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Cut, cut: Scene is repeated in Providence

Well, yes, there are worse things than a lockout. In the midst of the NHL's self-imposed two-hander over the head (now day No. 66 on what appears the fast track to infinity), a couple of Bruins prospects turned their opportunity to play in Providence into their final days in the Boston organization.

Similar to Kris Vernarsky's heave-ho the week before, netminder Peter Hamerlik was dismissed by the Baby B's last week. Two weeks, two prospects gone. They simply weren't developing as quickly as the organization hoped. In an industry with such, shall we say, strained economics, patience isn't in abundance in the various mother ships across the Original 30.

"Hamerlik just wasn't going at the pace we wanted," explained Jeff Gorton, Boston's assistant general manager. "It turned out he wasn't the kind of goaltender who could play every fourth or fifth game."

The 22-year-old Hamerlik, picked 153d overall in the 2002 draft, bounced among three ECHL clubs last season, and this year was relegated to backing up Hannu Toivonen, the 20-year-old Finn who likely would be Andrew Raycroft's backup in Boston if the NHL's labor dispute ever gets settled. Former University of Vermont backstop Andrew Allen is now filling the No. 2 spot in Providence.

"Vernarsky's situation was similar to Hamerlik's," added Gorton. "There was a lot we asked him to do, including his off-ice workouts. Quite frankly, he didn't get it done."

A 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound center, Vernarsky saw limited duty in Boston (17 games, 1 goal) the last two seasons, but didn't show the edge needed to stay in the NHL. Originally a Toronto draft pick, he was shipped to Boston in the deal that sent hard-shooting blue liner Rick Jackman to the Leafs. Jackman enjoyed a decent career recovery in Toronto, but was moved to Pittsburgh last February in a deal that brought Drake Berehowsky to Toronto.

Meanwhile, Providence also will lose its top player, Patrice Bergeron, for a couple of weeks when he reports to Team Canada's World Junior squad late next month. While the band of Baby B's plays on, Bergeron will wear the maple leaf in Grand Forks, N.D., from Dec. 25-Jan. 4.

Player movement?
Players Association boss Bob Goodenow met Wednesday with 62 of the union's certified agents, a five-hour session in a Chicago airport hotel that had the moneychangers fortified. "Not a single fractious moment," superagent Don Baizley told the Toronto Star. Another agent, who requested anonymity, described Goodenow as being in "full sales mode" as he explained in detail why the collective bargaining agreement rollbacks that the union has proposed would aptly address ownership's concerns. "No question, he made a compelling case to everyone in there," said the agent. "The players are willing to compromise to get it done, but it doesn't look like it will happen as long as the league keeps up its scorched-earth policy in negotiations." Look for the union to send another volley the league's way, putting more bite into its proposal. "And if they don't bite then, then it will be, `OK, shut it down for at least this year,' " said the agent . . . Rumors out of Toronto later in the week had the union mulling the decertification of any agent who would send a player over the picket line, provided the league eventually opened arena doors and posted conditions of a new contract (a move that first would have to gain traction in courtrooms in the United States and Canada) . . . Another thought to mull: With some 260 NHL players now playing in various European leagues, at least that many now unemployed Europeans would be emboldened to cross a picket line on this side of the Atlantic if the NHL ever did impose its contract. Messy boomerang, huh? But remember, the mercenary NHL players sure didn't have qualms about bumping their Euro brethren off the puck over there, which leaves them wide open to the retaliatory hit . . . Ray Bourque's likeness still hasn't taken its honored place inside the Sports Museum at the FleetCenter. The Baltimore firm that is crafting the life-sized model hired a new sculptor to shape another face for the Bruins icon. Once the facelift is finished in Florida, the head will be shipped to Baltimore to meet up with Bourque's body, and then finally make its way to Causeway Street. "If it all goes right, it should be here before the end of the year -- ideally even before Christmas," said Brian Codagnone, the museum's associate curator . . . Bruins boss Charlie Jacobs reports that the first phase of building out the empty lots around the Fleet faces some critical review and permitting procedures next month. Provided all I's are dotted and T's crossed, a high-rise residential tower (15 floors of apartments, 15 floors of condos, 5 floors of parking) could break ground late in 2006, and open for business 12 months later. The tower would stand above the open space that is now over the MBTA-owned parking garage on the west side of the Vault . . . Raymonde Vadnais, wife of former Bruin Carol Vadnais, succumbed to cancer Friday morning. She was 57 years old and had battled lupus for more than 20 years. The Vadnaises, who made their home in Laval, Quebec, have one daughter (Michele) and a newborn grandson (Alexis).

