Monday, January 28, 2008

Notes from NHL All-Star Weekend 2008

Full disclosure: I work part-time for the Atlanta Hawks & Thrashers. On game nights I'm up in the Philips Arena control room, working under the umbrella of video production.

Initially I'd been told I probably wouldn't be needed for the 56th NHL All-Star Game, so I made plans to attend the game instead. But less than two weeks ago I learned the NHL wanted an in-house stat guy after all. So what happened? Between Friday afternoon and Sunday night, I spent roughly 32 of 54 hours at Philips Arena preparing for the festivities - and, believe me, my hours were far from the longest among our crew. Our director endured a stretch of three days and only one meal. Despite the frantic conditions, I experienced one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

Herewith, some of the goofier behind-the-scenes highlights, in bullet-point format:

  • At Friday afternoon's rehearsal, our audio engineer said, "Guys, Milano sighting." Alyssa Milano, co-host of Saturday's Rockin' Skate event, emerged from one of the tunnels for a mic check. A few guys in the control room bolted to the window for a peek; it was the kind of scramble you might expect from someone yelling "Cops!" at a high school party. As it turned out, I was too late. She came out, said "Hello" into the mic, and left. That was it. One guy managed to catch a glimpse of her back, and proclaimed it to look "pretty good."

  • For Saturday morning's Rockin' Skate event - headlined by Disney Channel favorites the Jonas Brothers - the second commercial to run on the video board was the Bud Light "Dude" spot. Now, this is a funny spot, but it killed me for two reasons:

1) It was 8:10 in the morning. Which isn't too early for a beer if you're forced to sit through the Jonas Brothers, I suppose.

2) The Thrashers won't let anyone under 21 ride the Molson Zamboni between periods, but we can show beer commercials to a crowd of predominantly prepubescent teens. Wait, what?

  • Saturday afternoon, as we headed down to eat, a bunch of the NHL team mascots tromped among us through the hall. It was like walking into a SportsCenter commercial. One of my colleagues turned to me and said simply, "This is the surreal life, right here." It was hard to argue.

  • Up in the control room we run a goal pool for every Thrashers home game. The deal is everyone puts in a dollar, you pick the name of one Thrasher player out of a hat, and you win the pot if your guy scores the team's last goal. Last night we ran a special edition: the cost was $5 per player, per conference - $10 to play both conferences - with a best-case payout of $180. I ended up with Shawn Horcoff from Edmonton and Eric Staal from Carolina. Staal was on the bubble until Marc Savard's late game winner, assisted by (who else?) Eric Staal himself. As game MVP, Staal won a new Dodge Journey. As unlucky schmuck knocked off the bubble, I won nothing.

  • One of my favorite parts of the job is being able to see great camera shots that never make it up on the board. For example, during last night's "Sport Shorts," we caught a glimpse of an enthralled Eastern Conference bench laughing and wincing at the video. They were like a bunch of kids, and we were as entertained by them as they were by the video.

  • Last night I was exiting Philips Arena with my father-in-law, a Pittsburgh Penguins season ticket holder. He wore a Pens hat and Mario Lemieux jersey - pretty hard to miss if you're associated with the team. Naturally, who comes striding toward us but Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who played in Saturday's YoungStars game. He shot us a look that said, "Shit, please don't stop me to talk" and kept right on going, prompting this exchange:

Father-in-law: "That was Kris Letang!"
Me: "I can't believe he didn't acknowledge you, what with all the Pens gear."
Father-in-law: "Aw, he's a dick anyway."

Take that, Kris Letang!

All in all, the weekend was sublime. To have attended an All-Star weekend is exhilarating enough, but I'm extremely proud to have participated in such an extraordinary production. Hopefully I'll get to do it again someday.

(Oh, and hopefully these revelations won't get me in trouble.)

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