impossible to cover.

Know this: A deal is no sure thing, which does not mean it will not happen – just that it could really go either way.

There was a mad dash to save the 2004-05 season before it just ended, and that could happen with this campaign too.

Union executive director Donald Fehr and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman may actually be too good at what they do (winning labor disputes) for this thing to end the way hockey fans wish – with games beginning Jan. 19 and the Stanley Cup being awarded in early summer.

There is so much history between this league and this union, and 95 percent of it is bad, ugly, horrible history. That is a lot to get past, and there is a sense that every move is perceived through the prism of that history. Translation: A whole lotta’ distrust.

The owners and players really don’t live on the same planet, and they’re both living in a different galaxy than the fans and sponsors that cannot make sense of this lockout.

Also, know this: Anybody who discounts the pension hang up is not paying attention to how important it is to the players. They want that, and they will lose a season to get it.

There suspicion here is that mostly everybody has misread the players, thinking they aren’t willing to lose another season because their careers are short.

That is true, their careers are short. But a good many of the players have already lost a season, and they know what it was like. They have experience as a comparison.

They’ve been there, done that. They’ll do it again. To think they won’t is folly.

This fight is that important to the players. And pensions are a bigger part of that fight than many people would presume.

♦ No matter what happens, some Penguins players will be in action Wednesday.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Joe Vitale, Derek Engelland and Ben Lovejoy will take the ice with the Johnstown Tomahawks for the first annual Johnstown Tomahawks Charity Classic. The game is at 7 p.m., at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena, and proceeds benefit the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation and the Johnstown Tomahawks Foundation.

Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. Tickets are $25 apiece.

Worth the price of admission?

Well, a certain somebody will be worth taking a look at, if only for a reminder.

Hey, remember him?