After a weekend of shaking hands, nodding and smiling politely, I'm going to take a moment to reflect on what it's like to be on the other side of the velvet rope. No, really. There were velvet ropes! My first time in an actual, real, live press box was more of the fly-on-the-wall variety as opposed to the action at a place like Strokers. That was a billboard advertisement picturing a whole bunch of girls somewhere along I-85 near Atlanta and is quite possibly the biggest sexual innuendo in the history of mankind. The experience was interesting and something I'm glad happened sooner rather than later. It also makes me want to think twice every time I write something bashing someone in the media. It's probably the quickest way to make enemies in there. So I didn't shake took many hands but I did rub a bunch of shoulders, and here's a little free word association of the people that I saw in the ATL.
- David Amber, ESPN - Big enough to kick my ass.
- Barry Melrose - Didn't see him, sadly. Might not of even been there.
- Alyssa Milano - Gorgeous.
- Rick DiPietro and Joe Micheletti - Should go on the road as a comedy tour. Two of the funniest, most enjoyable and outgoing people there. And I swear I'm not saying that because of their ties to the Islanders.
- Doc Emrick - Class act.
- Scott Niedermayer - Definition of professional.
- Dion Phanuef - Already mentioned this, but seemed nervous about talking to me. I would be too.
- Gary Bettman - Sadly not seen standing next to Snoop Dogg. That would have made my year.
- Willie O'Ree - Is there anyone that doesn't know him? Wins the award for best dresser.
- Scott Burnside, ESPN - Has red hair. That's about all I figured out.
- Alex Ovechkin - Funny guy.
- Usher - Sunglasses indoors. Puh-lease.
- Harvey the Hound - Favorite mascot.
Going back to the topic of how relevant/necessary the ASG actually is, I think it's safe to say that the press certainly believes in it. That was evident by the sheer number of media members in attendance. The Phil is a new arena and has an absolutely gigantic press box. It spans two entire levels above the suites in the arena and still, we were put in an auxiliary box elsewhere in the arena because there were so many other pressers in attendance. At about the 120th spot on the totem pole, there was no room to accommodate us in the actual press box. While most of the media in attendance was Canadian, I think this certainly speaks volumes about how important the press feels the event is.
Speaking of press row, I don't have any great stories to weave for you a la a certain AJ Daulerio. My plan from the start was to keep out of trouble and enjoy the free pretzels (they're not only for the blog boxers!). I do have to say that at least from where I was sitting it was more of a holiday than a day at the office for most of my compadres, something I probably should have expected. A quick glance down the row saw crossword puzzles and score sheets decorated with epic drawings. To be fair, most of the people here weren't hockey people, so I can't imagine they were too into the game anyway. But the one moment that stuck in my mind were some people who managed to pick up a pair of puck bunnies that were clearly out of their age bracket. As I learned this weekend, flashing a badge can do a lot of different things for you.
All in all everyone was unbelievably nice and always willing to lend a helping hand. It didn't matter if I was talking to the media, players, NHL staff or Phillips Arena staff, everyone was a pleasure to be around. Maybe that had to do with the badge, but either way it was great. And I have to give some extra props to the arena staff. When wandering around the maze that is The Phil, they always knew where I should be going. The directions might be lengthy, but they were spot on and all smiles. Now if only I could slap the person who designed the layout of the arena. It's a B-E-A-UTIFUL facility, but the layout leaves a lot to be desired. Like a staircase next to the elevators that doesn't stop after one floor. That would help.