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Ducks Skate Through Deadline : Hockey: Players hold a low-key practice as the drop-dead hour comes and goes with no resolution to labor dispute.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No one skated to the bench to use a cellular phone when the drop-dead hour came at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Or ran to a nearby pay phone.

Or rushed to a car to listen to a radio for news.

The in-house sound system belted out classic rock tunes. No one asked that it be switched to an all-sports station.

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The Mighty Ducks kept skating, intent on finishing a low-key scrimmage at Glacial Garden Ice Arena.

It looked like another informal, albeit better attended, practice for the Duck players, who have been locked out in a labor dispute with NHL owners since Oct. 1.

Tuesday was supposed to be the end of the line, the final deadline for a resolution or else the NHL season would be canceled. But if there was going to be a season, they needed to be ready. If there wasn’t, well, this was maybe their last chance to be together on the ice. And, just maybe, the players already believed the threat of a drop-dead deadline was an empty one.

Winger Todd Ewen wore a black jersey and a baseball cap turned backward. The others wore their Duck practice jerseys turned inside out.

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Goalies Guy Hebert and Mikhail Shtalenkov each took part. Hebert recently returned from his parents’ home near Albany, N.Y., promising his girlfriend two weeks of Southern California sunshine. They got steady rain instead.

When the Ducks halted their workout at 9:15 a.m., they quickly pressed reporters for details about the labor situation, which enters its 103rd day today.

Told there was no definitive answer, that the parties were still hashing out a solution in New York, they smiled and shrugged.

As talks dragged on Tuesday with one proposal rejected by the owners and another accepted, it became clear there would be no formal resolution until today.

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Maybe.

The owners presented the players with a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer Tuesday night. Of course, all concerned have heard that before.

Bob Corkum, the Ducks’ player representative, expected to participate in a conference call with other representatives this morning to discuss and perhaps vote on the proposal.

Corkum remained convinced the union was giving up more than it should in order to save the season. He believed the owners’ counteroffer would be unacceptable because it called for unrestricted free agency for only 32-year-olds for the first three seasons of the agreement.

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Randy Ladouceur, the Ducks’ captain, spent the hours after practice watching TV, trying to pick up tidbits of news from the talks in New York.

“It’s been a long, drawn-out process,” Ladouceur said. “I’m just watching TV and keeping my fingers crossed. The whole process has been so frustrating, certainly more so in the last few days.”

Before the late “tweaking” of the proposal, the Ducks reaffirmed their desire to begin playing games again.

“No season would mean throwing hockey back several years,” Hebert said.

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Hebert was certain Duck fans would return with all the passion they showed in selling out the final 25 games of last season.

“The fans were so great, so excited,” he said. “There was a real fever there.”

Corkum expressed concern about the level of play once the games began next week. He worried that a short, five-day training camp wouldn’t be sufficient to prepare players for a schedule that will call for a game on every other night.

“You’re going to see a lot more groin pulls and strained muscles,” Corkum said. “Most of the guys have stayed in shape. I don’t know if you can expect a good caliber of hockey right away. It’s going to take awhile to get a rhythm.”

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Hebert said most players will make adjustments, working into shape gradually.

“You have to be sensible,” Hebert said. “Right now, you can’t be doing the splits (to make a save) on an irrelevant play in practice. The goalies have the disadvantage of not seeing any shots (since September).”


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