Summer Guest Column Series: Stephen Smith on his first Sens game day experience
During the summer of 2012, the Senators website will welcome a number of guest columnists, who will write articles on items of interest to them, and to Senators fans. The article below comes to us from Stephen Smith, a Senators blogger from the website Sens Town. Visit www.ottawasenators.com and follow @NHL_Sens for future guest columns.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The day I opened up an e-mail to see that I had been invited to spend the day covering the Sens like an official member of the media. It may sound silly to some of you, but I equate it to what a minor league player must feel when he gets called up to the show for the first time. Now granted, they've put in way more hours than I have at their craft, but the emotion is probably similar. Let's face it, it feels nice to be acknowledged that what you're doing is being appreciated, no matter what you're doing.
So the big day comes and I'm a healthy mix of nerves and excitement. I head to security and get my game day pass that has my name on it. That's when it really hit me that this is really happening. I head downstairs and walk through a narrow hallway, passing the Sens dressing room on the right and as I emerge behind the bench, I hear the loud noise the pucks are making from hitting the boards in an empty Scotiabank Place.
I take my seat in the stands and get a few weird looks from the usual media contingent as I get the feeling that a few of them are wondering who I am. I've previously met several of the usual suspects and most are welcoming. TSN's Brent Wallace and the Sun's Bruce Garrioch go out of their way to come over and introduce themselves, which I thought was a nice touch and made me feel more at ease.
I gaze out onto the ice and it's a surreal experience. Though I've watched more than a few practices over the years, this one feels different. Maybe it's because I'm sitting in the media section, maybe it’s because I've been invited to work this time but for whatever the reason, it's different. I watch the players practise with the enthusiasm that can only come from someone new to this experience. I look at the players’ faces to see how they interact with each other and how their chemistry is. It's the little things you pick up that can make a difference. It's all in the details. One of the things I wouldn't have expected coming into this was how cold SBP can be without any fans it. My hands were freezing.
The practice ends and we all file into the Sens dressing room, which is surprisingly small, especially with 20-plus players and 20-plus media members inside. The Senators head of PR, Brian Morris, playfully whispers to me "there's only one rule, don't step on the logo". I happily oblige his request.
One of the more interesting things about having locker-room access is the chance to see all the players without their equipment on. Some are much bigger than I thought and some are a lot smaller. The two that caught my attention were Erik Karlsson and Ben Bishop. When you see EK65 in person up close, you realize how slight he is and what a beast he must be to play such a long season with heavy minutes and not get injured. Bishop, on the other hand, was a newly-acquired netminder at the time and I had yet to see him in person. I caught him out of the corner of my eye talking to someone and thought to myself that he didn't look nearly the 6-7 he'd been advertised as. Then I realized that he was talking to former Sen Patrick Lalime, who is 6-4 himself and I thought wow, Bishop is big.
So I find myself sitting in the Sens dressing room, watching the media swarm the players for quotes and I'm not quite sure of the protocol. Can I just walk up to anyone I want and ask them questions, or is there some sort of chaotic order I'm unaware of? It was a bit intimidating, but not for the reason you'd likely think. Over the years of doing this, I've met many of the players and even become friendly with some of them, so it wasn't a star-struck type situation. If you can believe it, I was more scared of getting in the way of the media, since it is their job after all. I chose to observe the madness from a safe distance instead.
After that, I headed upstairs for the coach's press conference and I have to say one thing. Paul MacLean may be the most intimidating man I have ever come across in my life. I can see how he gets the best out of his players now. At the conclusion of that I had some time to kill, so I hit up some lunch before returning to SBP at 4:30 p.m.
The thing that many people don't know or get a chance to see is how much preparation goes into being a pro athlete. I arrived three hours before the game and all the players were there warming up and getting loose by playing some soccer. I nearly took a ball to the face via Nick Foligno's foot when walking through the doors near their dressing room. I can only assume this is why the Sens traded him to Columbus this off-season. Good looking out, Sens org.
So I head to the press box and find my seat. It's my first time watching a game from this spot, and it’s weird to get a different view when you've seen 500-plus games from the same location over the years. I settle in and talk to some of the press members and most are more than welcoming. I get the impression that a few of them feel like I'm encroaching on their, turf but I shake it off. The players come out for warmup and the crowd is filing into the arena. It's getting close to game time and I can't wait for puck drop.
The anthem happens to be performed by an opera singer that night, which ended up with a few laughs from all of us, including the players. The actual game was quite the blur for me. I guess I was so excited to be living the dream, so to speak, that I forgot to enjoy it. The Senators won and scored a bunch of goals, some I do remember at least. I will also always remember how weird it was to see the scratches from the other team sitting practically right next to me. One of the guys even asked for some of my popcorn I was munching on.
The game ends and I head downstairs to the locker rooms and everyone is in a good mood tonight after the big win. There are smiles all around. I think about jumping in a scrum or two to participate, but then I stop myself and decide there's no need for me to be in there asking questions that evoke the same clichéd responses you've heard a million times. Besides, the media members had the situation more than under control already. I think when I do talk to the guys, it will be with a point of view or story you've yet to hear. It will be a fresh take. I've got a few stories ready for training camp already.
The game has been over for 30-plus minutes now and the thing I'm enjoying watching the most is the player interactions between the teams. You'd be surprised how friendly they are after the final whistle goes, though that's fine with me as long as they play hard during the game. I wait with a fellow media member and we talk about the game and other hockey related happenings while we wait for a few players to come for an interview. On tonight's menu are Colin Greening and Kaspars Daugavins. Both are nice guys and both are happy with tonight's result, which makes talking to them a much more enjoyable experience. A good night all around.
It's nearly 11 p.m. now and it's been a long day, though a very productive and fun one. The last of the players and coaches start to trickle out of SBP and it's my cue to leave as well. I walk to the media parking lot and it's almost empty. A sure sign of me putting in work on my first day. I smile with a little bit of pride and walk with a little extra spring in my step.
I start the car and meet a media member at a local watering hole for a few post-game celebratory beverages, which I feel I've more than earned today. I take my first sip out of my frosty mug and I hear a loud laugh behind me, which catches my attention. I look over and half the Senators team is there eating after the game. Geez, it's my first day on the job and I'm already taking my work home with me.
Thanks for reading.