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Savard's Stick Pic Not Surprising

Google “Marc Savard” right this second and you’re bound to come up with a bunch of news stories that speak of ‘Bite-Gate’, or the non-story told by Flyers pest Dan Carcillo that claims that the Bruins’ forward bit his finger in a scrum.  Search a bit more and you might find that Savard has been called selfish or lazy, accused of padding his stats in games that have long been decided.  He even routinely makes the list when NHL players are polled about who the biggest complainers in the league are.

But I urge you to take a step back and recalibrate your opinion of one Mr. Marc Savard.  Let’s start with this picture:

That, readers, is Marc Savard handing a stick to a young fan.  This picture was taken last Saturday, minutes after he scored the game-winning overtime goal to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Seconds after the goal, a jubilant Savard raced towards the boards, flung his stick into the stands haphazardly, and jumped up on the glass before being mobbed by his teammates.  After being called out as one of the game’s three stars, and armed with a second stick, he skated to the boards and made sure this stick landed right where he intended.  The image above is the result.

As a sports cynic, I’m impressed.  As a memorabilia junkie, I’m jealous.  But as a father, and as a witness to such acts like this from Savard before, I’m not surprised.

It was December 14, 2008 when I first bore witness to the real Marc Savard.  The B’s were coming off a stellar stretch of hockey that would define their regular season, beating Atlanta in their building on Friday night, then returning to Boston to beat them again on Saturday.  I half-expected the Bruins’ management, who saw their team go 8-2 to that point in December, to cancel the season ticket holders’ open practice that was scheduled for that Sunday.  After all, with two games in two nights, and travel wedged in between, the players were deserving of some time off.  But they didn’t cancel.  So shortly before lunch that Sunday, we made our way to the TD Garden.

Dressed in his size 2T Bruins jersey, my son was excited.  Having played hockey for 25 years but having never witnessed a professional practice in person, his dad was too.  Whether it’s an NHL team or the Cirque du Soleil or the Boston Pops, it is always fascinating to watch experts hone their craft, particularly when the subjects in question are considered the best in the world at what they do.

When the doors opened and the escalators whirred to life, we made our way to ice level and grabbed three seats right on the glass, adjacent to one of the penalty boxes.  The players, to their credit, seemed not to mind the little dog-and-pony show that professional athletes sometimes have to endure (think of the fashion show scene in Slapshot, without the indecent exposure).  They walked out to the ice, stretched, and went through their practice paces much like they do every day.  Hockey is, after all, their job.  And while a few of them nodded to the loyal fans in attendance at the start of the practice, only one seemed to truly embrace the idea: number 91.

From the moment he stepped on the ice, he made it clear that he was there to entertain.  He seemed to understand that he was more than just a hockey player, and that his actions that day would create memories that would outlast his career.  Instead of pretending that the fans weren’t there, like some of his uneasy teammates did, Savvy engaged the fans at every opportunity.  Tapping on the glass in the corners.  Flipping pucks and tossing shirts to kids near the bench.  Getting on the microphone to thank the fans for their support.  And then, as he neared the blue line for a drill, he did something that my son, my wife, and I talk about to this day: taking one step into the penalty box we were sitting next to, he poked his head around the door, looked directly at my son, and said “Hey buddy!”  Savard himself probably forgot about the incident five seconds after it happened; after all, it took one second of his time and did not involve significant effort on his part.  My wife, on the other hand, became a Marc Savard fan for life.  And my son, whose Bruins fanaticism has already reached a level to where he has an imaginary brother named ‘Michael Ryder‘ and claims to eat lunch with Milan Lucic at daycare, was thrilled.

I’m by no means a professional athlete fanboy, and perhaps I’ve grown soft as a result of fatherhood.  And let’s be honest, it’s not like he showed up unannounced at my son’s birthday party.  But all things considered, I was impressed.  He didn’t have to do it; the fact that he was the only one on the ice who seemed to be interacting with the fans speaks to that.  But he did it anyways.  He went out of his way to address my son, my universe, the sole reason why I got Bruins season tickets in the first place, and said “Hey.”  He understood his role as not only a center for the Boston Bruins, but as an ambassador for the game, a representative of the organization, and a role model to the kids who look up to him.

