I was fairly certain heading into the all-star weekend that we were going to be exposed to more of the players’ personalities and a little bit more of the locker room dynamic that exists between most of the guys who play our wonderful game.
We did, to some extent, but certainly not to the level I was hoping.
I’ve been batting that around today and came up with three possible reasons why we’re still seeing a pretty solid front from a lot of our NHL stars.
1. They’re intimidated by each other
I know that sounds a little bizarre given they play each other all the time and are great on their own, but no matter how good you are at something you still respect other people who master the craft and envy their unique abilities.
The young guys will obviously feel that way. If you crack the All-Star Game in your first few years in the league and you’re sitting amongst Stanley Cup champions, future Hall-of-Famers and the like, you’re not going to do something typically dressing-roomy like call Zdeno Chara an ogre.
But even the Hall-of-Famers-to-be might get a little tense. My dad, Bob Bourne, a four-time Cup winner with the Islanders, runs the Hockey Greats Fantasy Camp in Kelowna, B.C., every August and has a dozen ex-NHLers, including six Hall of Famers, attend. When you listen to those guys talk, it’s incredible the regard and respect they have for each other. When they talk about Bobby Orr they damn near get giddy – and these men are well into their 50s. I’m sure it’s no different at 30; they want to show a proper amount of respect.
2. They might be embarrassed by all the hullabaloo
This one seems a bit less likely, but I’m just going from my own minor league hockey experience.
The weekend I spent at the 2008 ECHL All-Star Game in Stockton, Calif., was awesome, but there’s something a little uncomfortable about being the object of praise for consecutive days. Amplify it by just less than a billion for the NHL All-Star Game and part of me thinks the players – again, especially the young guys – aren’t really sure how to react to the fanfare.
Hockey players are raised to believe nobody is bigger than the game (the complete opposite of football, where many of the players believe their own hype), so I think there’s a sense of awe while they soak it all in and a realization that being even the slightest bit boastful is unnecessary.
3. The format needs a minor tweak or two
The first two reasons I’ve listed are impossible to change – they are realities when running an all-star weekend. Still, I’m convinced we can get more “fun” out of these guys who seemed largely timid and meek when, frankly, they’re not.
The draft can undergo a moderate reconstruction to make it more entertaining: the NHL has to downsize it.
To the league’s credit, they went hard and threw themselves headlong into the presentation of this event. And, it was very cool, no argument there.
But I say cut out the fans, cut out the analysts, have a smaller room and let the guys really have a chance to interact. Nobody was going to be hollering across the room to beak their buddy while everyone was in a suit at a gala, but that’s the type of interaction I want to see.
During the draft, I want side bets and picks being playfully booed and the good stuff that comes along with dressing room idiocy. I want the event to be on HBO and every guy to be mic’d up so we can really get some quality clips.
Let them dress how they want, have some drinks beforehand and really interact with each other.
I enjoyed the weekend, but hoped to see a little more “Matt Duchene,” and a little less “Jonathan Toews.”
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. Justin will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin’s blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.