NHLHS correspondent Christina Roberts attended the Toast of Hockeytown on November 9 and took the opportunity to ask the Red Wings players a few questions and share a few stories.
The 12th annual Toast of Hockeytown took place at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday evening. What’s the Toast of Hockeytown, you ask? It’s a charity event benefiting the Detroit Red Wings Foundation. What does it entail? The ice at The Joe being turned into a swanky club with food around the boards, a silent auction area in the middle, a live band playing at one end, and almost a dozen tables set up for wine tasting.
And the Red Wings team is there as well.
Now, my brothers (Matt and Mike) and I, being the huge hockey fans were are, have been wanting to do this for several years now. Our problem has been that I’ve been under 21 years of age, since it’s a wine tasting event. This was the first year we could finally go.
Getting a one-on-one (or three-on-one with Matt and Mike there, too) with the players, how could I not ask them a question I’ve always wanted to know:
Outside of Joe Louis Arena, what’s your favorite arena to play in?
Johan Franzen was the first player we talked to, congratulating him on his hat trick in the previous game. “Favorite place to play? Probably Colorado,” he told us. It makes sense, of course, since he scored more goals than the entire team in the 2008 Western Conference semi-finals. “There are a lot of fun places, though,” he added.
Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves, and Darren Helm all said Chicago for the National Anthem (and the Original Six rivalry). Helm added, “Montreal is fun, too. And I’m excited for Winnipeg,” though the Red Wings won’t visit there until next season.
I startled Valtteri Filppula with my question. He didn’t have an immediate answer for me, and it took him a fair amount of time to come up with an answer. “Calgary,” he told me. We also asked him what he thinks Nicklas Lidstrom‘s chances are for winning the Norris Trophy this year. His face lit up and he laughed a bit. “Ohoh! Pretty good! If he keeps playing like this… it’s unbelievable.”
Then it was Pavel Datsyuk‘s turn. You think he’s hard to understand in interviews? Try an arena with a loud, live band playing and hundreds of people talking. Matt told him, “Hands down, you are the most entertaining player to watch in the NHL.” Datsyuk chuckled, gave a noncommittal shrug, and said, “Thank you. I try harder.”
When asked about his favorite arena in which to play, he said, “Old Pittsburgh. Mellon. But now it’s new… they all similar. Big, fans far away, lots of lights.” He mentioned another old arena that isn’t play in anymore, but couldn’t recall the name.
We asked him what he thought Lidstrom’s chances were for the Norris. He smiled and said, “He should have retired eight years ago. But he win seven of them, so…”
Tomas Holmstrom took fake offense to my question, mostly because I started out by saying, “Okay, Homer, you’ve been in the league a long time…” I patched things up between us, though, and he said he enjoys Toronto and Montreal for the fans.
“So you’d favor a move to the Eastern Conference?” asked Matt.
“Oh, for sure,” Homer said. “Right now, we always have to leave the time zone to plan an opponent.”
Henrik Zetterberg said he enjoys Chicago for the Original Six rivalry. “The fans recognize me on the street and give me a hard time,” he said with a laugh. Unlike a place like St. Louis or Columbus where “we’re just left alone to do our thing.” Of course, this is all null and void anywhere in Canada.
A few weeks ago, various Red Wings players visited local businesses around the Metro Detroit area. Datsyuk ended up serving coffee at a Tim Horton’s drive-thru. Start watching this video around a minute in, and you’ll see Zetterberg drive up in his car and ask where his coffee is. So I had to ask, “How much fun was it to drive through the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s when Datsyuk was working?”
Zetterberg started laughing. “Oh yeah. I was really hoping he was the ‘Welcome to Tim Horton’s’ guy, you know, just so you couldn’t understand him. And then I wanted to order fourteen coffees…”
Jonathan Ericsson took a different approach with his answer and said anything out west is good. “Mostly because it’s warm, so we can see the sun in the winter,” he explained. he also enjoys Florida, though the Wings don’t travel there often. Also, he told me he was 6’4,” and I’m pretty sure he’s lying.. I’m 5’8″, and he makes me look ridiculously tiny.
And then, of course, there’s the man himself. Nicklas Lidstrom. The wait to meet him was longest, by far, but absolutely worth it. Of course, the three of us had met him last season at the Season Ticket Holder Open House, but when he’s behind a table and you’re being ushered forward, it’s hard to carry on a conversation.
Obviously, you don’t walk up to him and ask him what he thinks his chances are of winning the Norris. I shook his hand heartily and grinned at him. While he signed my program, I asked, “You’ve been in the league for a while, so I’m curious – what’s your favorite arena to play in, aside from the Joe?”
“Oh, the Shark Tank!” Lidstrom told me immediately.
“Well, it does have an awesome name,” I agreed.
“Yeah, and the fans are always so loud,” he added. And with playing the past two postseasons there, I’m sure he’s grown a little fond of the place, even if the team ticks off almost every single Red Wings fan.
By far, the best conversation of the evening was with Niklas Kronwall. Matt, Mike, and I all had a different question to ask him or a comment to tell him. “If you’re willing to divulge this information, where did you get your glasses?” Mike asked.
“Polo Ralph Lauren,” Kronwall told him, laughing. “But it wasn’t in Detroit.” He told us he doesn’t wear them anymore; he had Lasik surgery at the end of this past season.
Matt asked the standard favorite arena question. “Montreal for their fans,” Kronwall said. “Calgary, too. Vancouver has a nice atmosphere. …And Nashville! Because they have so many fans.”
“Yeah…we’re not a fan of those games because of some of the chants they do,” Mike said.
Kronwall chuckled. “I can see that.”
Mine was a little more personal, and a bit of an anecdote. “Okay, I have to tell you…” is how I started it all. “Our neighbors set up an ice rink in their backyard every winter. And when we shovel it, we push all the snow to one side and stack it up so we can check people into it.” I looked at Kronwall. “We named it after you.”
“Really?!” he asked.
“Yes. It’s the KronWall of Check,” I told him.
“That’s amazing!” he exclaimed, absolutely ecstatic.
In other interesting facts, Drew Miller talks with brother Ryan a couple times a week. You know, just in case you ever wondered.
We asked Ian White how he likes playing for Detroit, and he said he’s glad he came here. He said he’s not fond of the twenty minute drive down to Joe Louis Arena from where he’s currently living; he was used to a five minute drive back in San Jose.
By far, the most talkative, friendly players were Eaves, Kronwall, Zetterberg, and Holmstrom. Datsyuk was, too, in his broken English way.
To learn cool little facts about the players and have one-on-one, almost private conversations with them was a treat. If your respective NHL team has anything like this, I say do it. While you may be able to go every year, it still feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity. And it’s an evening you will never forget.
NHLHS Detroit Red Wings Correspondent