What marks the return of hockey for you? Is it the first game of the regular season? Pre-season? Training camp? Maybe even rookie camp?
For the media and video bloggers with a camera and wifi connection, it’s the NHL Media Tour.
What it is, in a nutshell, is an enormous gathering of the NHL’s biggest stars ahead of the upcoming NHL season. This year’s festivities had players spend one day on the ice at the Mastercard Centre, practice facility of the Toronto Maple Leafs, doing a bunch of cool on-ice stuff. Another day was for interviews at the CBC building in downtown Toronto.
This was my first time taking part in the annual NHL media circus so allow me to tell you what it looked like through my eyes.
I was assigned to the “social station” for the day, meaning I was to get Twitter stuff, Instagram stuff, and any other stuff I thought would be fun and interesting. Without giving away too much, those videos will be available on Sportsnet.ca in the coming weeks.
I’ll tell you what I told every player as an ice-breaker: This is the set where they shoot Coach’s Corner. I started the day in Don Cherry’s seat, while Sean Monahan sat in Ron MacLean’s. Same with Joe Pavelski and Morgan Rielly. Come to think of it, the only time I switched chairs was to let Swedish defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson sit in Grapes’ chair. Not intentional, yet completely perfect.
Talking to players doesn’t make me nervous at all anymore, but I definitely felt pressure to do a good job. This is the sort of opportunity I’ve been dying for since I was a kid and I didn’t want to waste it. Naturally, I used my time with each player to flip through hockey cards.
I got players to look through cards of their teammates and other NHL stars and say whatever they wanted about them. “This guy has an amazing shot!” “This guy has the worst breath in the league.” Stuff like that. The video above features Morgan Rielly talking about his Leaf teammates, to give you an idea of how the game worked.
At one point, one of the people in charge of bringing all the players around came onto the set and said “Steve, Patrice is here to see you.” I looked up and it was Patrice Bergeron. I wasn’t expecting him at all so I said, “Oh that’s weird. He’s not on my schedule,” which I quickly followed up with “Um, I mean, nevermind. Hello, Patrice! Come sit down!”
Bergeron stayed for a few different video ideas I had and I can’t wait for you to see them. He was a great sport.
After Bergeron left, I had to move to a different set because they had to shoot something for television. Before I even had a chance to be disappointed I was told “We’ll put you in the radio studio instead.” Sweet deal! It was in that room where Jets defender Jacob Trouba gave this gem of an answer to a Twitter question.
My guess is Evander Kane did not favourite that tweet.
The final player I spoke to on Day 1 was Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad and unfortunately I didn’t get to snag his best moment on camera. I asked him whether a hot dog was a sandwich or not and he gave a good on-camera answer, but once I turned the camera off, he and the Florida Panthers’ Media Relations rep got into a deep, philosophical conversation about what constitutes a sandwich.
Apparently they were still talking about it later in the day when they went to do an interview with Sportsnet’s Sophia Jurksztowicz. “Is a pizza an open-faced sandwich?” really got them going.
For Day 2 I was in my own closed-off room to do interviews. I spread out hockey cards all over the table so when the players walked into the room, they would know they were in for some fun.
What I found hilarious was while every single player waited – James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Tatar – they all began picking up the cards and looking through them on their own.
For each player, I had prepared piles of cards featuring guys I thought they would find interesting, but van Riemsdyk began setting aside cards he liked on his own. He picked out some former teammates from the Flyers, some guys he played with on Team USA, and he even pocketed my Brett Hull card.
You’ll be seeing videos from my time with these players over the next little while. I call the NHL Media Tour the first of the four horsemen of the NHL Contentpocalypse. First is the pre-season media tour. Second is all the videos and interviews gathered at the All-Star Game. Third is the party on the ice after the Stanley Cup is awarded. And fourth is the NHL Draft. I don’t want to spoil the videos I have in store for you, but I know you’ll love them.
A few more quick notes I thought you might find interesting:
– When Ryan Nugent-Hopkins held up Jaromir Jagr‘s card he called him the strongest player he has ever played against. After we finished, I asked “Jagr’s the strongest?” He said “Oh yeah.” “Still?” “Still.”
– Tuukka Rask walked by my room and asked for a bottle of water. When I handed it to him I realized something:
– Sidney Crosby walked by my room and we made eye contact. I looked down at my scoresheet and somehow I scored a secondary assist. He’s good.
– Evgeni Malkin walked by me and I couldn’t believe how big he was. He’s only listed at 6-foot-3, which is big, but I’m convinced he’s at least an inch or two taller than that.
– Zdeno Chara walked by me and I absolutely believed how big he was. The poor guy must bump his head on doorways everyday.
– Henrik Lundqvist walked by. He had the best hair, best suit, and potentially angel wings, too. I’m not sure because I fainted. As we watched him head down the hall, producer/cameraman extraordinaire Alessandro and I had a conversation about how we immediately felt like lesser human beings in his presence. The man really is gorgeous.
The NHL Media Tour was a lot of fun, but now I’m ready for the season to start. Let’s go!