I have a new favorite player.
Although, the way I like to word it is: I have a NEXT favorite player.
My favorites never stop being favorites. I'll always love Bobby Ryan and Matthew Lombardi and I'll always wish the best for them, their careers, and their families. But it's hard for me to make the continued time investment, the way I want to make it, without a player to emotionally invest in. And that player kinda has to be relatively easy for me to follow... a country and three time zones away (for Bobby) or halfway across the world (for Lombo) doesn't cut it.
That's just how it works for me. There's a lot of things in this world to be involved in. And yeah, there has to be something in it for me if I'm going to take time and money away from other things to be a huge hockey fan. I mean, I love the game, don't get me wrong. But the feeling that someone appreciates the support you're giving them, that's the little extra I get from this which feels most rewarding beyond an entertainment level.
So yes. My next favorite player.
He wasn't with the Coyotes when I first started following them, during Lombardi's first stint with the team. But he was there during the 2nd. And he's been close to phenomenal this season, especially with Shane Doan needing to take care of his health and the near month of empty captaincy that resulted.
Even now, Doan isn't 100%. When I saw him earlier this month, he looked tired. Dark circles under his eyes. He admitted he still felt the fatigue. Rocky Mountain Fever ain't no joke, people die from that! So while he gets his feet back under him, guys have stepped up.
One of those guys is center Antoine Vermette. Honestly, I didn't notice him or pay much attention to him at the beginning of the season. I picked him up during my fantasy hockey draft because he has an excellent faceoff percentage, and the commish has a new FO category this season. As the season started, he was indeed good in the faceoff circle, but I also started to admire his work on the penalty kill.
Not to mention, he has a penchant for speed on the breakaway. This is not unlike one of my other favorites... ahem, Lombo! (How do you think I first noticed him? A breakaway during a Flames-Duck game). Apparently, my taste is consistent! He also happens to be from Quebec (what's it with me and Quebec players anyway?), drafted the same year as Lombo, and... they even played on the Victoriaville Tigres together before making the big show.
Almost seems like fate, right? But I digress...
So he's vital on the PK. He's effective in the faceoff. He blocks shots and is willing to go into the dirty areas for deflections and rebounds. And he plays for the Coyotes so nobody knows who the hell he is. It just screams unsung hero... and you know what a sucker I am for that.
Cut to December 21, 2013. Coyotes are playing the Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa. It's the team that initially drafted Vermette, and the team that now owns Bobby. Tongue in cheek, I hafta say the Senators kinda suck this year. Bobby's having a career season, but the rest of the guys... not so much. Except for maybe Kyle Turris, ex-Yote. Either way, it's a tight game between the Yotes and the Sens. This was during the time Doan was out and Vermette and Martin Hanzal wore 'A's on their sweaters. Vermette scores once, twice, and the game goes into OT. As the boys assembled briefly before the fourth period, I made the promise: "Coyotes, if you win this one, I'm getting a Vermette home jersey."
I was probably going to anyway, as I've wanted a Coyotes home jersey for a while now and the branding will be different next season with the new ownership. I just couldn't decide who's name, if any, to get on the back. Whatever. I made the promise.
And the hockey gods delivered. Not only did the Coyotes win, they did so with Vermette scoring the game-winning goal, in overtime, to complete his 2nd career hat-trick. FATE, right??
Next criteria, have you seen the guy??? My goodness, "blessed" is an understatement. That's not what I noticed first, but it's a nice touch to have on the resume!
And finally, the true test. Are you fan-friendly and humble? Or do you know you're good and expect everyone else to know it too? Whenever the Coyotes visit the Ducks, I always attend warmups on the visitors side of the ice. Yes, the Ducks are my team, but I can see them at any and every home game I attend. My second favorite team only visits three times a season. So when the Yotes came to the Ponda for the game on November 6th, I had made a sign for warmups. It read: "Chippy and Vermette, my unsung heroes!"
(If you want the background, I've always liked Kyle Chipchura. Got to know him through events with the Ducks, even though he didn't stay long. I was a little sad to see him go, but he's so much more appreciated in Phoenix... he gets ice time and they use his skill set much more effectively. So I'm happy for him. He couldn't quite reach that favorite player status with me, not sure why, but I still love to cheer him on. 4th line grinder, potential journeyman, you gotta give those guys love when you can. And he always reciprocates with big smiles, hello waves, and other signs of goofy recognition when he sees me.)
Anyway, Chippy saw the sign and gave me a big smile. Satisfying, but expected. This was the first time I would acknowledge Vermette so I was interested to see how he'd receive the attention.
It's always an almost nervous thing to be in this position. It's a unique fan experience that is both exciting and potentially heartbreaking at the same time. A moment of truth, you could say. I don't think I've truly gotten "used to" doing this, because I don't do it often, but I've done it enough that I don't really get as disappointed anymore when it doesn't work out.
Probably the best state of mind to be in.
You see, it could go one of three ways. 1) The player never sees the sign. Doesn't look at you, doesn't read your sign, doesn't acknowledge you're there. Or anyone else for that matter. Not a bad thing really, because a lot of guys use warmups to get focused on the game. They don't all look into the crowd or pay attention to signs cuz it could just as well be a heckling fan of the opposing team writing something not very nice. Don't need that kind of distraction going into a game. Although for me, if I realize a player is not one who pays any attention to fans or signs during warmups, I don't bother to try again with a sign for that player.
Don't need to waste valuable real estate that way when someone else could get so much more out of your efforts.
2) The player reads the sign, but chooses not to do anything to acknowledge it or the person holding the sign. There's a chance maybe he didn't see his name written on it. Maybe there's a language barrier. Maybe you wrote too much or too small and he couldn't actually read what you had to say. Possible excuses, but even still, you're left feeling a little foolish. And if you're me, that's pretty much a done deal.
Mama didn't raise no fool.
I mean, it doesn't take much to simply make eye contact with the sign holder. A quick smile or a nod is all it takes to make the entire endeavor successful. Anything more is just icing on the cake.
And by "endeavor," it really is an endeavor on the part of the fan. A lot goes into planning a warmup sign. At least for me, it does, because there are only a limited number of games I can make warmups for. You have to get there early enough to secure a good spot along the glass. If you've done signs before, you know where you should stand to get the best chance of being seen. You have to plan out what you're going to say, because it needs to be big enough and succinct enough for someone to read quickly... while they're flying by you trying to juggle a puck. And don't even get me started on how awkward and cumbersome it can be to get a big piece of posterboard into the arena.
It's an endeavor. And that's why it has to be worthwhile. I used to make a lot of signs. But I don't anymore. I've always needed something worthwhile to say, and that inspiration doesn't always come to me in time. Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked...
3) The player reads the sign AND acknowledges it/you. This is obviously the best case scenario and can range anywhere from a quick nod, to a stick tap on the glass, to a smile or a wave, or even a puck thrown over the glass for you. Whatever it is, it'll make your day.
When Antoine read the sign, I got a nice big smile from him. His beautiful face positively lit up. And he continued to flash me smiles as he circled the ice. 110% worth it. And I became actively aware that hey, I might have a next favorite Coyote on my hands!
(This is turning into a much longer post than expected, so I'll continue a little later...)
"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, January 28, 2014
I have a new favorite player.