Interview with Hal Gill of The Nashville Predators

By Jeff Copetas, VP of Marketing & E-Commerce

Joining us the second time for an interview on our blog is the Nashville Predators defensamen Hal Gill, now an NHL veteran of five teams and 10+ years in the league. We talk with Hal about playing in Nashville vs. the more pressure packed cities he’s played in, what he might do after his hockey career is over and what series/games he’d like to have back. This interview was conducted on Saturday, one day before the lockout ended. Here we go…..

This will be the only lockout question: It’s safe to say the lockout sucks on many levels, but let’s try to spin it positive. Besides the obvious answer of getting to spend the extra valuable time with your kids and family, what other positives have you been able to wrestle out of this lockout? 

I guess I get some rest. Maybe I can add another season to my career. Really not much good comes from any of this CBA foolishness.

You’ve now run the gamut of pressure cookers, or lack thereof. Not belittling Nashville in any way, but playing in Boston, Toronto and Montreal – and then playing in Nashville – that has got to be completely different experience. Does the scrutiny or attention you get as a player in Montreal, for example, help your game and do you wonder and/or worry about how you may respond to just PLAYING without all the other stuff buzzing around?
When you are in a big market, there is a lot of noise so you can easily ignore it.  In a smaller market it is quiet a lot, so when there is an event, then things get loud real quick.  In the end, it’s all the same when you get out on the ice.
In our last interview, we asked about your most memorable goal and your response was that you couldn’t really think of one and that most of your good memories are of blocked shots. So now you know the next question – is there really one particular blocked shot you can cite? Or is it just the general collective pride of doing so? 
The best feeling is making a difference in a win. If I have a nice bruise from a blocked shot that won a game, then that’s like a goal for me.  I guess it’s a badge of honor.
There are endless websites and discussion forums chock full of youth and high school players who are OBSESSED about the technical features and the ins-and-outs of hockey equipment. Equipment doesn’t make the player, I think that’s obvious.  With that said, who would you say is a teammate you’ve had who was the most “into” their gear?
I played with Michael Cammalleri. He is very in tune with his gear – especially his skates and sticks.  I am comfortable with most gear.  Consistency is my biggest worry. I want each stick to be the same.
You are now 37. Congratulations! You’ve played a lot of games in the NHL – can you put into words somehow what it feels like as a 37 year old compared to, say, a 25 year old? Does the 37 year old Gill still feel the WOW factor when you step onto the ice in front of 15,000+, for example? Or is it something different now?
I still get the butterflies (man i miss those), but now my full attention is on winning.  When I was 25, there were more thoughts on ice time, contract and things of that nature.  I wish I knew then that it ALL comes together when you win.
You played through the playoffs this past season with a fractured tibia that had to be “frozen” before each game. Can you explain that process? Are you simply dipping that thing into a tub of ice for a while? Or is it more medical than that? That seems insane. Admirably insane, that is. 

Thank you but I think when you get “needled” to go out and play, it’s something that most players have done just the same, so it isn’t that big of a deal. What is a big deal is the way you play. When you can elevate your game while injured, then that is remarkable.

As a New Englander, you grew up a Bruins fan. Are you still? The vibe we get from a lot of NHL players we talk to is that as the years go by, you find yourself becoming a fan of the team for which your closest friends play for as opposed to a particular team. 
Not really. I still havent gotten over my Hab days where they (Boston) beat us in 7. I’d give anything to get that one back.
Finally, do you think about post-career stuff yet? Do you want to stay in hockey somehow? Twitter for a few years and relax? Start a brewery? 

Haha, that all sounds good! I would love to get involved in coaching on some level and I will always support breweries – maybe not start one though!
Big thanks to Hal Gill for the time – and we are glad we were able to catch him before camp started.


