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WHALERS LATEST TO JOIN NHL STRIKER'S CLUB

The Hartford Whalers are the latest to join the strikers' club.

"We're going to do whatever the negotiating committee sees fit, what's best for the union," said Hartford's Pat Verbeek. "We're just positioning ourselves to make sure we're strong. And we are strong right now."The Whalers on Wednesday became the 12th NHL team to authorize a strike by the players' union if no collective bargaining agreement is reached in contract talks Monday and Tuesday in New York.

Verbeek, Hartford's player representative, said the Whalers voted unanimously to give Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow authority to call a strike.

No date for a possible strike has been announced, Verbeek said.

Despite the strike votes, players remain hopeful an agreement can be reached.

"We've got to go into the meetings optimistically, hoping things work out. But if not, we're prepared for the worst scenario," Verbeek said. "We're going to do whatever is necessary."

The teams' strike votes were supposed to be kept confidential, but Verbeek agreed to release the Whalers' vote after word leaked out Tuesday that players from 11 other teams approved the strike.

"I don't think it hurts our cause, I think it might accelerate things. We're basically positioning ourselves," Verbeek said.

The association is prepared to call the first players' strike in its 25-year history should it fail to make progress on a new contract.

In a written statement Wednesday, Goodenow denied reports that players had set March 16 as the walkout date. Goodenow said that some of the teams "were still in the process" of voting on whether strike action was necessary.