NHL players get introduction to the hobby
On Aug. 26, the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ontario was transformed into the site of Upper Deck’s inaugural NHL Rookie Debut Photo Shoot. As with previous Upper Deck rookie shoots with top freshman talent entering the NBA and NFL, this week’s hockey version sported the best of the NHL’s finest young guns prepping to make their on-ice debuts as professionals. This represented Upper Deck’s first chance to capture the players – 14 in all – sporting their new NHL team uniforms in a variety of poses and scenes. John Tavares, the No. 1 overall selection by the New York Islanders from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, was on hand as was Swedish Elite League Rookie of the Year Victor Hedman (No. 2 pick, Tampa Bay) and slick stick handler Matt Duchene (No. 3 pick, Colorado).
The players were enthusiastic and eager to please. They went through a total of four “stations” set up including on-ice action; portraits; memorabilia signings; and a video station where the players laughed hard and received their “rookie boot camp” initiation on everything from how to properly sign hockey trading cards to the correct way to lace up their skates and tape their sticks.
As added incentive, Upper Deck dangled an autographed LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey as a top prize to be awarded to the player who showed the most enthusiasm during the video tapings. Although trick shots, celebratory skating and even on-ice hip-checks delivered to Upper Deck’s official mascot “Coach Cardman” were part of the mix, the player having the most fun throughout the day would walk home with the jersey signed by the NBA’s reigning MVP who just happens to double as an exclusive autograph signer for Upper Deck.
Following media interviews, each of the players retreated into the locker room to get into pads and equipment for the day’s photo shoot. At 11 a.m., the event was underway. Group No. 1 included Tavares, Hedman, Duchene and Cody Hodgson (Vancouver Canucks). While they attacked the on-ice action station, Group No. 2 (Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames; Tyler Bozak, Toronto Maple Leafs; Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, Maple Leafs; and Jared Cowen, Ottawa Senators) christened their acting chops at the video station. Group No. 3 consisted of James Van Riemsdyk (Flyers), Colin Wilson (Predators) and Bobby Sanguinetti (Rangers), who posed for portrait shots. The fourth group involved P.K. Subban (Canadiens), Eric Tangradi (Penguins) and Logan Couture (Sharks), who got their first dose of an orchestrated autograph session as they signed hundreds of signatures for the hockey card leader.
As part of the video segment, the players were asked to demonstrate a skating celebration they might employ after scoring a lamp-lighter in the NHL. Backlund, the Flames center, showed a unique “moon-skate” dance (think Michael Jackson), while Cowen – a 6’ 5” defenseman – showed a nice Vegas-style craps roll after putting the puck in the net.
Each of the players showed plenty of zest for their newfound hockey opportunity, but no one was more animated throughout the day than Subban, a good-natured defenseman selected by Montreal. His laughter, energy and enthusiasm were infectious and as the event came to a close, the Upper Deck crew had picked their winner.
“It’s my brother’s birthday next week and he’s a huge LeBron James fan, so the timing couldn’t be better,” said Subban. “I just want to say thanks to Upper Deck for putting this event on today and for letting me walk away with this jersey.”
Josh Zusman, Upper Deck’s Hockey brand manager, summed up the day’s event this way: “The inaugural NHL Rookie Photo Shoot was a smashing success. With 14 of the top rookies, 25 media outlets and some great momentum, we have created hype that will carry us into the season and beyond!”
Collectors can look for rookie cards of these NHL newcomers first appearing in Upper Deck’s 2009-10 Series One Hockey release in November, provided the player skates on Opening Night.