Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 10/23/07 at 06:06 PM ET
Several days ago, I was invited to a press conference for the OneGoal hockey show, which will be taking place on November 9-11 at Cobo Hall in Detroit, MI. OneGoal, the show’s sponsor, is a grass-roots hockey program with strong ties to the NHL, NHLPA, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and several equipment manufacturers, and its goal is to increase participation in yout hockey programs. OneGoal also sponsors the November trade show so that the profits made from said event, which will be open to the public for the first time, go back into promoting youth hockey.
As most of you know, the Detroit Red Wings’ PR staff (and the ever-present John Hahn) prefers not to acknowledge the existence of bloggers, so I headed down to Joe Louis Arena fully expecting to be welcomed at the security desk, have my credentials checked, and then be told to leave the building. I figured, what the hey, I’m going to see the Queens of the Stone Age at 6, and if worse comes to worse, I’ll have five hours to kill in my favourite city on the planet.
Much to my surprise, when I made it down to the Joe, I headed into the press entrance, attempted to steel myself for the inevitable, “I’m sorry, we don’t see you here on our list, go away”...And, instead, I was told to head to the Olympia Club, where the press conference was being held. I actually passed Dallas Drake on my way in, and I can definitely tell you that his very purple/red cheek looks broken.
Mr. Bill Hattem, the president of OneGoal, was at the podium, joined on the dais by Mickey Redmond, Ken Holland, and Nicklas Lidstrom. Mr. Hattem explained that OneGoal has had strong successes in Canada, but it chose Dallas and Detroit as its test markets in the United States. The Michigan Amateur Hockey Association reports that participation in hockey is down 20% in the state, and as OneGoal’s aim is to increase participation in youth hockey by giving away 1,000 sets of gear to children between the ages of 4 and 8—and has partnered with the Chris Perani Foundation to give the kids free ice time for learn-to-skate programs—OneGoal and the MAHA hope to help parents who are struggling to cover the costs of enrolling their children in youth hockey programs in these difficult economic times (Michigan had lost 200,000 jobs, mostly concentrated in the Metro Detroit Area, from 2002 to August, 2007).
The Detroit Red Wings have partnered with OneGoal and the MAHA, and Nicklas Lidstrom has been named the spokesperson of the OneGoal hockey initiative for the State of Michigan. The Red Wings will actively promote OneGoal, the OneGoal Hockey show, and the Wings will host two games, starting with their November 7th game against Nashville, to promote OneGoal specifically, when OneGoal will officially launch its Michigan pilot program, and every Wednesday and Friday game for the rest of the season will be designated as “OneGoal nights.”
Mr. Hattem empahsized that the driving force for OneGoal has been their website, which makes participation in youth hockey programs easier by helping parents find rinks, coaches, and in promoting the game through TV and print ads (you may recall several clips on the NHL network or on the CBC where one child shoots peas through a hole in the wall, and another avoids a spitball by making an in-class blocker save). OneGoal’s received $1,000,000 for its first three years, and they expect the OneGoal hockey show to raise over $200,000 to help promote the game.
As far as the specifics are concerned, OneGoal has partnered with several hockey equipment manufacturers to provide equipment for children to local hockey shops at or below cost, with the intent of having that equipment donated to children. They come in two sizes, and, as noted, 1,000 sets will be given away to familes throughout Michigan who need help meeting the high cost of participation in hockey. Mr. Hattem indicated to WXYT’s Ken Kal that as OneGoal continues to grow, it will attempt to help families defray the cost of ice time, but at present, the Dallas and Detroit programs are pilot programs which OneGoal will use to determine whether their initiative can reverse the trend of low enrollment in hockey programs in Dallas, and declining enrollment in hockey programs in Michigan. The local media will be involved in promoting OneGoal as well, and it’s apparent that Kal, who asked several hard questions about not only the ice time issue, but also OneGoal’s desire to work on more widespread issues affecting Michigan families’ participation in youth hockey because the economy is so poor at present, so equipment is so expensive, and that youth hockey is, in terms of both team fees and ice time, an extremely expensive endeavor for parents, Kal will be a strong advocate in assuring that OneGoal’s initiatives don’t stop with its pilot program.
