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Wayne Simmonds, Chris Stewart take magical Euro lockout tour to Liberec

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The NHL lockout has hurt many people, but neither Wayne Simmonds nor Chris Stewart is one of them.

Wayne Simmonds and Ondrej Pavelec are teammates. This month, anyway.
Wayne Simmonds and Ondrej Pavelec are teammates. This month, anyway.

There is talk of the NHL lockout costing staff jobs, angering fans and sponsors and inconveniencing players, but Wayne Simmonds and Chris Stewart will have none of that.

The longtime friends and fellow NHL wingers have turned the lockout into an opportunity to explore Europe's lesser hockey leagues and the beautiful countries that host them.

In their pre-lockout jobs, Simmonds is a well paid Philadelphia Flyer, while Stewart is a St. Louis Blue. Neither is likely to share a uniform in the NHL, where each commands several million dollars a year.

So for the wingers who have known each other since youth hockey and are summer roommates, the lockout became "one of the few times in their life they might ever get to play on the same sheet and the same ice," their agent, Eustace King, told the Courier-Post last month.

Their first stop was Eispiraten Crimmitschau of Germany's second-tier league, based in eastern Germany a little over an hour north of the Czech border. That was a right good time -- Simmonds led the team in scoring with 14 points in nine games, with Stewart putting up 11 points himself.

Simmonds also found time to lead the team in PIM with 35, and to get in an instantly viral fight (he's wearing #71) with Fischtown's Ralf Rinke that brought a dose of NHL attitude to Germany's second tier.

The next stop on their tour: HC Liberec. The team is captained by former NHLer Petr Nedved and also features locked-out NHLers Ladislav Smid and Ondrej Pavelec.

Liberec's "White Tigers" were one of the teams that could take on both players at once, but the city of Liberec itself is a picturesque winter sports town near the German and Polish borders, with a classic Central European city square, so the NHL buddies are doing quite alright for themselves.

Play some hockey. Take in some European sites. You know, your usual Euro tour.

For the most part, locked-out NHLers in Europe don't make much other than enough to cover insurance on their NHL contracts, so how is this happening?

Most signings like this are covered by team "sponsors" -- usually corporate partners or private benefactors of the team. So Stewart and Simmonds were on a one-month contract -- several players in Switzerland and Austria are on one- or two-month deals -- so the two wingers were able to shop their services and add a second stop to their grand tour.

Crimmitschau was actually interested in extending the boys' stay in Germany, but the team apparently does not begrudge their moving on. After all, you now know what Eispiraten Crimmitschau is, and chances are a month ago you had no idea.

Now it will be interesting to see what effect these two players have on Liberec. The Czech Extraliga is a higher level than German's second tier, and Liberec is currently in 13th place in the 14 team league with just one victory.

So the White Tigers could use the help. And for a lockout, it's not bad work if you can get it.