It’s impossible to overstate how important things like this are to children.  I’ve been a hockey fan since birth, and my experiences in similar situations live with me to this day.  As an 8-year-old, I stood in line for two hours at a local bank, waiting for an autograph from the legendary Bobby Orr as part of the bank’s grand opening.  When I finally got my turn in front of #4, he completely ignored me, blindly signing a stock photo while speaking instead to an adult next to him.  I’ll always applaud what he did for the Bruins and the game of hockey, but to this day, I wish I had never stood in that line.

There was the visit to Snively Arena, former home of the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, when I was 10.  The son of my father’s boss played defense for UNH, and after a home game, he invited me down to the locker room and handed me a brand new stick, which he had autographed.  He eventually transferred to a SUNY school, and the last I heard, he was in real estate out in Colorado, his playing days far behind him.  But despite that fact, his stick still sits right next to the Adam Oates autographed Sher-Wood and 1980′s New York Islanders signed Victoriaville in my collection.  These days, the stick itself is worth no more than the cost of the materials.  But I’ll never forget driving home from the game, holding it across my lap in the backseat, tickled to death that he had signed it just for me.

In high school, I went with some friends to the annual Bruins Wives’ Carnival, a charity event where patrons are asked to donate money to charity for the right to shoot a tennis ball on a Bruins’ goalie or play video games with the club’s enforcer.  I still remember Hal Gill, with his eye freshly blackened from a fight the night before, calling my father on the phone and having a two minute conversation with him that sounded more like two friends getting reacquainted than a forced stunt crafted by the organization.  One of the cooler ten dollars I’ve ever spent.  Gill understood his role in the community, and I’ll always remember that.  On the flip side at the same event was Nick Boynton, who, tasked with playing table hockey with young Bruins’ fans, appeared disinterested, bored, and borderline rude.  Boynton has since bounced around the NHL, and even spent some time in the AHL.  After seeing his childish behavior amongst actual children, I’m not sad to see his career floundering.

Perhaps none of this is fair.  It can be argued that hockey players should just be hockey players, and that they should be allowed to have bad days just like the rest of us.  To a certain degree, I understand this.  But it must also be understood that when these players sign their names on the dotted lines of monstrous contracts, they’re not only promising to be loyal to the club, but also to the fans, the very people whose ticket purchases fund those contracts.  And though everyone is entitled to be in a bad mood on any given day, only some players seem to realize that every single interaction they have with their fans is magnified tenfold and remembered forever.  Nick Boynton may be the nicest guy on the planet, but in the five minutes I spent in his presence, he was unlikable and disingenuous.  I’m sure the hundreds of young kids who paid to hang out with him that day came away with similar sentiments.

All of this is to say that what Marc Savard did that Sunday afternoon was equal parts refreshing and unforgettable.  Somewhere in Bruins Nation, the young boy in the picture above feels the same way.  Savard didn’t have to seek out a child in the raucous postgame crowd and hand him that stick, but he did.  And in the process, he created a memory that will live with that boy for the rest of his life.

Who knows, maybe when that young boy is a father himself, and he’s and packing up his belongings to move to a new house, he’ll look at that stick and wonder if he should go through the trouble of moving it with the rest of his stuff.  And he’ll remember standing on his father’s shoulders at that Bruins playoff game so many years ago, taking the stick from a player who found him in the madness and handed it directly to him, and remember the rush of adrenaline and excitement that accompanied the moment.  And then he’ll toss it into the back of the U-Haul.

15 comments to Savard’s Stick Pic Not Surprising

  • As the great Gordie Howe says, “If you’re not willing to sign autographs and be nice to people, you shouldn’t be a professional athlete. The fans are the people who pay us.”

