Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Hansons have a WHALE of a Time

The weather could have cooperated a little more. It was Spring like on Friday and something like the Arctic on Saturday when the Whaler/Bruins Alumni Whale Bowl game was played at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. However, the bitter cold didn't keep the Whaler, Bruins and CT Whale fans from coming out to watch a group of Alumni players of all ages spend 50 minutes reliving their youth.

The Rentschler Field stadium gave me a little taste of what watching the Winter Classic must be like -- from the stands. While it is was a great experience, I don't believe I'm hardy enough to sit though an entire hockey game in a football field in sub degree weather.

The good thing Saturday was -- I didn't have to. Nope, my hockey side-kick Wendy and I were the guests of Hanson Brother Steve Carlson and his business manager, my friend Vicki.

The VIP suites at the field reminded me a lot of what you find at Citipark, home of the Long Island Ducks baseball team. Glass walls, tiered seating, TVs and a wet bar. Yep, perfect sightlines and heat. The most important thing -- heat.

Armed with VIP passes that gave us access everywhere, that’s where we headed, everywhere. Down through the stands through the Zamboni entrance to the locker room where the Hansons were indeed “putting on the foil.” Steve and Jeff Carlson (who was nursing a horrible cold) and Dave Hanson were being interviewed while they dressed and workers and fans came in and out of the locker room looking for autographs and photo ops.

Out into the cold afternoon air they hit the ice to a rousing, thunderous cheer. While there were so many old time hockey players skating on the ice, including Brian Leetch, all these years later, to hockey fans, the Hansons are just as recognizable now as they were when they filmed Slap Shot. And just as entertaining.

In true Hanson style, they spent most of their time in the penalty box, but when they did get to skate out on the ice, you knew it and the crowd loved it.

Wendy, Vicki and I were at the glass with the photographers and video cameras feeling pretty special, but nothing prepared me for the chants of “USA! USA! USA!” that followed me because of my 2004 Roots Olympic red hat. I was amazed and a little embarrassed. Perhaps, because of the amazing array of talent and history that was on the ice, they thought I had been on an Olympic team. I didn’t want to tell them I was just a hockey blogger out for a good time.

With the Alumni game ending in a fitting tie, we walked back to the Zamboni entrance to wait for the Hansons to leave the ice and head up to the VIP Suites. Well, it’s not easy to get these guys off the ice. Everyone wants photos with them in their classic pose, and I mean EVERY ONE.

It was after they showered and headed upstairs that the real fun for the evening began. We all watched the CT Whale play their AHL game outdoors in the freezing cold. The crowd for the night game was understandably sparse. If you didn’t have a suite ticket, you probably got frostbite. I felt sorry for the players out on the ice.

In the suites, it was an endless stream of handshakes, photos and autographs. For me, it was also the opportunity to be introduced to some of the hockey industry’s longest tenured participants. These men never lose their passion for the game and talking to them was a pleasure.

Steve Carlson, a perfect gentleman, introduced me to every one he knew that approached him. I was flattered. Is this what new media has become? In one suite John Anderson, the former coach of the Atlanta Thrashers was on his cell discussing scouting. Garry Swain and I had a brief conversation about the Islanders and General Manager Garth Snow. Paul Stewart, who had been referee on the ice for the Alumni game, came by the dinner table and reminisced with Steve and his brother Jack and partner Dave Hanson about the glory days. Their stories were fascinating and funny and as fresh for them as if they happened yesterday.

Back at the Hilton hotel after the game everyone met up down at the little hotel bar. The crowd of hold hockey players, some wives and a few minor celebrities made the one bartender’s night. Cocktails flowed with the stories and the laughter.

Steve introduced me to Jim Dorey a defenseman who made his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs and set a record for penalty minutes in a single game. “So when are the Islanders moving to Winnipeg?” he asked me with a smile. Seemed everyone who met me asked the same questions. I gave them the same answers. “I have no idea.”

When I found out that Tim Sheehy, player agent for so many of the NY Islanders as well as ex-Islander Jason Blake, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to tell him about the book in my head and it’s appropriate title. He was gracious and listened to my disjointed thoughts as I attempted to explain. If that wasn’t bad enough, Vicki thought she would help by joining in the conversation. It was downhill from there. But again, he was gracious and patient until I finally thanked him for his time and ended with. “I’m really not insane. You can ask Garth.”

In hindsight, that more than likely made me sound even more insane.

Many Pinot Grigios later, I spent an enjoyable hour with Rick Smith and his lovely wife Ann. Smith, a Stanley Cup winner with the Boston Bruins. It was an enlightening conversation about hockey then and what it has become. As the neophyte hockey fan, these men who played the game long before I know it existed have a sharply different view of the current state of the game. They seemed to enjoy my passionate stance, even if it differed from theirs.

What we did all agree on was something I don’t usually talk about: being in the locker room post game. As players, they didn’t feel comfortable having women in the locker room, though they understand it is their job to be there. As a woman who is doing that job, I don’t really like it either. I’d rather interview a player showered and dressed. I suppose the thinking is that you need to be able to capture the reality of a brutal loss or come-from-behind win immediately. But I think I write well enough to capture the true feelings of what happened without having to bear witness to the blood, sweat and occasional tears of a half-naked, sweat soaked player.

As we talked about the current Islander roster, I made the foolish mistake of making yet another bet with Steve Carlson. Last year it was Matt Moulson, This time it’s about Michael Grabner being able to reach 30 goals before the end of the season. I believe.

While I was doing all this, the Islanders and Al Montoya shut out the LA Kings and Matt Moulson scored twice on his brother-in-law Jonathan Quick.

It was a great Saturday all the way around for hockey.


Craig C said...

The "Rent" is in East Hartford.

Unknown said...


You need to change your opinion on how hockey is today than what was in the 70's and 80's. Today, hockey has become "figure skating with pads on". I was a long time Islanders season ticket holder in the 70s and 80s and you could beat the fun. Today's game is a bunch of 5 on 4 and 4 on 4.I thought the Pitt-Islanders game a few back was great...bring back old time hockey...

~me said...

Loved the article-- but the conversation -DID NOT GO!!

Loved seeing you--you seeing my world...thank you for making my day~ and maybe we see you this weekend at MSG!!
and yea...without you-- "none of it would have happened"
enjoy the SNOW-- HAHAHA its 62 and sunshine :-P