If there’s one thing you notice in a charity game between two teams stacked with NHL players, it’s hands. For the most part, you’re watching a sport that faintly resembles something you’ve seen before, but every once in a while you witness a shot or pass that’s unmistakably big league.
Hands also stood out for another reason during this NHLPA event.
While the two sides were issued uniforms for the RBC Play Hockey Charity Challenge on Wednesday night, each player wore a pair of gloves from his own bag. In most cases, the mitts matched the mugs with guys like Dion Phaneuf, P.K. Subban and Steven Stamkos wearing the colours we’re accustomed to seeing them in.
Once in a while, though, a combination would cause a double take; like seeing longtime Dallas Star Steve Ott stick handling around the ice with the yellow and blue gloves of the Buffalo Sabres. Ott himself acknowledged it still catches him off guard sometimes to look down and see different colours on his hands.
“It does because I haven’t really earned the right to wear the Buffalo Sabres jersey,” he said.
Ott was one of a few players at the Mattamy Athletic Centre — better known as the revamped Maple Leafs Gardens — in that position. As stressful as the lockout is for everyone who wants to return to the best job in the world, players who switched teams in the off-season have an added layer of flux because they haven’t been able to sink into their new surroundings.
Certainly there would have been no shortage of pre-lockout discussion with management about your role and what’s expected. And Ott — who was dealt to the Sabres by the Stars along with Adam Pardy for Derek Roy last summer — did have the chance to spend a month in Buffalo during the off-season, skating with a few new teammates, buying a house and getting a feel for his new home.
“Family wise, I’m settled in Buffalo,” he said.
But that’s not the same as feeling like you’ve carved out your groove or demonstrated to your new teammates what you’re all about and what you are willing to do for them. It’s not the same as feeling like you’ve earned your new stripes, so to speak.
“Usually that happens in training camp or exhibition games,” Ott says. “You prove yourself and your worth to your team.
“I’m super excited to be a Sabre. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”
Another player in the same situation is ex-Sabre (and ex-Maple Leaf) Brad Boyes. Last July, Boyes inked a deal with the New York Islanders and, like Ott, got his family settled in the city, scoped out his new scene and skated with new teammates. Some of them, anyway.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t still be a lot to familiarize himself with if this labour dispute does get settled. And the one certain factor in all this volatility is, if a deal gets done, things are going to happen in a hurry. The normal chance a player would get to acclimate himself over a drawn-out training camp and exhibition schedule won’t be there, but the pressure to mesh quickly still will.
“If we start up, you go in and kind of meet half the team fresh and go into games, it will be a little different,” said Boyes.
Then again, nobody will be complaining too loud. As tough as it is to start over on the fly, at least it will be in the environment everyone wants to get back to.
“You’re not going to be complaining too much, as long as you’re playing," Boyes said.