Have you ever wondered what it is like behind the scenes in the NHL? What would it be like to meet and interview the biggest stars in the NHL? I recently had the chance to find out as I had access to the NHL All-Star media event at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa during the All-Star weekend. Here is an account of my experiences with the biggest names in the NHL.
As I walked into the room I definitely had a wow moment. There were rows of tables with reporters and writers sitting at their lap top on one side of the room. In the center there were two stages broadcasting live. TSN and the NHL network had their broadcast teams in the middle of the action. Surrounding the stages on three sides around the room were podiums where NHL players took turns cycling through the room answering questions. Even though it was not a fan event, the presentation of the room was quite impressive. Team banners surrounding the room were hung from the ceiling. Flood lights highlighting the banners and back drops of the player podiums making for ideal photo opportunities. The room was alive with camera flashes, spot lights and recording devices of reporters as they worked the room.
As I began to walk the room I was a little star struck as I saw my three favorite NHL Stars Jarome Iginla, Phil Kessel, and Dion Phaneuf. Suddenly I found my self standing beside the TSN stage next to insider Darren Dreger. I introduced myself to him and asked him for his advice on an aspiring writer who wants to break into the business. He was more than happy to share some advice and guidelines, suggesting that the most important thing is to be accurate. He cautioned how difficult it can be in this era of blogging, but work hard as the cream always rises to the top. Later I caught up with Darren again and as we were talking we were joined by ESPN and TSN insider Pierre Lebrun. Pierre shared the breaking news with us about Ryan Suter announcing he was not going to sign a new contract before the February 27 trade deadline.
I never had a chance to interview Suter, but I did catch up to his team mate Shea Weber and with the Suter news fresh in my mind I asked if has had any contract talks with his agent or David Poile? ““I told David (Poile) I didn’t want to discuss it during the season since January 1st came around. I dealt with a lot during the summer with negotiations and arbitration, so put that on the back burner and just focus on winning.”
I was able to interview Senators stars Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson. The Sens stars were all very happy for their former teammate Brian Elliot, who is having a fantastic season for the St. Louis blues. “He is an elite goalie. I am very happy for him for the start he’s had this year and for getting another contract.” Alfredsson said. Erik Karlsson thinks last season was a rough one for Elliot and the Sens and perhaps Elliot took too much blame for that. “That’s the way it is. If it doesn’t go well, and if the team doesn’t play well, the goalies going to get a rough ride. He didn’t deserve everything that was said last year about him. I mean you can see this year there is nothing wrong with him, we weren’t just playing as good as we wanted, and he took a lot of heat for it.” Many people think that the All-Star selection is a chance for Elliot to redeem him self. “I think he’s already redeemed himself” said Jason Spezza. “(Elliot) got a bit of a tough ride here, and we talked about it a little bit and Alfie wanted to make sure we took Elliot on our team.” While Brian Elliot was a common topic among the Sens players, so was Daniel Alfredsson and his potential to play one more season. While Alfredsson may be getting tired of being asked if he will play one more season, his teammates are all for keeping on him. “You guys keep asking him about it ‘cause we want him to stick around. You guys keep talking to him about it, and maybe he will keep considering it” said Spezza. “He can play as long as he wants because of how smart he plays the game. He doesn’t need his legs as much because he thinks the game so fast. He’s been a great player for us this year, and other years. I think if the season ended today he would play again next year, and we hope at the end of the season he feels that way” Spezza added.
I enjoyed meeting TSN host Gino Reda and discussing his world famous moustache. Unfortunately he no longer sports the stache outside the month of November. Gino asked what I do, and for me to send him the link to the Hockey Writers where I write. Gino is funny, and a gentleman. It was an honour to meet the host of that’s hockey.
Earlier in the day I had an exchange on Twitter with Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch. Garrioch responded to my tweet asking what I should expect, and what advice he had for me. His response was to keep my elbows up! Amid the frenzy I found myself next to Bruce and asked him if he was keeping his elbows up. We shared our thoughts on the event and later discussed what we thought the fallout of Suter’s announcement would be. Here is Bruce’s article in the Sun and here is mine in The Hockey Writers.
Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes discussed the future of the franchise and the possibility of moving to Canada, perhaps Quebec. “We try to keep it out of the locker room, do what we can to keep the team there. All the guys want to stay there because it’s a great place to live and raise a family.” Although he is American, Yandle played for Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “We do talk about it. It doesn’t mean the guys want to move but I know from playing in Quebec it’s a great hockey town, they have a great fan base. They deserve having a team, like Winnipeg they deserve having a team back.”
Remember that Philadelphia – Tampa game where Philadelphia refused to rush the puck? I have never seen anything like that before and was curious if Tampa discussed that either in the intermission or after the game. Here is what Steven Stamkos said on that, “We didn’t address it. We play that style, other teams play that style. It was just they (Philadelphia) were the best offensive team in the league at that time, and we knew that. We had some injuries at the time and knew we had to play some solid defense. We won the game two to one and they had 14 shots on net. Any time you can hold the best offensive team in the league to one goal, and 14 shots you take that any night! There’s a whole misconception about the 1-3-1 and how we play it. We only play it when were injured or when were trying to hold a lead. Other than that we have a good skating team and we want to pressure the puck.”
Perhaps the most exciting person to listen to was John Tavares of the New York Islanders as he reminisced on his hockey memories playing in Ottawa. From winning a minor hockey tournament at Scotia Bank Place to playing with the Oshawa Generals when he broke Wayne Gretzky’s record of 70 goals in a season in Ottawa at the Civic Center and winning Gold with team Canada at the World Juniors. When asked what his most memorable goals were he said “The World Junior, my second goal against the U.S. on new years was a big goal at the time and one of the biggest moments and accomplishments of my career.”
As for media personalities, Elliotte Friedman of CBC was the one encounter that had the most impact on me. One of the most interesting and insightful articles on hockey is Elliotte’s 30 thoughts, found every week on CBC. Elliotte was very interested to learn about whom I am and what I had to say. While he was not familiar with my work on the Hockey Writers or Dobber Hockey, he is very familiar with the sites and in particular Mike Colligan. I also had the opportunity to break some news to Elliotte about the launch of a new hockey portal called Canadian Hockey online. The site will focus on all levels and all things hockey with a Canadian focus. You can find my articles on this new site under fantasy hockey.
After the event was over and all the players were gone TSN remained on air to deliver a recap of the days events and news. I was able to stand just behind the cameras and watch the show. It was fascinating to see how a live production is put together on the fly. What was most interesting to me was that while the panel consisting of hosts James Duthie, Aaron Ward, Marc Crawford, and Darren Dreger; it was Bob McKenzie that seemed to have the final say as to what story was going to be the lead. There was no teleprompter or defined script. The dialogue was largely adlibbed, giving me insight to just how talented, knowledgeable and insightful they all are.
While watching TSN broadcast, I found myself standing next to former TSN insider Pierre McGuire. I have been listening to McGuire for over ten years on the Ottawa sports radio morning show the Team 1200. Many times Pierre has made the statement on air how happy he is to meet hockey fans should they encounter him, and encouraging fans to introduce themselves to him. Pierre proved that to be true to me. He asked me personal questions to get to know more about me like where I lived and worked. I told him how proud I was to have my six year old son Jake participate in the NHL Award parade down the Rideau canal to launce the All-Star event. Pierre was interested to hear me talk about my coverage of the Kingston Frontenacs and we shared thoughts on former Frontenac Ryan Spooner. I told Pierre about a game when Spooner scored three short handed goals against the Windsor Spitfires and the reaction of Spitfires Owner/GM Warren Rychel.
My final encounter as I made my way out was with Brian Duff. Brian has worked covering the Sens and Leafs so I am very familiar with him. Currently he is working with the NHL network and hosting for the Buffalo Sabres. Upon getting to know Brian we discovered we both have family who are neighbors. It’s a small world.
Even if I am unsuccessful in my attempt to live my dream working in the business of hockey, I will always have this experience to look back on with the fondest of memories. I have often heard that NHL players are the most courteous and humble athletes in the world. Now that I have met several of the biggest stars I tend to agree. The media that broadcast and report the game are also extremely humble, and kind. I am so proud to be a fan of the greatest game on earth because of the people involved. I hope that this was not a once in a life time experience for me. If it turns out to be so, it will have been the time of my life!