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Jim Cuddy, Cliff Ronning face off to kick off next month's Juno Cup @NHLdotcom

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Some of Canada's top musicians will trade in their guitars for neck guards when they take on a team of ex-NHL players next month at the annual Juno Cup, in the lead up to the Juno Awards.

Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy will headline a star-studded cast of hockey-playing musicians, including Sarah McLachlan and Alan Doyle and Sean McCann of Great Big Sea at this year's game at UBC Thunderbird Arena.

Included in the Rockers lineup - regardless of hockey-playing skills - will be Barney Bentall, drummer Tyler Stewart of the Barenaked Ladies, and Jesse Wainwright and Cam Melnyk of State of Shock,

The former NHLers have so far put out a minimal lineup of eight players while the Rockers have a lineup of 25 for the 6th annual charity hockey game.

"We are trying to make up in quantity what we lack in quality," Cuddy said with a laugh at an event Monday to help kickstart the star-studded weekend next month that culminates with the awards ceremony on March 29.

Cuddy, a 12-time Juno award winner who plays recreational hockey, was on the ice at GM Place wearing a hockey jersey and firing pucks at a goalie before he was joined by former NHL star Cliff Ronning to help promote the game.

Money raised at the Juno Cup goes to MusiCounts, a music education charity associated with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Ronning, who played with the Vancouver Canucks and other NHL teams, will be joined for the March 27 game by retired tough guy Bob Probert, Dave Babych, Mark Napier, Mike Pelyk, Paul Coffey, Russ Courtnall and Brad Dalgarno.

Cuddy and Ronning posed for some ceremonial puck drops before the Blue Rodeo star explained the game's importance in raising money for music education in schools.

He said the Juno Cup began initially as a way to raise money and the profile of MusiCounts.

MusiCounts provides $10,000 grants to schools that have an ongoing, full-time music program. The money is used to replace instruments and buy sheet music.

"There are all kinds of schools whose programs are in jeopardy, not because of a lack of will from teachers or students, but because they don't have the budget to buy instruments."

Then the Juno Cup took on another role.

"It was also a way of trying to get more musicians to come to the Junos," said Cuddy. "The (awards) are only successful if all the musicians come.

"We're now at the point where we have to fill two full squads of musicians," he said of the hockey player-musicians who have signed up.

Cuddy, who played as a kid, quit for several years and then rediscovered the game, said there are musicians' leagues all over the country.

Bob D'Eith, chairman of the Vancouver host committee for the Junos, said celebration will also include a fan fare and the songwriters' circle.

But the climax are the March 29 awards at GM Place. Performers confirmed so far include Nickelback, City and Colour, Sarah McLachlan and Simple Plan.

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