In praise of Bobby Ryan

In praise of Bobby Ryan
"The biggest thing is just his poise and his hands are unbelievable. I played with [Evgeni] Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby, and those guys are probably the two best in the league. Bobby's hands are right with those guys... He's a superstar in the making, it seems."
---Ryan Whitney, former Ducks defenseman

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Rinks, Corona inline launch

I'd heard about The Rinks program via a link from the Ducks official website. There would be a launch ceremony at the newest rink, at the Corona location. Since I had the Monday off work (a rarity for me), I decided to drive those ten minutes from my parents' house to check out the festivities.

I didn't really know what to expect. Maybe there'd be some freebees, maybe some news announcements, maybe a few familiar faces. Nothing could have prepared me for the incredible day ahead of me.

Author's note: I might lapse into bouts of teenaged excitement in this entry. You'll have to forgive me, I've never been so close to our Ducks before.

The rain was falling, but I found the rink with little trouble. I was early, but the place was set up for fun, and there were already quite a few people in attendance.

The entire place would become standing room only as fans and players waited for our Ducks to arrive.

I walked around, snapping pictures and sizing up the best places to be to get other great shots. It felt like being in high school again, when I was on the newspaper staff, trying to get good angles for the Homecoming game/track meets/drama theatricals. I could flash my press pass and be able to get right out on the field. Wouldn't it be awesome to have a press pass for Ducks events like these?

The Rinks setup included a shot target for the kids to practice their aim.

The Ducks Color Analyst Brian Hayward walked right by me as I measured up angles outside the rink. I smiled and said hello, he was polite and nodded at me. I probably could have gotten a picture of him, or with him, as he did with fans later... but it didn't occur to me at the time. He went on stage and announced that a few of our Ducks would be present to inaugurate the new Rink and coach its first game. How exciting!

Now I didn't feel foolish for tucking my Ducks hat and a silver sharpie in my purse. Maybe I'd get an autograph or two.

Our Ducks arrived late thanks to a longer-than-usual practice and some incorrect driving directions. But my boy Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne were the first to arrive. I had a perfect spot on the right side of the audience, with a clear shot of the stage. And yes, the teenager in me was positively thrilled to be so close to Bobby. w00t.

Teemu and Bobby talk about how proud they are to be a part of the future of hockey through the Rinks program.

Brian grills the guys about the difficult practice session that made them late to the Rinks event.

And then, Chris Pronger shows, much to the cheers of the audience. By the way, I'm absolutely astounded by the showing here. It's raining outside, and Southern Californians hate rain. Hell, that's why we live in SoCali. The Ducks haven't been as strong as they have in past seasons. But still, the fans drive out, the fans are here... and they still love their Ducks.

You want to know why? I have a feeling it's got something to do with events like this. Our Ducks aren't just a sports team. They are an active force in this community, and they use their high-profile position to help the community. The athletes are down-to-earth guys, humble and grateful, devoted to their fans. They make us want to be there for them because they've earned our respect. That's why I love the Ducks. Because they GIVE BACK. Not like some other teams... ahem.

Brian Hayward takes questions from the audience for Pronger, Teemu, and Bobby.

Some of the kids in the audience had some great questions for the guys. I especially liked: "How do you feel when the crowd screams your name?"

Pronger: "Screaming? How about booing? I get a lot of boos, but I like that."

I love how I got a feel for the guys' personalities as they stood on that stage. Teemu had the politically correct answers. He's the one who sounds like he's done tons of appearances and interviews. He knows what to say and he's very comfortable in that skin. Pronger is quite the character, joking around and not taking himself seriously. He's the guy who'd be great to sit down and knock back a couple of beers with. And Bobby, the rookie with new-found fame, seemed rather shy and quiet. Maybe he's not quite comfortable yet with the spotlight, but the boy is very talented and I'm sure he won't be this way for long. But while he is, it's very endearing. I'm looking forward to watching him grow into an amazing player.