The trade show itself is not only a first for Detroit, but it’s also a first in that the public will be allowed into half the show’s space, and over 80 manufacturers will be present with hands-on displays, most notably Warrior Hockey, which is headquartered in Rochester, Mission-Itech, the Montreal-based manufacturer which is OneGoal’s main industry partner, and Thermablade, whose heated skate blades have obviously generated a lot of positive press. Mr. Hattem said that the Hockey Hall of Fame will bring a 2,000 square-foot display to the event, and in addition to showing many of the NHL’s trophies, there will be interactive displays where fans will be able to test the speed of their shot, attempt to make saves against foam pucks, etc.—so the HHOF is basically bringing many of its famous interactive displays right down the 401 to Detroit. There will also be player signings which will include Red Wings players, and a silent auction sponsored by Hockeyink.com.
Mickey Redmond was his brief self, saying that OneGoal’s a tremendous program, and as a long-time member of the Red Wings organization, he’s proud to say that the hockey club is involved with such a spectacular cause.
When Ken Holland took the dais, he said that OneGoal’s initiatives dovetail with what the Red Wings are attempting to do in promoting youth hockey, and as TPS Hockey consultant Graham Watson, one of the industry’s best “good guys,” presented the OneGoal concept to Holland, it was an offer he not only couldn’t refuse, but also was thrilled to take part in. Between the Ilitches’ 37 years of participation in youth hockey—Holland said over 240,000 kids have taken part in the Little Caesars program—and the opportunity to specifically raise funds to increase youth participation in hockey across the State of Michigan, the partnership made perfect sense, and the Red Wings hope to foster a strong relationship with OneGoal.
Nicklas Lidstrom finished the presser, noting that three of his four sons play organized hockey, and his youngest, who is 4, is just starting to learn how to skate. Lidstrom said that he’s very excited to be able to help promote OneGoal’s initiatives as getting kids involved in hockey from 4-8 years of age is huge as that’s the optimal time for young players to learn how to skate and how to play the game. Lidstrom was also asked how the participation levels of hockey are in Sweden compared to the U.S., and Lidstrom stated that as women’s hockey is beginning to receive proper recognition, participation in hockey at the youth level—which is subsidized to some extent byeach town’s Swedish Elite League, Allsvenskan, or 3rd division team, from age 4 up—is steady, if not increasing.
That was the press conference part.
The juicy stuff tested my moxie and resolve, because I am, at heart, a fan, regardless of whether I’m wearing my Sunday best to a press conference or whether I’m in my traditional “everything’s Red Wings” wardrobe, but as Paul himself would probably put it—and Paul, have no doubt, is a consummate professional—eventually, your professional instincts take over.
I asked Mr. Holland whether the Wings’ equipment sponsors, and NikeBauer, Easton, and Reebok, specifically, would be getting involved, and when he suggested I ask Mr. Hattem the same thing, I did. Thus far, there’s nothing formal, but as the Red Wings play in the U.S.‘s biggest “A” market in terms of bang for your marketing buck, especially as Lidstrom, Cleary, Chelios, and Zetterberg are “all Easton” guys, Datsyuk is the poster boy for the O-stick as Sidney Crosby continues to use a two-piece shaft (and Valtteri Filppula is an all-Reebok guy) and Kronwall, Maltby, Lebda, and Franzen (despite his Easton stick) are BauerNike guys—and let’s not forget Mr. Itech, Chris Osgood, and TPS’s pain in the rear, Dominik Hasek—it makes a ton of sense for those manufactuers to generate goodwill as well as paying customers down the line by helping the OneGoal initiative in Michigan. It would be quick and easy to shoot a few commercials of Nicklas Lidstrom or Dan Cleary using Easton’s new S17 stick, Datsyuk dangling with the O-Stick, or Kronwall charging up ice in his NikeBauer One90’s.
Mr. Hattem was extremely approachable, and he actually recorded an interview with Ken Kal that will be heard on WXYT later this week.
It took some serious gumption to wade into the scrum of beat writers—Sipple, Kulfan, Khan, the Windsor Star’s Waddell, and Michigan Hockey Online’s Paul Harris—and stick my little voice recorder in to talk to Nicklas Lidstrom. Nick said that the Red Wings are still concerned about their penalty-killing and their even-strength goals against, so they’ve emphasized tightening up over the last few practices, and especially with the Canucks coming into town, the Wings will have to be extra dilligent against Naslund and the Sedins. Lidstrom’s very wary of the Canucks’ offensive ability as well as their execution of trap hockey, and Luongo’s presence is a point of emphasis, too.
