The American Hockey League, though, is proceeding with preparations for another minor league ice hockey campaign. Training camp began Wednesday for the Hershey Bears, an affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning.

That means work for Chris Bala, 26, a former Kimberton resident and graduate of The Hill School in Pottstown and Harvard University.

Bala, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound left winger, arrived in Hershey at the end of last season following a trade with the Minnesota Wild franchise on March 9 that brought him closer to home. He was originally the Ottawa Senators' second-round pick, the 58th overall, in the 1998 Entry Draft.

"The American League will play for sure," Bala said. "The minor leagues have our own union so we are unaffected."

As an official matter of procedure, Bala was locked out by the Avalanche and then signed by Hershey.

"That is a pretty typical turn of events," Bala said.

The Bears have two exhibition games on tap this weekend. They visit Wilkes-Barre Saturday night and then return home to face Binghamton Sunday afternoon at the Giant Center.

"I am looking forward to the year," Bala said. "In the time I spent last year at Hershey I left a good impression. Colorado was happy and signed me, and then Hershey signed me. They have interest in me. The feedback I have gotten from Colorado is positive so I am excited about the season."

Hershey stayed in the hunt for the AHL playoffs until the very end of last year before being eliminated. So by the end of May the season was complete for Bala and his teammates.

Back on April 2, Bala and the Bears played the Philadelphia Phantoms at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Bala spent the offseason relaxing and resting his body from the physical wear and tear and then working out to keep in shape. He spent time in the weight room at The Hill School starting in June and then began skating again in July at Ice Line in West Chester.

"It was a long, hard summer, but I think I made strides," Bala said.

He spent time with his wife, Katie, a teacher in the Spring-Ford Area School District at their home outside of Pottstown. Bala will commute the one-hour plus driving time at times, but he and some teammates have also rented a house for a stay in Hershey closer to the arena.

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