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NHL Lockout affects Miami alumni

Not Your Average Joe

By Joe Gieringer
On December 6, 2012

At this point, the National Hockey League (NHL) season is all but canceled. What does this mean?

First and foremost, it means there's a 99 percent chance that there will be no NHL season. The NHL has already canceled 422 regular season games, as well as the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. And guess who was going to both of them? As you can imagine, I'm not too happy about that. Though the fans are the real losers of this year's lockout, imagine how tough it is for the players, many of whom have ties to Miami University.

This past year, the Los Angeles Kings surprised the hockey world by becoming the second team in NHL history to eliminate the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds en route to a Stanley Cup Final, and won their first championship in franchise history. Alec Martinez (Miami class of '08) notched one goal and two assists for L.A. during its playoff run, and was a solid, two-way forward for the Kings all year. After signing a two-year, $1.475 million contract this summer, it is effectively reduced to a one-year contract that will put his play under a bigger microscope next year, and he's playing in Finland in the meantime.

Tommy Wingels (Miami class of '10) was the RedHawks' captain and one of their go-to guys during his tenure here. His talent was recognized by the San Jose Sharks, who drafted him 177 overall in 2008. Bouncing between San Jose and their AHL affiliate the Worcester Sharks, Wingels was just starting to prove himself last season, scoring nine points in 33 regular season games and grabbing an assist in five playoff games. Now that the lockout is all but inevitable, he will finish this season out in the Finnish Mestis league with a big question mark hovering over his status as a full-timer on San Jose's roster for next year.

Ryan Jones (Miami class of '08) is a bigger name than most active RedHawks in the NHL, and has scored 76 points for the Edmonton Oilers in the past two seasons. Known for his physical play and garbage goals, 28 year-old "Junkman" Jones was just hitting his stride as an NHL regular this year before the season was postponed, and I can't help but wonder if this will affect his production when the league starts back up.

In addition to current NHLers, those trying to break into the league will now have an even tougher time doing so with the season on hold. Many players playing with an AHL affiliate on two-way contracts were hoping to get a shot at the big show this year, and with an impressive draft class from this year and last year, it's going to be harder than ever for players to prove their worth and earn a spot on an NHL roster.

Will Weber (Miami class of '12) was a second round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007, and is currently rostered on their farm team, the Springfield Falcons. The Jackets, who are in desperate need of physical, offensive defensemen, could have used Weber in certain situations this year, if there were to be a season. Along with Matt Tomassoni (Miami class of '12), Reilly Smith (Miami class of '12), and others, job security is a little more worrisome than it usually is in the NHL.

Those playing for the RedHawks right now will also have a tougher time holding a steady job on the ice as they head to the pros. Of the Miami players that are currently drafted (Riley Barber, Curtis McKenzie, Sean Kuraly, Blake Coleman, Jimmy Mullin and most likely a few others soon, including Austin Czarnik), they will now join a bigger talent pool looking to make waves at a higher level.

The NHL lockout has been terrible for the game, and I fear it will cause irreparable damage to the image and popularity of the sport, but it is even more of an issue for those looking to make a career out of it. Everyone involved with the game has suffered, and if a deal isn't reached quickly, RedHawks of the past and present might just have a tougher time finding work than originally thought.

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