Interview with Todd Skirving of the USHL Sioux Falls Stampede

We are on the cusp of another hockey season for pretty much all players now. Except the NHL, of course. While the NHL and NHLPA are entangled in their complicated web of dollars, all other professional organizations are ramping it up and getting ready to press the GO TIME button. So we thought it made sense to check in once again with Todd Skirving, forward for Sioux Falls of the USHL. In our last interview with Todd, he walked us through his typical offseason, among a few other things. This time around we’re talking about getting prepared for another season and some memorable games from past seasons.

A few of you have asked how we found Todd. Simple answer. We don’t have any endorsement deals or any kind of contract with Todd. Our Marketing team simply found him on Twitter and sent him a DM! He was a willing participant and is clearly a well-spoken, intelligent kid. Here we go…..

Growing up, who was your favorite hockey player?
Growing up as a kid I would have to say my favorite hockey player would be our home town hero Patrick Sharp. During my childhood I’ve had the pleasure to watch “Sharpy” grow not only as a person but as a player when he suited up for the Thunder Bay Flyers of the USHL. I had the opportunity to get my picture taken with Patrick when I was 8 years old and that picture still hangs up on my wall with his autograph to this day. Ever since then he has become my role model and a hockey player I look up to. I am fortunate enough to train and skate with him during the off season every summer. Patrick is always quick to offer me advice both on and off the ice and pushes me to be my best. He carries himself very well and is always giving back to the community. He constantly makes time for others even through the busy schedule that every NHL player experiences. He is a true hockey leader who plays with passion and determination and I can’t think of another player I would want to pattern myself after.

Who was the biggest inspiration for you throughout your hockey career?
My biggest inspiration for me throughout my hockey career and to this day has been my parents. My Mom and Dad have been there for me since day one and have been by my side day after day through thick and thin. They aren’t just my parents but they are my biggest supporters and motivators. They both have worked hard for me to strive to be my best whether it be as a hockey player or as a productive member in life. They’ve had their fair share of early mornings taking me to practice during my Midget AAA days where I played for the Thunder Bay Kings. All the miles driven and missed days of work really helped me to be where I am today. They have sacrificed many things for me and basically put me ahead of themselves. To this day I can’t thank them enough for everything they have done for me. I am truly grateful to have the parents that I have. They care so much about my well-being and have put my dreams ahead of their own. I love them both very much and want them to know that I cherish all the little things and commitments they have made to me throughout my young life thus far.

Now that we’re getting close to a new season, what changes for you in terms of physical preparation – and mental?
Now that we’re into our main training camp the physical and mental preparation is different. You want to train and practice at a high intensity and simulate game speed as much as possible. You want to get out of summer mode and get back after it. It’s a time to get yourself back into actual game speed. In the USHL teams are fortunate enough to have preseason games and also take part in the fall classic. Since I’ve trained all summer it makes it a great tool to see where I’ve brought my game to from the previous season. It’s very important to utilize these efforts and mentally prepare myself for game days. In the summer I would physically and mentally prepare myself for workouts. Now that the season is close to getting underway, it’s time to dial in on we’ve worked on in practices to prepare yourself for weekend games.

If someone was to offer you a vacation to any place in the whole world, where you want to go? … And why?
If someone was to offer me a vacation to any place in the whole world I would want to take a visit to the beautiful country of Italy. Many reasons for this include the fact that my Moms side of the family mostly all lives in Europe. It would be great to experience their lifestyle and enjoy the different culture aspects of the Italians. I think it would be a treat to try out the different types of food of their culture compared to what we eat here in Canada. I’m fortunate enough to have my Nonna (grandma) make me some of her special Italian recipes which include spaghetti, cabbage rolls and lasagna. Most grandmas are amazing cooks, but with her I get to experience the great meals passed on to her from her family. I have an amazing Nonna who takes good care of my family and I at all times. She has always been there for me with both moral and financial support since I chose hockey as my preferred sport.

