Johnson: Linesman Cvik caught in the lockout fallout
Hulking veteran official no stranger to labour impasses and he’s learned to stop following every detail
Since 8:30 a.m., Mike Cvik has been at the pool, watching daughter Josephine work on her stroke.
Tuesdays and Thursdays he’s a ballet dad. A school chauffeur when required.
There’s Josephine’s ninth birthday party on the go Sunday.
“The lesson I learned in ’04,” says the 1,700-game NHL linesman, “is to distance myself from it. Back then, I was hanging on every press release, watching every news report, reading whatever was available. And the roller-coaster ride was . . . sickening.
“We read what we wanted to into every bit of news or gossip that came out in the press. We’d get our hopes up and then the bottom would fall out.
“So now I take everything with a grain of salt.
“This time around, I told my wife ‘I’m not going to get on that roller-coaster anymore.’ If they’re talking, they’re talking. If they have a deal, they have a deal. If, God forbid, they wind up cancelling the season, well, they’ve cancelled the season.
“That’s basically all I want to know.”
Count on-ice officials, referees and linesman, among the extensive largely forgotten collateral damage of a ludicrous lockout that is nearing its seventh week and shows no signs of progress in negotiations, let alone a solution.
Veteran NHL referees can earn up to $340,000 a year and linesmen earn about two-thirds of that during a typical season. They aren’t paid when there’s a lockout, though, and there’s no slush fund, although they can take out $5,000 in interest-free loans against their wages every month.
Under the officials’ current contract, they begin getting paid Sept. 1, which this fall lasted all of two weeks before the lockout started on the 15th.
“For 26 years, at this time of the year, I’m out skating around or travelling to games,” muses Cvik. “And here I am, today, driving the streets of Calgary. The temperature has risen from minus-7 to, oh, minus-3, so I guess we’ll do the Calgary thing and let the weather take care of the snow problem.”
Today marks the imaginary date commissioner Gary Bettman warned would end all hope of a full 82-game schedule. The league refuses to meet with the players unless they work off the offer made last week that the players flatly rejected. The players are, predictably, bridling at being shoved into a corner.
And so, like two kids in a schoolyard, they’ve decided to ‘Dare ya!” “Double dog dare ya!” The outlook for resolution seems grimmer by the day. And the loss of another full season would result in heavy casualties on a number of fronts, just as it did the last time.
Cvik, obviously more directly affected than most, is no stranger to these sorts of impasses. He’s already been caught up in three work stoppages as well as the ’93 officials’ strike.
During a distinguished career working the line, he’s also broken up bare-knucklers between the toughest hombres of two generations. But these boardroom dust-ups between bookish-looking guys in custom-cut suits are way beyond his pay grade.
“The goofy part is, we’re like everybody else. We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors. You hear X from one side, Y from another. I know they’re haggling about money, but other than that I have no clue as to what the other issues are and how it ties into anything.
“That’s why I don’t get too wired up about it anymore.
“People in bigger offices and (who are) apparently much more intelligent than I am are trying to figure this out.”
In this lockout, as opposed to ’04-05, there has been precious little public indignation. Weary resignation, a seen-that-before cynicism, is the pervading mood. Being out and about, rather than jetting to Vancouver or Denver, Cvik has sensed the widespread wait-and-see.
“People I run into, whether I’m with Josephine at the pool or at dance, with my buddies or working out at the gym, what they want to know, from both sides, is: ‘How much is enough?’ They blame both sides. The amount of money they’re trying to split up, 98 per cent of the population would love to have that problem. And they’d figure it out.”
With this hockey-less possibility hanging like some massive radioactive mushroom cloud overtop of the entirety of last year, the officials were cautioned as early as the 2011 training camp to begin squirrelling away savings. Just in case.
“Until they can figure it out, we’re sitting around like the poor concessions guy who, instead of working 98 nights a year is now working 45. Same with the guy parking cars, the taxi drivers, the hotels, the restaurants.
“It just flows all the way through the economy.”
In precautionary mode, as a defence mechanism, Cvik, at 50, is mobilizing himself for the worst. In the fall of ’04, it never crossed his mind that an entire season could be lost, and yet the unthinkable came to pass. It could again.
“If they do reach an agreement, I can go ‘Woo hoo!’, high-five everybody and get back to work. But should the worst happen, and I hope it doesn’t, in January, February, whenever, I don’t want to be sitting there, staring in the mirror, stunned like everybody else. I want to make sure I’m best equipped to carry on with life.
“Hey, I’m fully prepared to jump on the ice tomorrow if they have a deal.
“Either that or . . . I start sending out resumes. If we need to get through ’til next September. Or the September after that.
“By then, my time might be up anyways.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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