If you're in or around my age bracket you probably don't have the priviledge of recalling the days when you could hang your program over the glass to be autographed during the pre-game skate. Less fortunately you probably don't remember what it was like to stand and cheer at a hockey game without getting a cross look from a guy wearing a be-jewelled t-shirt and a neck tattoo who has managed to wear gaudy white framed Oakley's inside a hockey rink (no offense...you could take a poke at a guy who's entire wardroab is straight legged levi's and grey T's, but you don't have a blog do you? or maybe you do, anyway, this isn't a fashion blog, I digress), the point is the game has undeniably lost some of the beautiful interaction between the fan and the on ice product. Much of that has to do with the heightened stakes of pro sports. Preperation, concentration, win or your fired and you don't get the multi-million dollar contract, and so on. That's respectable, but it's still tough to hear the hockey game over the click-click of Blackberries inside Rogers Arena, and that's sad. Kudos for Rick Rypien for trying to reignite the once strong connection between fans and players, but that definitely backfired.
No, if youre in your mid twenties you have probably only heard of the glory days of hockey jambories, intermission games, autograph sessions and a real interaction with the team from uncles, dads and grandpas. The team is an excellent community partner, and really gives back to the community, especially those most in need, but it still would be nice to revisit the old days at the rink for your average blue collar fan, but then again, it would be nice for your average blue collar fan to be able to attend a game at all.
A couple weeks ago at an unnamed establishment in Coal Harbour I spotted an unnamed CBC On Air personality and we had a chat about our roles in colour commentary. Not being a former NHLer I wanted to gleen some of the tactics of this former cup winning, fifty goal scoring forward and his approach to calling the game; he agreed to meet with me outside Roger's Arena the next day and take me to the morning skate so I could observe his prep. True to his word we met, got inside, and the story from that angle is very anticlimatic as I learned mostly that preparing to do colour for NHL games is much more involved than Junior hockey and I was left to watch THREE NHL PRACTICES. VERY COOL!!!
If you have the opportunity to watch NHL practice do not miss it. What these guys do in morning skate has almost as much entertainment value as a game. Watching the intricacies of their stick handling; hearing their conversations, feeling the explosion of the puck in to the boards or glass in an empty building is not at all like it is in a full house...it is a great experience. Chicago had gotten in late and I watched an intimate skate with a couple younger players and Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen, and they all chatted with us while skating and after. I didn't want to get noticed and try to track down media members so I just tried to look like I belonged and not be too excited and get myself kicked out while unescorted in Rogers Arena. Sitting close to the bench I heard a trainer tell a friend that Rypien was being sent down for a conditioning stint, he never did get demoted though he was a healthy scratch, then he left the team again under a schroud of mystery. This same trainer rolled out the practice sched for the rest of the day. I would've left after Chicago but I heard him say Phoenix was having a full skate. It was like a time warp. Ilya Bryzgalov was nowhere to be seen and out skates Goaltending coach and former Canuck Sean Burke fo play net for the whole practice...he's still very much got it!
After the third practice I got a little brave and scowered the building; it was amazing. The Jim Robson Broadcast Gondola was totally unoccupied. I sat up their watching the crew prep the glass and rink for the game; I felt like Caesar in the Coliseum. I explored some more, managed to get stuck in an elevator because I didn't have the right access capabilities and eventually popped out a strange side door on the viaduct. what a day. I guess if you can recognize these guys when they're out in the community you might get an experience to recreate the magic of the days of helmetless players smoking in the dressing room and signing autographs during warm-up, but until then enjoy the nose-bleeds, but do it quietly so neck-tattoo guy can text in peace.