  • I’ve attended several Blackhawks public practices this year, and while certainly not every player stops to sign autographs every time, several players will toss pucks up to fans, and several players regularly give away sticks as they step off the ice. I’ve seen Patrick Kane give away sticks (1 or 2 per practice, nearly every time), Andrew Ladd, Patrick Sharp, others. Cristobal Huet gave away his stick every practice I’ve been to.

    The rink they hold public practices at has a lower, standing-room only area; and then it has a seating area with about half a dozen rows of bleacher seats. Inevitably, there’s a ton of screaming fans leaning over the glass, begging for a puck or stick, but you can watch the players scan the crowds and look for the kids.

    On one of the practices, my friend and I were standing next to a pair of kids; we had plenty of room on the glass so we had them stand up there. Andrew Ladd afterwards went to give the stick to the kids, and a lot of folks were grabbing for it, but luckily my friend is a tall man with a long reach, so he easily caught the stick and handed it to the kids, who Ladd had clearly intended it for.

    Another time, Patrick Sharp skated up, looking at somebody behind me, and I could see him looking at all the (older) fans leaning over the glass, hoping he was going to give something up. I was standing there with my camera, and I saw his look, and so I asked, “You want to give it to somebody in particular?” He nodded, pointed to the girl behind me, and handed the stick up to me so I could pass it back.

    image of the lucky recipient: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2740/4468065299_b511a7a61b_m.jpg

    These players clearly understand that not only are young kids going to be the most grateful recipient’s of their generosity, but it helps forge fans for life. One of the things that makes me so happy to be a hockey fan is to see not only how down-to-earth the vast majority of players are, but how much they genuinely appreciate their fanbase. There’s an awful lot of NHL/MLB/NBA players that seem to forget that we, the fans, are the ones ultimately paying their salaries – to make a living playing a sport.

  • Nick

    Wonderful article. I’ve had a few similar expiriences, both with the Phoenix Coyotes. The first (and worst) was meeting Peter Mueller who looked as bored as someone stuck doing paperwork behind a desk. The second was at the recent Coyotes Carnival with Shane Doan, who, when told he had to take a half hour break from signing autographs, he looked really disappointed. He was by far my favorite player to meet that day and watching him interact with all the fans, no matter how young or old they were.

  • Brian

    Wow, really a great article. I’ve worked in pro sports my entire professional career (all 4 major sports and many others) and hockey players by far and away routinely go that extra step or three. Nice to read this the same day as the negative news about the NE Patriots dissing a school of exercising kids by sending an intern with some workout tapes instead of a player to meet and greet them.

  • Adam

    I’ve had a similar experience where I was blown away with how fan friendly NHL athletes are. I managed to get very close seats at a Hawks game when we were playing Minny. Mikko Koivu was taking laps during warm ups, so my cousin and I walked down to the glass to watch the pros skate. A little kid ran down to watch too – we were there pretty early so not too many people were around. During the warmup we tapped the glass when Koivu was around us and pointed to the kid and asked for a puck for him. Koivu skated over to the bench, grabbed a puck and tossed it over to us. We gave them to the kid, who looked like he won the lottery. Real classy move, especially on the road.

  • Char

    Some lovely writing here, thanks for this. Everything I’ve heard about Marc Savard since he’s joined the Bruins has been positive. I think he still remembers what it’s like to be a kid himself.

  • Ryan

    I was 6 years old when Nick Fotiu came to the Flames. To this day I still consider him one of my favorite players, despite having basically no recollection of him actually playing the game, due simply to his routine of filling his glove with half a dozen pucks at the end of warm-ups and tossing them over the glass to fans. I don’t even remember catching one, but I remember thinking how cool it was that he took the opportunity to appreciate the fans. Lanny McDonald was also great with the kids around Calgary. When I played against his son in youth hockey he’d always stop by the locker room to sign autographs and talk to the kids, an all around great guy.

