On a cool and sparkling Saturday autumn afternoon, I had the pleasure to meet former NHL Left Winger Sergio Momesso, who was playing in the 8th Annual CN Hockey Greatest Stars Challenge. The 47 year old ‘Italian Stallion’ remains an imposing figure at 6” 3’ and 215 pounds – especially when fully clad in his battle gear. Upon his arrival for our interview, the corridor of the Saint-Michel arena suddenly appeared to shrink in size.
Momesso was getting ready to hit the ice for the start of a charity game between former Montreal Canadiens NHL stars and CN employees. The fundraising event, organized by the CN Employees and Pensioners’ Community Fund, has helped raise $1.7 million in eight years. The proceeds are disbursed to the Marie Vincent Foundation, Ted Nolan Foundation and Big Brothers & Big Sisters charities.
The interview would not have been possible if not for the graciousness of Assistant Director Madame Chantale Lauzon and the affable Mr. Vee Kachroo, Co-President of the Campaign. Both were extremely busy and still took the time to put me on the right track to locate the Stallion. It is often overlooked how hard these dedicated individuals work to organize such fundraisers.
Momesso is in his fourth season playing for the Canadiens Alumni team, part of Greatest Hockey Stars, which has been presented by MV Productions since 1972. The team, which is coached by Guy Lafleur, plays a 60 game schedule throughout Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes. The roster fluctuates depending on the availability of players, since players may have other personal obligations which prevent them from attending games now and then. The team is either bused or flown to games, which are mostly played on weekends.
Getting together and keeping in contact with the guys is what Momesso enjoys most about being part of the squad. Aside from these games, he will play the odd pickup game to stay sharp. He says the fans in smaller towns are most enthusiastic, since few have seen these stars up close. “It is mostly the fathers who know us best. However, with the advent of the internet, the kids can go on Youtube and check out a play or two we made during our hey day”, states Momesso. I guess it sure beats having to look at an old creased hockey card picture of a retired player, like I had to do when I was a kid.
Now it is time to get messy, as I ask the Stallion, why so many labor disputes in the current NHL compared to the older era? With as little hesitation as Secretariat bolting around the final turn, he fires back, “It’s a business, more money and more players who are aware of big money. The NHLPA has become very powerful…maybe too powerful”.
I gladly take Momesso’s lead and respond, do you think the owners (led by Jacobs in Boston and Snider in Philadelphia) are trying to break the union by attempting to scale back salaries as much as possible? He nods in agreement. Momesso continues, “Before the union grew in power, owners had the players in check. The players had little leverage in negotiations.” It is little secret that free agency in the NHL has not only caused problems with salaries and team expenses, it has complicated the sport with contractual matters relating to labor.
Momesso is no stranger to NHL labor disputes, as he went through two in his thirteen year career. His first was the 1992 NHL strike, which lasted ten days. The second was the 1994-95 NHL lockout, which shortened the season to 48 games. The latter was the first of three owner lockout frenzies in seventeen years under Mr. Gary Bettman, Esq. The NHL’s equestrian esquire seems to have perfected his riding of NHL stallions through the years.
When I ask Momesso what he thinks of Bettman, he is sensible and diplomatic in his response. “It is not about Bettman. He is just acting as a heat shield for the players and owners.” True, but he may also be irradiating the fans with all that heat absorption.
The Stallion believes that if there is no deal by Christmas, you can kiss the season goodbye. Momesso states, “If they save the season, the fallout from the dispute can be minimized. But if they lose the season, things could get sticky for post-lockout team revenue.” Momesso has more of a stake in the lockout than many of his other teammates, since he also does color commentary for the Habs on radio TSN 690.
Before Momesso heads back on the ice to lock gears with the CN train guys, I ask him how he’s holding up out there. He responds, “The passing is good, but the legs are not there.”
One can only hope the NHL finds its legs to get out of this latest (not so) fine mess they have gotten themselves into.