After the questions, the guys joined a few of the players of the inaugural game to perform a ceremonial faceoff. Photo op. But I was in the wrong place for this. I got stuck behind Pronger and, as the guy is massive, I couldn't see anything except his huge 25 in my face.

The ceremonial faceoff.

The crowd broke up after the faceoff and that's when the scurry started for autographs. I was hoping that would have been a little more organized, because there was a lot of pushing and shoving... but somehow, I got pushed right into Teemu. He quietly signed autographs as he walked towards the rink, not really making eye contact or conversation with fans. I think he just goes into a zone. I got him to sign my hat before he headed off to coach his team of youngsters.

Teemu signs autographs for the fans.

I really wanted to get Bobby's autograph, but he'd already disappeared to the rink. The press was allowed onto the rink to snap pictures of the guys with their respective teams. The rest of us clustered around outside of the player boxes, and I settled for shots through the glass.

Bobby and Teemu give their team encouragement and game pointers.

Pronger coaches his team during the debut game.

Bobby intently watches his team.

What a great opportunity for these kids. They were mostly nine and ten-year-olds, playing inline hockey. To have actual NHL players show up to coach them during a game... I mean, wow.

Chris Pronger sneakily tries to overhear the opponent's game strategy.

The only thing between me and greatness is a pane of glass...

At some point during an intermission, Pronger left his box and stepped out of the rink. It's probably a correct assessment to say I wasn't alone in waiting for this opportunity.

Pronger gets swarmed by fans as he steps off the rink.

"Woah," Pronger exclaimed. "Back up, everybody. I'm getting claustrophobic and believe me, you don't want me to freak out."

The crowd did as it was told, and Pronger was visibly surprised. He reached for the hats, jerseys, and player cards that were held out to him, signing them with his own black sharpie while laughing and engaging in small talk. I got him to sign my hat too. I backed up as far as the crowd would let me and snapped pictures.

If you think Pronger looks really tall in these pictures, that's because he is! On a good day, I come up to his armpit.

At around this time, Robbie Niedermayer finally arrived. I was talking to another Bobby fan when we heard a deep voice behind us. "Excuse me."

"Oh sorry," we stepped aside, and Robbie walked right by us. "Woah, wait. That's Rob Niedermayer!" We laughed. Rob looked like he was in no mood to sign anything, and headed straight to Pronger's bench to catch up with his team. That was okay. Having gotten Teemu and Pronger, my sole intent now was to catch Bobby.

By the time the game wrapped up, the scoreboard reading 4-2 echoed the fact that it was definitely an eventful game, the crowd had figured out the most probable path for the players to exit the rink and placed themselves strategically there in a mass of bodies. I was a little miffed, but I'd still try my best.

The guys evaded that route, probably noticing how packed it was, and opted for the back door. I fought my way over there as Rob, Teemu, and Pronger were practically out the door. Bobby lagged behind, and I took advantage of the opportunity. He looked me straight in the eye as I handed him my hat. Taking my pen, he signed a hockey stick and a puck before handing it back. "Oh," I said, "the pen was meant for my hat,"

"Oh!" He exclaimed, and gave me a sweet smile. Okay, now I was officially starstruck and dumbfounded.

After he signed my hat, I managed, "Can you sign my shirt too? I promise that next time, I'll have your jersey." I turned around so he could sign on his number.

He laughed, "No problem, this is great!"

"Thanks so much, Bobby. Love ya!"

"You're welcome! Anytime!" He smiled at me again and I stepped back, totally oblivious to the fact that he was standing right there in front of me and I had a camera that I could easily have used to capture the moment. Oh well. I have this amazing event emblazoned in my memory, and that will have to do. I also slipped the url to this blog into this pocket, so hopefully he'll visit these pages and not be scared off, haha.

I had the opportunity to get a much better, closer picture of Bobby, but I was too starstruck to remember that I had a camera hanging around my neck.

My question is, can you wash autographed shirts and hats? And if so, how?


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