NHL Fans & NHL Players: A Special Bond

Without its fans, the NHL would be nothing, I think we can all agree on that; its the fans who buy the tickets, watch the games, buy the merchandise, click the articles, etc. To a man all of the NHL players are all aware of this and whenever they get the opportunity to, they try to give back a little to their fans. Teams will hold open practices, autograph sessions and casino nights among other things where season ticket holders are able to interact with their favorite athletes.

Damien Brunner high-fives a young fan through the glass at an open practice for season ticket holders (Photo by June Glinowiecki Toth)

Damien Brunner high-fives a young fan through the glass at an open practice for season ticket holders (Photo by June Glinowiecki Toth)

When I showed Damien Brunner the above picture of him high-fiving a young fan through the glass, the 28-year-old smiled ear-to-ear and said, “That was from the open practice when the fans were there; I remember that day. It’s (really) fun to see the kids down there, so we can give them something back – put a smile on their face. That’s actually a really nice picture.”

I asked the Swiss-born Brunner that maybe he became that kid’s favorite player that day, or maybe even his hero, and how does he feel about that. He smiled again, kind of turned his head down like a teenage boy would when approaching a girl he likes. “Like I said, it’s a pretty cool moment for me too,” he said while chuckling. “It was a lot of fun having the fans over that day. I did that a couple of times (with the kids), threw some pucks over to them, tried to get the kids to smile and laugh. I think that’s what its all about, for us to give something back.”

Fans of the Seattle Thunderbirds. (Shoot the Breeze Photography)

Fans of the Seattle Thunderbirds. (Shoot the Breeze Photography)

Obviously this is just one story of thousands out there, among the thousands of you out there reading this I’m sure you all have some great stories about encounters with some of your favorite NHL players. The Hockey Writers collected a few other stories to share with you also, and feel free to share yours in the comments below if you like.

Joe Stinson is a season ticket holder with the New Jersey Devils and 28-year-old daughter Jennifer is profoundly deaf and autistic and has become a huge fan of Jaromir Jagr. After missing an event earlier in the season, Jennifer was able to meet Jagr at the end of season autograph session that the Devils held. Jennifer communicates with a computer that she types and it speaks; all morning she just kept typing: “picture with Jagr 68”.

Entering his 21st NHL season, Jaromir Jagr has LOTS of fans.(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Entering his 21st NHL season, Jaromir Jagr has LOTS of fans.(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Jennifer’s autism does not allow her to wait for anything for long periods of time. As Joe explained to them when the February event was missed that waiting in a line long is problematic. So they could never wait for Jagr, then Martin Brodeur or Cory Schneider and Patrik Elias… its not happening. “They made provisions for her not to wait in line for Jagr and when she got to meet Jagr AND get his autograph the smile on her face for me, as her Dad was priceless,” Joe said. “It was worth every penny I have ever spent and will spend on the Devils.”

Brian Pothier signs an autograph for a young fan. (Photo from Gary McCabe)

Brian Pothier signs an autograph for a young fan. (Photo from Gary McCabe)

“We have to be role models, we have to act the right way around the kids, especially around the kids,” said Brunner before laughing a bit and adding, “around the adults too. I love to see the kids happy, to have them around; it gives you positive energy, it’s such a big impact on us too.”

The final story is from my friend Alison Kavchok, as told by her to THW.

Martin Brodeur poses with young Mat Kavchok at a benefit. (Photo by Alison Kavchok)

Martin Brodeur poses with young Mat Kavchok at a benefit. (Photo by Alison Kavchok)

Earlier this season an opportunity arose for my six-year-old son Mat and I to attend a benefit where Marty (Brodeur) was going to be at. When he saw him, he was confused because Marty wasn’t in his gear. It was a chance to remind him that these people are humans, too. I think little kids see the players as these little transformers toys on ice; but then Mat saw Marty and said: “is he a Daddy, too?” It was fascinating watching him piece it together because suddenly the sport didn’t seem so out of touch to him anymore; even a Daddy can play hockey if he loves the game enough!

I took Mat to a game back in December. We were in section 12 behind Marty and when the Devils won, Mat bolted down to the glass without me. I followed because it looked like he was going to be mobbed. We ended up on the background of an awesome press picture of Marty and Jagr congratulating each other. I eventually had it printed out and Jagr was kind enough to sign it at the recent Team Awards Ceremony, and I plan on framing it. It’s nice to have something tangible that we can look back on; just Mat and Mom casually enjoying a Devils win, eating M&Ms and watching two legends, in the twilight of their careers showing the kids how it’s done.

Photo signed by Jaromir Jagr with Alison Kavchok (green scarf) and her son Mat in the background.

Photo signed by Jaromir Jagr with Alison Kavchok (green scarf) and her son Mat in the background.

“They are really kind, all of the Devils fans, those hours they fly by real quick,” said Brunner when we asked him about the autograph sessions at the end of the season for STHs. “It was great meeting them all and it really is nothing for us to do those one-hour signings; it was fun for us too and we really appreciate everyone that came out and everyone that comes to see our games.”

Current and former NHL players (at least in the Tri-State area) also do individual signings, most which are free, unless you want to purchase, for a small fee, a photo or puck to be signed.

As mentioned earlier, if you have a story about meeting an NHL  player feel free to leave it in the comments section below, we’d love to hear from you and are planning to do another article like this in the future.

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Dan Rice

Dan Rice

Dan Rice is in his 3rd year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 10+ years at various websites. He began his career working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & his resume also includes an internship at the ECHL.
Dan Rice
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4 Comments

  1. NHL players even guys in major junior and The AHL, are overall good guys, you do not see them on police blotters like you see NFL PLAYERS AND NBA PLAYERS. The Hockey world is a tight one and the bond between players and fans is a tight one. Makes me proud to be a hockey fan !!!!!

  2. We took our son to a Senators practice when they were visiting here in ATL several years back, and meeting his favorite player, Jason Spezza, was absolutely mind-numbing to him. He was awed and overwhelmed, he could barely speak, but Jason was gentle and patient, asking him questions and finally getting him to relax enough to smile in the picture. We met most of the team that day and it was absolutely awesome. Have never had that with players of any other sport.

  3. haha! Yes I do remember that one well!

  4. Remember that time I missed meeting Jeremy Roenick at the NHL Draft because I had to go to the bathroom soooooooo very badly? Yeah, me too. :-(

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