My apologies to Allstar Weekend for borrowing their URL to entitle my blog! But it was the first title that popped into my mind, and I am too pooped to come up with something else, so I don’t give a poop if they don’t like it. Besides, I have no idea who this band is…
Nevertheless, “NHL” All-Star Weekend does rock in countless ways. You may not understand unless you’ve had a chance to be part of more than just the game. The NHL has taken this weekend and elevated it to a major, major, major league marketing extravaganza.
Whether it be the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fair, or the Energizer Lithium Lounge at Saturday night’s party hosted at the Molson Canadian Hockey House, there is something for young and old.
The weekend brought over 400 media to Ottawa, from which the event was broadcasted in 150 countries. But it also brought more than just media. Over 7,000 rooms were booked in local hotels. The city looked great, and this weekend truly was an all-star debut for Ottawa – yielding an economic gain of over $30 million. And, I think it’s fair to say that it’s left not only me, but also all the other fans, with doting memories of Ottawa’s All-Star weekend.
For me personally, the past, present and future of hockey collided at center ice.
It began with me meeting Willie O’Ree, the first black hockey player in the NHL. A friend introduced him to me at the hotel bar, and when we made eye contact, my epidermal layer froze. You must understand that as a black goalie growing up in Orillia, who was told by opposing players and coaches they would chop me up into hockey pucks or skin me and make me hockey tape, I was well aware of O’Ree’s status as the sport’s Jackie Robinson. So, while he played less than fifty NHL games, he was in my mind, a pioneer. Indeed it was 13 years after his last NHL game in 1961, before another black player cracked the league’s rosters.
Mr. O’Ree played in the minors until he was 43, even winning a scoring title at the age of 39 before he retired from the game. Today at 76, he is a living Energizer Bunny, travelling from his San Diego home for 15 days every month to do promotional and motivational appearances.
Mr. O’Ree: you were an inspiration when I was a kid, but even more so now!
Bower remembered coaching there, our goalies-only dining table and some of his co-coaches. Alas, he didn’t quite remember me. Strange, given I thought I was pretty good at the poke check he taught me!
Bower told me that at 87, the secret to his healthy lifestyle is being married to the sweetest woman in the world. Sage advice for all of us searching for the fountain of youth.
The present and the future became intertwined on my bus ride to the NHL Skills Competition. Our bus was beyond full, so I ended up sharing my row with a father and son from P.E.I. The dad, who like so many Canadian men, doubled as his son’s hockey coach, and this was a particularly proud weekend because his son had qualified for the Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills National Championship.
It was the Canadian Tire NHL Junior Skills National Championship that gathered 1,500 youth ages 7-12 in a nation-wide competition with the ultimate prize: NHL All-Star hockey treatment. The final 41 qualifiers were sent to Ottawa, where they competed based on performances in four challenge areas: fastest skating, shooting accuracy, puck control and passing accuracy. Though there were only six championship spots, all 41 qualifiers were awarded passes to the Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition and the Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game. The ultimate prize, however, was the announcement of the finalists on NHL ice, in front of NHL stars and a jam-packed stadium.
If the youngster from P.E.I. hadn’t qualified on the basis of his hockey skills, he would have been a shoo-in had there been a charisma category! This lad was entertaining, articulate, energetic and way too funny. After congratulating him on participating and hearing his dad rave about the way they had been treated by the NHL and Canadian Tire, I had to confess to them that CTC was my client.
That generated a lot of discussion about what I did for a living and then led to Junior grilling everyone in sight about what they did for a living. Our section of the bus was filled with the sports marketing mafia of sponsors, agencies and other properties, so there was a lot to chew on for him. He didn’t spare anyone or any topic. Besides titles and roles, he also wanted to know how old the “lady” from Scotiabank was.
Presently, Junior advised us that his dad is a chef! Pops asked him why he brought that up, and corrected him that he was a cook at a local hospital. Junior was undeterred, but confessed he spoke up because everyone else was “dropping their titles!”
I asked Junior how his weekend was going. He loved his free stick from Sherwood. He was disappointed his team back home won without him. He treasured his new NHL mini-stick. He was bummed he couldn’t use it in the hotel hallways. He loved the new friend he met at the airport. He was disappointed he didn’t win the Junior Skills competition. He liked the bus ride to the Scotiabank Place arena and talking to the nice-looking man next to his dad. Since he was referring to me, I asked if he needed glasses. That was a mistake; this kid could out trash talk me any day!
As I wrap this blog up, I daydream of the youngster I met, or any of the Junior Skills kids, who have put their experiences to paper as well. They are the future, but already being celebrated in the present, and the memories they will one day share when they reach my age – a reflection of the past – will be even more special.