Buy week for Canucks
Not all NHL business has gone dark. Billionaire John McCaw, looking to unload his Vancouver Canucks for years, last week took on a 50-percent partner, Francesco Aquilini, a British Columbia hotel and residential developer. The move was a surprise for two reasons: (1) the league remains in lockout mode and (2) earlier rumors had McCaw selling to two others with local interests, Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie . . . The Tampa Bay front office had to ask special permission from the league to hold a small, private ceremony last week to dole out flashy Stanley Cup rings. With the likes of Martin St. Louis and Nikolai Khabibulin playing overseas, only 15 players showed up to pick up the rings, each containing 138 diamonds (1 for each of the 106 points in the regular-season standings and 2 for each of the 16 postseason wins). Ex-Bruins Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor were among the Lightning in the receiving line. Once the tiny fete was finished, the players went to a hotel across the street for a bite to eat, joined by no one among the coaching or management staff. Does a crowning achievement get any more hollow than that? . . . Count former NHL player Rob Valicevic (ex- of Nashville, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Dallas) among those officially peeved enough with the current players to cross a picket line. "No qualms," he told the Toronto Star last week. "I'm going to do everything I can to take your job." The influx of NHL players in the minor leagues in North America has bumped Valicevic to the Flint Generals (United Hockey League) . . . A CNN report last week had ex-Bruin Rob Tallas considering joining what undoubtedly will be a massive suit against Merck, maker of prescription painkiller Vioxx. According to the report, Tallas said he took the drug for 2-2 1/2 years to dull the pain of torn shoulder muscles, and last year, following a game in Finland, he suffered a heart attack -- one he is now convinced was caused by the drug . . . Bruins captain Jumbo Joe Thornton and his longtime spoked-B winger, Glen Murray, have signed on to the Primus Worldstars tour that will barnstorm Europe for two weeks next month (Dec. 9-23). Former Bruin Sean O'Donnell, who signed in the offseason with the Desert Dogs, also is aboard the Eurobandwagon . . . Gorton reported that the Bruins have been pleased with the play of Andy Hilbert in Providence. "He's got 8-9 goals, so offensively he's doing pretty well -- he's still coming," said Gorton. "And he's pretty good in the defensive end, too, although we continue to tell him to finish his checks, be more consistent with his physical game. If he's going to enter the [NHL], he'll have to do it, because it's rare that someone makes it just on scoring ability." . . . Gorton said Jonathan Girard has been playing in four-on-four charity games in Quebec and continues to recover from the near-fatal car accident last summer that left him with a shattered pelvis and broken neck. "We haven't talked with him directly," said Gorton, "but from what we hear, he still doesn't consider himself 100 percent yet." . . . Boston defenseman Sergei Gonchar is also penciled into the Primus lineup, even though he continues to recover from a concussion suffered a couple of weeks ago in Russia when he got caught with his head down by budding star Alexander Ovechkin. "It was fairly serious," said Gorton. "Maybe not as serious as at first widely reported, but he'll need 2-4 weeks to recover. He spent at least a couple of days in the hospital. But everything we hear, he should be OK."

Rankings filed
The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau came out with its first rankings of the season, and it was no surprise that Sidney Crosby, the phenom forward from Rimouski, was the top-ranked junior available for the 2005 draft (June 25-26 in Ottawa, if a new CBA is reached). The top-ranked NCAA skater, according to CSB, is Boston College freshman winger Dan Bertram. UVM's Joe Fallon is the top-rated NCAA goalie . . NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has called a dinner meeting with the league's 30 general managers in New York City for Dec. 2. Note to caterer: leave all long knives out of the cutlery drawer . . . The Bruins, the FleetCenter, and Banknorth have partnered with the United Way on a volunteer initiative to run in December. The initiative will encourage Causeway Street workers, those who have lost wages because of the lockout, to volunteer up to 59 hours and receive a stipend of $10 per hour. The program, according to Jacobs, will accommodate up to 100 workers, volunteering in places such as the Boston Food Bank and Rosie's Place. "It took a lot of work to pull it all together, and we're very excited about it," said Jacobs, who added that volunteers can begin enrolling today on FleetStreet. "United Way will do the actual steering of the volunteers, and they've got a long list of worthy programs where our people can help out." . . . If you're thirsting for some hockey talk, be sure to make your way tomorrow night (6-8 p.m.) to Morton's Steakhouse on Boylston Street for a Bruins Foundation Martini Tasting (note to fellow media: arriving as early as, say, noon today will not give you preferential seating). Among those on hand: Mike O'Connell, Mike Sullivan, John Bucyk, Bob Beers, and Gord Kluzak, along with NESN host Tom Caron. Raffle prizes, appetizers, and a special gift included. Cost: $40 ($30 for season ticket-holders). All proceeds to benefit the Bruins Foundation. Had such a bash been held in the Big, Bad Bruins days, the party wouldn't end until St. Patrick's Day when someone finally yelled across the bar, "Hey, Turk, heard anything about something called a lockout?"

Kevin Paul Dupont's e-mail address is; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report. 

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