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The NHL logo is seen on a goal at a Nashville Predators practice rink on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. The NHL locked out its players at midnight Saturday, the fourth shutdown for the NHL since 1992. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
The NHL logo is seen on a goal at a Nashville Predators practice rink on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. The NHL locked out its players at midnight Saturday, the fourth shutdown for the NHL since 1992. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

ROY MacGREGOR

Lockout’s ripple effects threaten charities Add to ...

So far as Shakespearean scholars know, the Bard left behind no lost or forgotten manuscript concerning the tragedy of a lost sports season.

But if Will were still scribbling, he should have been in Ottawa the weekend before last.

It poured rain so hard it’s a wonder the few empty beer bottles being handed in didn’t shatter. A late summer storm blew in so wet from up the Valley that a charity bottle drive was turned into a drenched non-event. It was so bad that the annual Saturday collection at beer stores serving Ottawa-area residents – no slackers when it comes to slaking their thirst – had to tack on an extra day, Sunday, just to ensure contributions to Roger’s House could keep step with money raised from previous bottle drives.

In English class they would call this pathetic fallacy – a phrase that many in hockey circles believe you fix by popping a Viagra.

It actually means a foreboding of things to come, and given that the 2012-13 NHL season is in lockout mode, this season could turn out to be as rough on certain charities as it will be on faithful fans.

Roger’s House opened in 2006, named to honour the memory of Roger Neilson, the beloved hockey teacher who coached in eight NHL cities, including Vancouver, Toronto and, finally, Ottawa, where he died of cancer in 2003. The House provides a place of respite for children being treated for cancer and their families and was a creation of the Ottawa Senators, the Sens Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Each year, Roger’s House receives close to $1-million a year from the foundation.

To call Roger’s House sacred in the National Capital Region is not a stretch.

Monday afternoon, Senators president Cyril Leeder called a press conference merely to confirm that this annual commitment will not change, no matter if there is an NHL season or not.

“They don’t have to worry,” Leeder said, confirming the club and foundation have no intention of walking away from their favourite charity.

But other charities across the country surely are worried. In all the talk about the recently-impoverished owners and struggling players, little has been said about the ticket takers, parking lot attendants, waiters, food sellers, beer pourers, ushers, elevator operators, cleaners, washroom attendants and so on who will truly suffer, especially those who only work games and who often get bare minimum wage. And virtually nothing has been said about those charities that are as tied to NHL hockey as sports talk radio and team jersey retailers.

Leeder estimates the Senators sent $3.5-million in the directions of various area charities in a given year. As well, the retired players who make up the Senators Alumni have their own significant charitable commitments. Leeder said the organization has already been hit, with some 170 employees affected one way or the other. Some full-time workers are either temporarily laid off or have been cut down to a four-day work week. Some part time will be affected by no NHL games but will now be able to work major junior games, as this year the Ottawa 67’s will play at Scotiabank Place in the Kanata suburb this season while renovations are under way at their home downtown rink at Lansdowne Park.

“A work shortage is not good for anybody,” Leeder said, “but we know how much the local community has come to depend on us, so we are going to make every effort to continue to do as much as we can.”

As well as covering whatever operating shortfall there might be at Roger’s House, the Senators and foundation contribute to, along with smaller projects, the STEP program that tries to match workers with job opportunities, a school curriculum initiative that will reach 25,000 youngsters this year, a community rink program that put a Rink of Dreams at City Hall last year and is committed to building community rinks in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, a Tim Hortons coaching clinic and the Ottawa Food Bank.

“We’ll do what we did last year,” Leeder said. “And maybe more.”

Still, those events that are successful in part because of players’ presence will have no players this year. And many of the players who do their own charity work may not even be in the country this year.

There is no figure that can be applied to the various commitments and charitable projects undertaken by all seven NHL teams in Canada, but it would be considerable. And it, too, is in jeopardy so long as owners and players cannot find common ground on which to divide up the billions of dollars that come from fans’ pockets.

Leeder said he has been hearing from those fans – “lots.”

“They’re not mad at the owners or the players,” he added. “They’re mad at both of us – and they want to see a deal get done.”

So, too, do the charities.

Who need their own fix.

 

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