I asked Nick if the fact that Sami Salo’s coming back would change the Wings’ PK, and Lidstrom said that while Salo’s got a tremendous shot, the Wings’ penalty-killers have to walk the fine line between collapsing and fading Salo too closely, which would open up a seam for him to make a pass to an open player. Salo just adds to the Canucks’ arsenal.
Nick was asked about his sons’ youth hockey participation, and he said two of his three oldest boys are actually forwards, and while Kevin played goal and defence for a while, he prefers to play forward. He’s not sure about his youngest yet as he’s just learning how to skate.
Nick was very approachable and friendly, and while his reputation in the media is that of someone who is “bland,” he was engaging and more than willing to elaborate about the Wings’ plans against the Canucks and the areas in which he feels the Wings need to improve. He’s somebody that the media doesn’t pay enough attention to because he’s not controversial, but if you want to know about the Wings’ game plans, Babcock and Lidstrom are on the same page, and their hockey IQ’s are stratospheric.
When Nick was asked about the Igor Grigorenko situation, Nick stated that at present, it’s sort of a wait-and-see approach, and the Wings will simply monitor how he does in practice, and will hope that Grigorenko can work himself into the lineup. As far as English is concerned, I asked Nick if Grigorenko’s English lessons in Grand Rapids have helped him with the on-ice terminology, and Nick gave me a look, thought for a moment, and diplomatically said, “Well, it’s good that Pavel is with him now.”
Nick excused himself, and, ironically enough, as Ken Holland was being asked the same questions about Grigorenko, who walks by? Pavel Datsyuk, Lurch himself, limping along as one of his legs is 3 inches longer than the other, and his buddy Grigs, who had an inkling that the press was talking about him. Holland was asked about Grigorenko’s status, and he said that the Red Wings will evaluate him as they do Aaron Downey, Matt Ellis, Derek Meech, and, really, anyone else on the roster—it’s a day-to-day situation, and your ice time is determined by how you play in the short term, not the team’s long-term goals for you as a player or prospect. When a reporter who shall remain nameless needled Holland about whether Grigorenko lorded his contract situation over the Wings, or whether he’s here on merit versus here because he can leave in November, and, specifically, where Holland saw Grigorenko in two weeks, Holland became visibly agitated and reinforced the fact that his perspective is a short-term one, and, as such, it’s not about what will happen in two weeks when Franzen comes back, it’s about the day-to-day performance of Grigorenko in practices as compared to each and every other player on the team (but he mentioned Ellis and Downey again as examples of that day-to-day ethos), and as far as Holland is concerned, especially as the team’s GM, he has to worry about now more than he has to worry about later. Obviously, Grigorenko no longer wanted to play in the AHL, but he will be given no quarter, and, especially given his situation, two weeks is a world away as far as Mr. Holland is concerned.
I hung around the Joe for a little longer, watching Dominik Hasek bother the TPS rep about what I’m assuming is the latest in a slew of catch gloves they’ve been making for him, seeing Aaron Downey wander by (he’s short, shorter than Holland), and as the local media separated, I thought I’d push my luck a little bit by seeing how far I could go in the rink. I wandered behind George Sipple for a while, seeing a vast storage room of Wings merchandise, Al Sobotka performing general maintenance, and as I hit the north end of the rink, I could see the Canucks practicing—and Sami Salo, specifically, doing extra drills—but I chose not to press my luck any further as I did not have a visitor’s pass, and I made my way out of the arena on my own.
It was a great experience, and I sure as hell wish that Hahn would let us bloggers in, because, despite the fact that I am a very biased Red Wings fan, and will be one for the rest of my life, once you get in a room with players, coaches, or management, you just know to conduct yourself professionally, and, in my case, you put aside being a fan and simply talk hockey with the players…which, to be honest, gets you a lot further than the needling and leading questions the beat writers use, because when I asked about Sami Salo, Nick at least looked surprised, as in, “Huh, this guy’s put some thought into his question instead of asking me the same damn thing over and over again.”
I hope it’s not the last time that I set foot in the Joe as accredited media, because I think that bloggers like myself and especially Paul could give the Wings a run for their money, but that’s Hahn’s call, not mine.
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