Most hockey players are aware that the locker room can be a place for fun and games some of the time. Have you witnessed any good pranks in the locker room during your career?
I have witnessed some good pranks in the locker room during my career and have been one of those guys that pull them. Most pranks are just for the excitement of all of the guys and some may be because of revenge due to previous pranks. Whether it’s one or the other it’s always in good fun and the guys always get a laugh from it. One good prank is semi cutting the guys’ lace so when he goes to tie his skates up before practice the lace breaks forcing him to re-lace his skate. Another classic prank is the water in the shinpads. In most locker rooms, players put there shinpads on top of their stall. Since it is so high up the player can’t see the full cup of water sitting in his shinpad and when he pulls it down the water dumps all over him. Recently a player on my team figured a way to put that cup of water inside the skate while it hangs upside down in our stall. That probably has to be one of the worst ones yet as you go on the ice with a skate soaked in water. You go to put your skate on and the water cup tips all inside your skate. As most people know, the equipment managers have free time periodically on their hands so you never want to mess with them or get on their bad side. We once showed up to the rink during the first few winter cold days to all the players equipment sitting in a cart soaked and somewhat frozen. It had been put in the shower and left out in the cold to freeze. You never want to mess the equipment guy as they will always get the last laugh! All in fun and definitely keeps everybody loose.

What was the most memorable game that you have ever played in?
Everyone has probably had some personal highlight nights and I’m sure most people can’t say those would ever be more memorable than a championship. I did however win a city championship back in my 15 year old season with the Current River Comets, but I feel that winning the Kelowna International Major Midget Tournament in British Columbia and being crowned champions was probably one of my most memorable weeks during my 16 year old season. I played for the Thunder Bay Major Midget Kings program back in Thunder Bay, Ontario my 16 and 17 year old seasons. It was a weeklong tournament and definitely a grind. A lot had transpired throughout the week from flight delays forcing us to be late, almost landing on top of another plane, being frozen shut inside the shuttle bus, sleeping in airports, having a full out team brawl, and even missing a few more days of school than expected right before final exams for our first semester. It was a week where we had to come together as a unit in a very short period of time. You have to learn from your mistakes quickly and overcome the adversity. We lost our first game and then our second game in a shootout which led to a post-game handshake brawl against another Ontario team at the time No. 2 Hamilton Red Wings who we were battling with for No. 1 in the province. That point turned out to be huge. We played the next game short due to suspensions and we won the rest of our round robin games. Every team that needed to either lose or win did and we found ourselves in the semis finals against No. 3 in America Colorado ThunderBirds. We went onto win that game 3 to 1 and of course met the Ontario rival Hamilton Red Wings. We went on to beating them 4 to 1 in probably one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of. It wasn’t so much a personal night, but more of a team night. It was something special with a great group of guys which brought us together down the stretch into our playoffs back home. It is something we still all talk about to this day and will down in the future. It’s a great memory to look back on knowing how much went into winning a championship and all the grittiness that went into winning. The team will always have a special spot in my heart. I will never forget that group of players and coaches for as long as I live.

Interview with Bobby Allen Formerly of The Boston Bruins

Many hockey players and fans who live in New England remember the name Bobby Allen. A local kid (Hull, MA), Allen is among a long line of locals over the years who had the privledge of playing for Jerry York at Boston College, where he won a National Championship in 2001. For a lot of the Division I college players, that’s the crown jewel in their hockey careers. Making it to the NHL is a hard road to hoe. Some do end up with solid careers in competitive and excellent leagues like the AHL, ECHL or over in Europe. A select few, like Bobby Allen, get drafted into the NHL. A subset of those drafted guys get to actually fulfill their dream and play NHL games. Bobby is one of them. While his career was cut short by injury, Bobby tasted the life of an NHL player with the Edmonton Oilers and played his last NHL games in the 2007-08 season as a member of the team he grew up rooting for, the Boston Bruins.

We caught up with Bobby recently and had this chat below. Bobby is now a regular in our stores because his little boy is just starting his career, so we talked about that, dealing with early retirement and the excitement around playing for the local, iconic organizations. Here we go….

