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Newz Forum: HOCKEY: Stanley Cup finalists surprisingly lacing up skates in France

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posted on Oct, 10 2004 @ 02:32 PM
PARIS -- Just months ago, Steve Montador was living every hockey player's dream -- playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Now his Calgary Flames are closed for business -- along with the rest of the NHL -- and he's chasing pucks in front of 2,000 people in a remote corner of France.

"I would rather be playing in NHL but I'm a positive thinker. I don't regret coming here," Montador told the Associated Press by telephone.

"I can help this team get better, become more broad-minded as a person," he added. "I like the style here. It's not as intense obviously, but you get more puck space."

Montador's new hockey address is Mulhouse, a small city in eastern France near the German border. Steven Reinprecht, who won a Stanley Cup as a center for Colorado Avalanche in 2001, is expected to arrive soon in Mulhouse and debut alongside Montador against Tours next week.

He is among the nearly 200 players who have migrated from North America to Europe during the NHL lockout in search of work after the stoppage began last month. Most NHL players have contract clauses permitting them to return if the labor dispute ends in time to salvage a season.

Montador, a defenseman, has played 87 regular-season games with the Flames over three seasons. In June, he played his 20th playoff game of the season, a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the finals.

"The Stanley Cup was absolutely one of the best experiences in my life," said Montador, who on Wednesday night played his second game for Mulhouse, recording an assist in a 4-1 win over Anglet. "It was fat. We came so close to winning it."

Mulhouse president Paul Heyberger is overjoyed at getting a player like Reinprecht, who brings experience and a scoring touch. In six NHL seasons, he has 59 goals and 103 assists.

"It's the cherry on the cake. It's like Zinedine Zidane joining a small French soccer club like Dijon," Heyberger said. "It's the same sort of impact. All of our matches are sold out since the fans heard about it."

At Mulhouse, things will be a little more low key for Reinprecht and Montador -- especially their pay.

"There's no salary," Heyberger said. "Just some expenses like lodgings, flight and a car. We couldn't afford to pay them anyway." He said Reinprecht earns $1.5 million a year with Calgary, and the French club's annual budget is $1.05 million.

Montador says money is not a problem.

"I'm prepared for this. It's better than sitting around at home doing nothing," he said. "I'm doing to enough to survive."

Besides, Montador has other concerns.

"The language barrier is a bit of a problem," he said. "I'm picking up a bit of French here and there, but it's hard."

Which begs the question: If the French league is among the weaker ones in Europe, lacks money and presents a language problem, how does a small club Mulhouse end up with two NHL players?

Word of mouth.

Once the lockout became official, Mulhouse player Ryan Christie, formerly with the Saint John Flames in the American Hockey League, made a few calls.

"Ryan phoned Montador, who then gave Reinprecht a call," Heyberger said. "It would be great if we could get Mario Lemieux next, but I somehow doubt it."

Elsewhere in France, left wing Steve Gainey joined Epinal from Dallas Stars, retracing his father's steps. Bob Gainey, a former star wing for the Montreal Canadiens, once played for Epinal.

Not everyone in France is catching the NHL bug. Teams like Rouen and Grenoble reportedly have spurned offers. Rouen coach Guy Fournier said he had good reason to turn down 38-year-old veteran Luc Robitaille of the Los Angeles Kings.

"We wanted to keep a consistent team until the end of the season," Fournier told sports daily L'Equipe, appearing to suggest Robitaille's arrival could be disruptive.

Heyberger welcomed the news.

"At least Robitaille won't be playing against us," he said.

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