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Hockey players have always taken pride in their ability to police themselves on the ice and in the dressing room. If someone takes liberties that threaten the club, there will be a price to pay.

The code apparently applies to union brotherhood.

Some NHL players say there would be retribution for anybody who would break union ranks and become a replacement player if the lockout were to reach that point.

"If you got into a situation where players currently in the union crossed the line to play, they certainly would be looked at differently," said New York Islanders captain Michael Peca, who has been working out at the Amherst Pepsi Center. "They certainly wouldn't be respected. It would be a dicey situation for those guys."

Peca said replacement players, at a minimum, would be shunned by teammates who stuck together during the lockout.

"That would be the least of what would happen," said Captain Crunch, a staunch union man. "As opponents on the ice they would be marked as guys you'd want to hurt."

The notion of replacement NHL players is hypothetical at the moment and, if it ever were to come to fruition, several months down the road.

But the subject became a front-burner topic over the weekend, when former Buffalo Sabres enforcer Rob Ray told the Ottawa Sun he would cross the line as a replacement player. The 15-year veteran added he knew of "about 10 guys who would be ahead of me, and these guys are 10 current NHL players."

The subject will be one of many broached today in Toronto, where the NHL Players Association will hold a meeting for all 30 team player representatives and any other members who want to attend. The Sabres will send defensemen Jay McKee and James Patrick and center Adam Mair.

The NHL has denied that using replacement players is part of its lockout strategy. The league fined Atlanta Thrashers part-owner Steve Belkin $250,000 for telling the Boston Herald last month, "If we reach an impasse and it goes on for a year, we will attempt to bring in other players."

There's no shortage of NHLers who dismiss using replacement players as impractical. Canadian labor laws, which differ in each province, might make it impossible.

"I don't know where you would get them from," McKee said. "You can't take the American League or East Coast players because it would crush their leagues. There's some beer leagues around where I know guys would love to play.

"Scab players won't be an issue. It might be a negotiating threat, but it won't be an issue."

Former Sabres winger Matthew Barnaby, now with the Chicago Blackhawks, also scoffed at the idea.

"I just can't see it happening," said Barnaby, a former player rep for the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. "Hockey doesn't have the highest ratings as it is, so how could they expect people to watch second- and third-tier players? Canadians definitely wouldn't pay money to see that, not unless they sell tickets for $3 apiece."

Nevertheless, Ray's comments clearly struck a nerve.

"It was shocking and very disappointing to hear Rob come out with those comments," Mair said. "The camaraderie in the hockey dressing room is a very unique thing. There's a strong sense of team and protecting one another as family. (Crossing the line) would be a betrayal of your family.

"Once this thing gets settled, it would be well-known who crossed the line. The repercussions and the dislike for those players would come out in the game. When making that decision, players have to decide if they want to be the kind of person who would put himself and his family through that."

Ray on Monday said his quotes were accurate but blown out of proportion.

"I'm out of the game," Ray said. "I don't even play anymore. But if they sit out a whole year and owners ask the players to come back under their terms, do you think I would be alone in thinking it's a good idea? You'd be crazy not to think that.

"Most union people work until they're 65 and then retire. We don't do that. I'm not sure what our life expectancy is as NHL players right now, but it used to be 4.7 years. That's a small window, and now players are missing one of those years."

Ray then backed off his bombshell quote that he would cross the line but reiterated he believed in the principle of doing so.

"If I was a younger guy, it would be something I would do," Ray said. "There's no way I could play again. What I said (about crossing the line) was a far-fetched pipe dream. It'll never happen. I'll never play again."

Not every member of the union was displeased with Ray's comments. He said he received phone calls from two NHL players, thanking him for speaking out.

"I give Rayzor a ton of credit because he's willing to go against the grain to say what he believes in," said Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters, not one of those who called to thank Ray. "That just goes to show how much he loves the game. He just wants to play the game, and he's looking out for others. I give him full marks for that."

Said Barnaby, Ray's old buddy: "Rayzor is at that time in his career where he's liable to say anything, and a lot of times he's joking around. But if that's what he wants to do I respect his decision."


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