During your career, you played for two iconic organizations in New England – Boston College and then in the NHL with the Bruins. Since you are born and raised in Massachusetts, obviously there’s some fond memories there, but is it possible to even put into words how you felt before your first game with each of those teams? Must have been so wild!

We are fortunate to live in a place where great hockey is so prevalent. Like any other kid growing up, I idolized the Bruins, and in this town it seems like you grow up rooting for either BC or BU. I always cheered for maroon and gold. My first games for both teams were very special. It was always a dream to play college hockey – to represent such a historic program like BC was a privilege. My first game with the B’s was just as special. You can’t put into words putting on the Bruins jersey, it was really almost surreal. Being able to play for that organization was one of the greatest thrills of my life.

2.  What do you remember most clearly about your very first NHL game as a member of the Edmonton Oilers?
My first game with the Oilers was a day I’ll never forget. I remember the dressing room in Dallas, taking warm ups, the preparation and my first shift. I was probably gripping the stick a little tighter that day! Even though I didn’t play that much, I’ll always remember that day fondly, as it was the culmination of many years of hard work

3.  After you stopped playing, what kind of adjustment was it for you mentally and/or physically? You always hear about players who do – and don’t –  adjust well to post-career life. How was it for you?

When I had to stop playing because of the lingering back issues that affected me my last year with the Bruins, it was devastating. I still miss playing. That was a very hard thing to wrap my head around. I had been a hockey player my entire life then all of a sudden it was over. So it definitely took me some time to adjust. I was fortunate that my parents always stressed the importance of an education, and that helped me in my transition to the business world. I have been trying to utilize some of the core values that I learned while playing in being successful in my new line of work. It’s an ongoing process but I have welcomed this new chapter in my life.

4. As a gear shop, we have to ask a gear question or two – how picky were you about your gear? Was there one thing specifically that you were really into?
For my hockey gear, I wasn’t really too picky. I did love trying new things. When a rep came by, you can guarantee that I was over there trying something on or using a sample. The one thing I was crazy about was my stick. My curve and more importantly, my lie, had to be perfect or I could notice it. So my sticks were the things I was always tinkering with.

5. Do you still play today? If so, are you still using your old gear from your playing days or do you keep updated?
With my back being what it is, I don’t get to play as often as I’d like. I get out there every now and then and have a blast when I do. I am involved in coaching both youth and high school hockey, so I am on the ice all the time, just not always in full gear. I have the same stuff that I had when I stopped playing, and I don’t see any updates in the future. Though I may need a new pair of skates, don’t tell my wife….

6. What was the last thing you laughed really hard at?
The last thing I laughed really hard at was anything that my two kids (Quinn and Caroline) do. They are all the comedy that I need in my life.

7. What is your favorite hockey memory or most memorable goal?
My favorite hockey memory was a toss up between winning the National Championship at BC and my first home game with the Bruins against Buffalo. I’ll never forget my family waiting for me in the tunnel after the game at the Garden and the looks on my parents faces. That was about the greatest thrill you could have!

8. You mentioned that you have your own child skating now. Talk about how that feels for you!

My son Quinn (4) is starting to play this year. I am so excited that he enjoys it so much. Needless to say, hockey is and has been a huge part of my life, and I look forward to many years of sharing the joy and passion I have for the sport with him. Hopefully he’s a better player than his dad!

We’re pretty sure Quinn is already off to a good start with those bloodlines! Many thanks to Bobby Allen for taking the time to chat with us! Stick around for more interviews, gear reviews and other fun stuff.

 


Interview with Michael Vartan of Alias on ABC

By Jeff Copetas, VP of Marketing & E-Commerce

Last week we had a quick chat with the Pittsburgh Penguins Pascal Dupuis. The week before it was the first in our recurring series of chats with USHL player Todd Skirving. Today we’re throwing a little bit of a curveball at you.


