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HOCKEY TALKS CONTINUE DESPITE ICY BARGAINING

In a show of union solidarity around the NHL, players shook hands before their exhibition games.

That was more than Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow could do Wednesday following another long session in their continuing negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.For the second straight day, the NHL and its union met again in a lengthy bargaining session. And for the second straight day, they had nothing positive to report.

On Tuesday, Goodenow, the executive director of the NHL Players Association, said after a seven-hour meeting: "Some serious philosophical differences have to be resolved if we're going to have a deal."

Wednesday, Bettman sounded just as pessimistic.

"We're trying to analyze and reconcile differences," he said following a five-hour session with the NHL Players Association.

But while the sides apparently remain far apart on the issues, at least they're together at the bargaining table. The full-scale talks will continue Monday in Toronto.

The players appear to be united. Players in the Philadelphia-New Jersey, Toronto-Montreal and New York Rangers-Los Angeles exhibition games Wednesday night exchanged handshakes in shows of solidarity in the labor dispute.

Goodenow left Wednesday's meeting without talking to reporters. He was reportedly on his way back to Canada to speak to NHL team representatives about the two days of negotiations in New York.

Bettman had little more to say.

"It's an ongoing process," he said, repeating what he had said many times before.

Wednesday's meeting was the fourth in six days between Bettman and Goodenow as the sides try to fashion a deal in time for the opening of the season on Oct. 1. Players have expressed concern that owners will lock them out unless a new bargaining agreement is worked out by then.

Bettman has rejected the notion of a lockout.

Players have been without a collective bargaining agreement since Sept. 15, 1993. One of the main issues is how players are paid. Owners are looking for a system that links salaries to revenue. Players want a free market and more liberalized free agency, among other things.

Bruce Driver, player representative of the Devils, seemed more optimistic than either Bettman or Goodenow.

"Obviously if they are meeting for six hours yesterday and again today, there has got to be a sense of optimism," he said. "Our goal all along has been to get an agreement.

"The fact they are talking means it's a little brighter the last couple of days than the last couple of weeks. Hockey is an up and coming sport. It's our time right now to grab some of the spotlight."