BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — The NHL lockout is a bummer for most hockey fans and players.
To those from Traverse City Central and West, it has a little extra weight.
The labor stoppage has put what could be a historic outdoor game between the schools in jeopardy.
The rivals are slated to play in the Hockeytown Winter Festival in December as part of a series of games leading up to the Jan. 1 Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs game at Michigan Stadium. But that isn't a sure thing anymore, especially if the labor dispute extends for a significant period of time.
"The last communication we had from the Red Wings and Olympia Entertainment said that the whole CBA situation was creating a lot of buzz down there," TC Central coach Chris Givens said. "They said if it came down to a long work stoppage — which they haven't defined what a long work stoppage is — there is a drop-dead date for all the activities surrounding the Winter Festival, but they haven't told us what that date is.
"Obviously, that's disappointing to say the least. I wish I knew what the drop-dead date was. At least you'd have something to go by. We're sitting here with no idea."
The lockout has already cost Traverse City hockey fans the NHL Prospects Tournament at Centre ICE, and it's looking less likely that the Detroit Red Wings will hold a full training camp here this year. Even if they do, it could be a abbreviated stay.
The 2004-05 lockout resulted in the total suspension of the season.
"We saw the NHL lockout looming and it occurred to us that if they don't have an NHL Winter Classic game, they might not have the Winter Classic Festival at all and we might be out," TC West coach Jeremy Rintala said. "It's something we were really excited about and we thought it'd be such a great experience. They haven't given us a timetable. Everything is up in the air right now."
The Central-West game was scheduled for Dec. 19 at Comerica Park.
"At this point, the only thing I can tell you is we are unsure of the events and we're in the process of figuring that out," said Adam Dubois, a marketing assistant with Olympia Entertainment who is working with the high school and youth teams in the Hockeytown Winter Festival. "It's a situation where obviously we don't know what's going on with the CBA and that's going to dictate a lot of it. But as far as at what dates we would cancel events, we don't have that at this time."
Givens contacted Dubois on Sept. 6 asking about when tickets would be printed so that fans could purchase them. He was told that tickets would not be printed until after the CBA was resolved.
"We paid our deposit money to Olympia Entertainment and we're looking at hotels," Givens said. "And we're looking at transportation. Now, it's like you don't want to do anything further because we don't know if it's even going to happen."
"We thought there might be a chance that everything would still go forward even with no NHL," Rintala said. "They're having the (Great Lakes Invitational) there and major junior games there and other high school games, so we though maybe without NHL they still would do it, but they didn't sound so optimistic, so we're really hoping the NHL can get back going really soon."
Both teams already have their 25-game schedules full, so the Winter Classic contest will count as a Big North Conference game. If it's not able to be played at Comerica Park, then the venue shifts back to Howe Arena in Traverse City.
"Schedule-wise, it wouldn't be a problem," Rintala said, "but it would be disappointing to not get to play down there."