Michael Vartan is a bigtime Hollywood actor. If you are a male anywhere between the ages of, say, 20-50 years old, you probably watched the show “Alias” because Jennifer Garner used to jump around and look ridiculously sexy while doing so. I will readily admit having a huge crush on her back then. Well, Michael Vartan was the lead actor on Alias, playing Michael Vaughn, Garner’s partner and romantic love interest in the mysterious Government entity of ass-kickers. Since Alias, Vaughn hasn’t rested on his laurels – he’s been on several series, including Big Shots and more recently, playing a doctor on TNT’s “Hawthorne.” Vartan was also in the GREAT movie Columbiana (if you haven’t seen it, SEE IT!).

Vartan is a HUGE hockey fan and a hockey player as well, so we thought it would be interesting to hear from him about his playing background, his love for the game and how an unlikely French-born Hollywood actor found the game of hockey. He promised me that his L.A. Kings would take good care of the Cup before it comes back to Boston next year. I do appreciate that very much. Here he is drinking from the Cup in LA a few weeks ago!

And we’re off…..

1. You have an interesting background in terms of where you grew up – fairly non-traditional hockey markets. How did you get interested in hockey? 
I grew up in Normandy, France – not exactly a hockey hot-bed, but i lived about 30 miles from the team (Rouen Dragons) that won the French league 4 years in a row in the ’90s, so there was a little interest there and when i moved to the U.S., I became obsessed with the sport. I went to my first Kings game when i was 6, they lost to the NorthStars 5-4 in OT – and that was it….hooked for life!

 

2. A lot of hockey fans – and particularly players – only pray at the church of hockey. I’m sure you’re a FAN of other sports, but do you play any other sports?

 

I was scouted by a Paris’s professional soccer team (PSG) when I was 14, I play a lot of tennis and golf, too. Pretty much anything with a ball, puck or net and i’m in.

 

3. Here’s a strange question – do you ever apply anything you’ve learned as a hockey player to your job of acting?
One of the greatest things about our sport is the players attitudes. These kids mostly come from small towns, humble families and take the word ‘team” to levels far beyond any other sport does. I suppose I try and bring a “team” attitude when I work, understanding we all have a job to do, and no one is more or less important than anyone else.

 

4. What was the last thing you laughed really hard at?
When Mike Richards blew up Burrows in the first round… not gonna lie, gave me a little chub.

 

5. Given we’re a gear shop, it’s time for a couple of gear questions. What do you currently use for stick, gloves and helmet?
Easton Stealth RS 100 flex (Doughty pro stock), Easton EQ Pro Gloves, Bauer helmet, don’t remember the model… it’s old.

 

6. What piece of hockey gear are you most picky about? Or do you just play the game without getting too involved with the specifics of gear?
Stick and skates for sure! I switched from a P91 curve to the curve used by Doughty, I have hands of stone so I need all the help i can get! I like a really flat radius, mine is 13 and I usually get 1/2″ hollow or 5/8″ in the summer if the ice is softer. I tried the flat bottom V, didn’t really feel a difference so just went back to normal.

 

7. Given you are a public figure, has anyone ever chirped you on the ice about “taking falls” or anything acting related?
Not that I can remember, i’m not really good enough a player or actor for anyone to care!

 

8. Were you aware of the movie “Goon” or did you try to get involved? 
I saw a preview for “Goon” and immediately wondered why I wasn’t up for one of the parts, turns out I was unavailable because I was shooting “Hawthorne” for TNT so I didn’t get a crack at it…next time.

 

9. What’s your favorite hockey movie?  
I have two. “Slapshot” of course, for the story and characters, it’s a classic! And Miracle, probably the most realistic portrayal of sport i’ve ever seen. Not sure if it’s true or not, but I read that they cast hockey players that could act, as opposed to actors who could play hockey. You apparantly had to have college-level skills to even be considered for the movie. The hockey scenes in that movie are the best, those kids could all really play.