MONTREAL – As part of the NHL All-Star Game weekend festivities, The Hockey News and the NHL threw a party in Montreal on Friday night – and all the stars came out.
Well, a bunch of them, anyway.
About 600 people turned up, including NHL players and alumni, GMs and team executives, media members and fans…even a certain NHL commissioner and NHL Players’ Association union boss made an appearance (uh, not together).
The venue, a building where Cirque de Soleil-esque performers have trained for nearly 20 years, was all hockeyed up, with a scale model of a rink serving as the dance floor and life-size ice carvings of the Stanley Cup sitting on top of each of the two bars (which, appropriately, also were carved out of ice). There was a wall of iconic Canadiens photographs, massive blow-ups of old covers of The Hockey News and a “dressing room” decked out with hockey equipment and NHL sweaters, both current and classic.
Oh yeah…the real Stanley Cup showed up, too, and it seemed like each and every one of the 600 attendees got their picture taken with it.
Except Bob Gainey, but the Canadiens GM had already hoisted it five times as a player so he probably has his share of Bob-and-Stan pics. Rather, Gainey addressed the crowd with a few words about the place and significance of The Hockey News in the bigger world of hockey, before departing to (presumably) see if he could convince any of the all-stars in town to stick around and throw on a bleu, blanc et rouge jersey for the rest of the season.
So, without further ado, let the name-dropping begin. Here’s the ‘Scene and Herd’ report from THN’s all-star party:
• First things first. Upon arrival at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel from the airport, the first person I recognized was Steve Dryden, the former editor of The Hockey News and the man who hired me on at THN a decade ago. Couldn’t help but think how fitting it was that the first face I saw was that of the guy who played a pivotal role in my career. Thanks, Steve…always good to see you, even in freezing-cold Montreal. (Did I mention that it was fuh-ree-zing? It was.)
• Once we got inside the hotel, the All-Star Game ambience was in full force. If you were there for the 1968 All-Star Game, anyway. The first faces I recognized were Frank Mahovlich and Johnny Bower. Down in the hotel bar, there was Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz. (OK , maybe he was never an all-star, but you tell him that.) If I learned anything over the past couple of days, it’s that the best place to hang out during NHL All-Star weekend is the hotel lobby.
• OK, on to the party. First player spotted was Keith Tkachuk; the St. Louis Blues representative was holding court with a small throng, and hung in for a good part of the night. Was he trying to squeeze out every last drop from what might be his last All-Star Game experience? Maybe, but if the Blues don’t trade him at the deadline, he could very well be back next year.
• Oh. My. God. Is it? Could it be? Yes. It is. Mark Messier, looking like he could still play – or at least mop the deck with anyone at the party who looked at him cross-eyed. He arrived with a small group and, after initially being followed around by a videographer (including a boom mic and spotlight), settled in and took in the scene.
• Two of the NHL’s top three goal-scorers showed up, Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter (who I saw and can vouch was there) and Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek (who I didn’t see – hey, it was a big party – but my editor, Jason Kay, insists he was there). As for Washington Capitals star and NHL-leading goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin…’fraid not.
• Hey look, there’s NHLPA boss Paul Kelly, cornered by fast-talking THN senior writer Ken Campbell. Oh well…Kelly’s a lawyer; he’s heard fast talk before.
• Speaking of Kelly, isn’t that his nemesis over there, NHL commish Gary Bettman? Why, yes it is; thanks for coming out, Gary. But…where’s his suit? For the first time, well, maybe ever, Bettman was spotted suitless – he opted for a casual sweater-and-pants combo instead. (Figures…the one night a year I show up in a suit, and Mr. Suit himself decides to let his hair down and enjoy the party.)
(Full disclosure: Bettman was another one who I didn’t actually see with my own eyes at the party, but several co-workers mentioned that he was there. And then after they told me that the next thing out of their mouth was, “And he’s wearing a sweater!”)
• Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was around for most of the night, with several people including a man who looked a lot like J-S. His brother, I’m guessing. Or is there two of them in that big, bulky gear of his?
• Remember Stewart Gavin? Stewie Gavin? No? Well, think a little harder then. Gavin was a checking forward in the 1980s; Hartford, Minnesota and Toronto are the three teams he played for. Anyhow, one of my high school teachers was a friend of Gavin’s way back when, so I used this nebulous connection as an excuse to strike up a conversation. First impression? Nice guy, that Stewart Gavin.
• Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, in the first year of his seven-year, $50-million-plus deal, was in the building, and I’ve been told by fellow editor Ryan Dixon to mention that Campbell was there with his father and the “Strathroy Mafia.” (See, the mafia hasn’t died. It just moved to Strathroy, Ont.)
• Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf was hard to miss – I might have to give him my vote as the player who most resembles a prototypical NHL No. 1 center. He looks big and mean, even when he’s sharing a laugh with friends.
• The past and present of U. S. hockey, Dallas’ Mike Modano and New Jersey’s Zach Parise also turned up. I didn’t see either one, but, again, several of my co-workers swear they were there. (Side note for the ladies: Remember in the late ’90s when Modano was voted “sexiest player in the NHL?” Well, Parise appears ready to pick up Modano’s mantle as top American player – as well as being drop-dead sexy. A certain TheHockeyNews.com editor – let’s call him E. Fraser – described Parise as “a beautiful man.” Ed…oops, I mean E. Fraser, is happily married and usually not given to intimately describing another man’s looks, so I have to assume that Parise is, in fact, darn attractive.)
• Finally, of course, the media types were out in full force. An open bar will do that. TSN and Sportsnet (Hey! Look! It’s THN-alumni-turned-TV-personality Mike Brophy!) Got to say hi to Pierre McGuire, who talked to THN a couple weeks ago when we did a cover story on fighting in hockey. (McGuire is one of the few high-profile hockey people who has come out – swinging – against fighting. And, in my view, he makes a good point.) Steve Dryden, who has been at TSN since leaving THN in 2001, was there, James Duthie and Darren Dreger, Nick Kypreos, Christine Simpson…it was like my TV had come to life.
• The next day. Originally, the plan was to attend the morning practices for the East and West all-star teams, but the late-night party (did I mention it was an open bar?) somehow got in the way. So, I arrived at the Bell Centre in time to see the Western all-stars skate; the place was packed and the atmosphere already was electric – pretty amazing considering there were no Habs (or even Vinny Lecavalier) on the ice and it was only 10:30 in the morning. After a little problem with my media accreditation, I entered the Bell Centre, walked through a maze of hallways…and ended up right on the glass at ice level, where the Zamboni comes out, behind one of the nets. Just standing there and watching all-star after all-star skate in and put a deke on the goalie…well, that’ll probably be my favorite memory of the weekend.
• The “practice” was basically a penalty shot competition, which was more than fine with the 20,000 fans in attendance. Interesting: The shooters, most of whom were attempting crazy dekes that you almost never see in a “real” shootout or penalty shot, seemed to be scoring about 75 percent of the time, which made me wonder why they don’t pull out the trick shots a little more often. The goalies (Roberto Luongo and Giguere at my end) were having fun, too, though: at one point, Patrick Marleau skated in on Luongo and, near the top of the faceoff circle, did a full spin-a-rama. Not to be outdone, Luongo – with a smile so big you could see it through his mask – did a 360-degree turn himself as he waited for Marleau to skate in.)
• Give a vote to Getzlaf for the best goal of the Western Conference practice. As he skated in on Giguere, Getzlaf bent down and picked up the puck with the blade of his stick, lacrosse-style, and then whipped it past his Ducks teammate.
• Another cool moment: Seeing Gordie Howe, down in the bowels of the Bell Centre, talking and laughing with Mahovlich and Bower. A little later, Henri ‘The Pocket Rocket’ Richard arrived, and he shared a few words and smiles with Howe before moving on.
• Back at the hotel…Walked into the restaurant and saw comedian Gerry Dee, who does some work for The Score, and trailblazer Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first black player, sitting at the head of a large table. What do they have in common? Well, not much. But they were both there at the same time. And, their names rhyme. Dee and O’Ree. See?
• I’ll leave you with one more image of Howe, quietly sitting in back of the huge – and mostly empty at the time – Media Conference Room, signing jersey after jersey. More than 60 years after he started playing, and nearly 30 years since he retired (the final time), there’s still a huge demand for Howe memorabilia. More than ever, probably. And isn’t that how(e) it should be?
Members of the THN team will be filing reports from Montreal throughout the ASG weekend.