    The demands on players are much greater than they once were, so it’s especially nice to see those guys who take the time to recognize the fans.

  • Alma

    I do a lot of volunteer work with both the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. As far as fan interaction goes, both are stellar outfits. It’s a real treat to meet the players and work with them.

  • CT

    The great thing about the NHL is most of the refs are cool as well. Last season we were at an Islanders game and sitting right on the glass in the corner. During a TV timeout one of the linesman, Greg Devorski, skated over unprompted and surprised my then 6-year-old son by handing him a puck through the photographers’ opening in the glass. Thanks again Greg!

    Before going to Calgary, Nick Fotiu, a native New Yorker, was famous for throwing pucks to Rangers fans after warm-ups, often chucking them all the way up to the blue seats in the balcony.

  • PJ

    great article and that picture says a million and 1 words. Reaching up and stretching to hand that kid his stick moments after scoring an OT goal….just for the picture right there, my respect for Savard has just grown exponentially. Great work whoever wrote this article.

    Great comments too..thanks for sharing those moments of athletes going that extra step to create a lifetime memory for a lucky kid.

    Like the article points out..that athlete probably doesnt remember the interaction the next day, but its effect on that fan(s) will last FOREVER.

    great stuff!

  • BaltimoreBerserk

    More people need to be better humans.

    http://www.csnwashington.com/04/09/10/Russ-Thaler–Alex-Ovechkin-Shines-In-A-F/landing_capitals.html?blockID=213082&feedID=274

    Check it out, if you liked the above story, you’ll appreciate this too.

  • Scotty_Canuck

    This is an awesome, heartwarming story. Reminds me of when John Kordic played for the Leafs, my buddy and I went with his dad to a practice and he got a puck that John Kordic specifically flipped into the stands for us to catch.

    Just one more reason to say that hockey is the greatest game on earth.

    Funny, I kind of expect it of hockey players (to behave like this) for some reason, although there are plenty who are not terribly appreciative of the fans too. I have a theory that it’s partly because hockey is a very community-based sport, and players in the lower levels are constantly in contact with people who admire them in their community. Frequently the communities in question are small towns as well. I’m speaking for hockey in Canada here, but I believe the same situation is generally true in the U.S.

    Anyways, again a fantastic article.

  • Matt

    Great article. Those moments last a lifetime. I will never forget the time I atteded a Bruins game in NY against the Islanders. As one of the only people around wearing a Bruins jersey, Jason Allison tossed me a puck during practice, then Ray Bourque shot me a head nod and a wave, and later winked at me practicing some sweet shots during warm ups.

  • Tim Milton

    My son’s mite team played a game at Joe Louis Arena last March. As we
    were walking across the street behind the arena, several cars were pulling
    out another parking lot. To all of our surprise, about 6 or 7 vehicles stopped
    along side the curb and out stepped 8-9 Red Wing players who on their own
    talked to the little guys about hockey, positions, what grade they were in, etc.
    They signed anything, pictures the whole nine yard. You think they made more
    fans then they all ready had? You bet they did. Hockey players are like that.

  • What a great post! There were stories (and photos) that brought tears to my eyes, things that made me laugh, and things that made me go, ‘wow, screw Bobby Orr!’ Oops, did I just say that?

    (Does your little guy have Z is for Zamboni? Linden loves the page with the ‘two Bobbys” – I don’t know if I’ll be able to read that page again without cringing!)

    I think you’re totally right. It is impossible to overstate how important those things are to children. And one of the things I love most about my husband is that he gets that. I remember being at his games when I was pregnant with Linden and I’d see him high five kids as he skated off the ice after a period, even if his team was losing. I felt like it was an indication of the type of guy he was, the type of dad he would be, a testament to his character. Even if he’s not happy, he understands how much it means to the little guys – just a simple high five or even a smile.

    Sure, hockey players are human and they are allowed to have good days and bad days. Their primary role is just that, hockey player, but they are also public figures and they know that. They sign up for that and it’s kind of a package deal.

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