John Chabot is hoping a little northern exposure can put a bright light on the NHL lockout.
Chabot is working on plans to bring locked out NHLers, including the Ottawa Senators players he’s currently helping coach, on an exhibition tour of northern Canadian communities.
Chabot, an Algonquin who played for the Montreal Canadiens and served as coach of the New York Islanders and Gatineau Olympiques, also works closely with First Nations communities, teaching life skills through hockey.
Now, he’s aiming to merge the two pursuits, raising money for charities in the process.
“We talked about it (Thursday) — quickly — and we just talked about it (Friday),” Chabot said after putting locked out players through the paces at an early morning workout at the Bell Sensplex. “About how many guys it would take, and I’m going to go around in the next couple of days to try and find out if it can be done.”
Chabot hasn’t yet singled out particular communities — “I’ve made some calls out to (the Northwest Territories) and Northern Quebec and those are places I’ve travelled,” he said — but he believes it would be a hit because the sight of big-league stars in remote northern areas is so rare. In the past, he has explored the idea of bringing an NHL or major junior hockey training camp to the north.
The general concept is that a group of 20 NHL players would travel together and be split into two teams. Another 10 top players from the community they’re playing in would be added to serve as “third-line players,” playing against each other.
“The (communities) see these guys on TV and you’ve got a chance to get these guys up in your community,” Chabot said. “It would be a boon just for the day and create a lot of interest and goodwill for the players. They’re not going to get paid for it … they’re just going to play a couple of games.”
Max Talbot, the former Gatineau Olympiques star and current member of the Philadelphia Flyers, has organized a successful tour of NHL players through Quebec during the past month and Chabot will ask for his advice on how to deal with insurance coverage for players and other details. Chabot is hoping companies who regularly do business in the north can help offset some of the travel costs.
“It will be an uptempo thing and they’ll use it as a training process,” he said. “It’s like a good exhibition game. Guys aren’t going to run each other through the boards, but they’re going to play hard.
“We’re going to go to communities that hopefully show the interest. These communities can’t afford to fly 20 guys in for an exhibition game, but if we get sponsorship to offset the cost, then the charity thing would really work. And that’s what interests the players more than anything, the fact there is going to be charity involved. Most of these guys are involved, in one way or another, in charities in their cities.”
There will be no NHL games in November, but there may well be NHL players playing games in November.