By now, you're well aware of the alleged incident in Vancouver over the weekend involving Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic and a patron at a Granville Street bar. If you're not, there's a video of an altercation that features language that is not safe for work, unless you work at a factory that produces items with swear words on them.
Lucic, a native of Vancouver, spoke about the incident Monday. He said he would not return to the city to do anything except play hockey.
"I have no reason left to defend my city and the people in my city and I'm kind of just disgusted and outraged that it had to come to something like that," he said.
Lucic said a man threw a drink on him in the night club and then punched him three times.
"I was part of an unprovoked attack on Saturday night where I was punched in the face," he said.
It's the type of interaction that clearly has given Lucic pause about socializing in his hometown, and understandably so. It's also not the first time he's had a problem in his home province, as his parents' church in Burnaby, B.C., was vandalized less than a year after the Bruins beat the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
With this week's Bag Skate, I wanted to discuss how this incident between player and fan is a rarity. I wanted to tell you how hockey players are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet and Lucic's situation shouldn't make you hesitant about approaching a player in a public setting and saying hi. It goes the other way, too—one allegedly drunken fan looking for a fight is just as uncommon and shouldn't make players think twice about shaking hands and posing for a picture.
This may come as a shock, but hockey players are human beings and if you treat them respectfully when offering a hello or requesting a photograph or autograph, they are almost always quite obliging. Hockey players are like any other group of people—there are some who may be jerks no matter what you do—but your odds are quite good of having a positive experience.
But I am a member of the media. My experiences with players are far different from that of a fan. I didn't want it to be perceived as me circling the wagons for players. My word here might not necessarily be enough for you.
Instead, I asked for people on Twitter to submit their stories about meeting NHL players in settings outside the rink or team functions like hospital visits or charity events, when players are more likely to have their guard down in a potentially private atmosphere.
The tales are mostly outstanding. I was e-mailed about 60 of them but had to boil them down for editorial purposes. Here are the best of the best:
When Zdeno Chara shows up for your birthday party
On my 11th birthday, the Sens were playing an afternoon game against Atlanta in Ottawa, and my parents took me to the game, and then out for a nice dinner afterwards.
If I'm recalling correctly, the game wasn't particularly close in the Sens' favour, but tensions were kind of high, and Zdeno Chara seemed to be at the centre of it all.
So, at the dinner table later, I see my sister's eyes widen when this behemoth walked in, but I didn't think anything of it, until she alerted me, jokingly, that it was Chara. I laughed her off, until I realized it was. He was still angry about whatever had irked him, and he was screaming at his friends in Slovakian still, so naturally, 11-year-old me didn't approach. (His meal portions were as proportionately massive as he is, by the way).
When the waiters at the restaurant did their Happy Birthday shtick for me, Chara noticed I was wearing a Sens jersey, and had obviously come from the game. He stopped yelling, came over to me, wished me happy birthday, autographed my jersey, spoke to me for like 3-5 minutes, took some photos, and then went back to his friends.
A gesture I'll never forget.
Shopping with Thomas Vanek
Nothing huge. I live outside of Buffalo. Our big shopping mall is a pretty big attraction for those that live near it.
One winter I actually passed Thomas Vanek and girlfriend/wife and stroller. I was stunned so I did a u-turn until I caught up with him. By then he was outside of Abercrombie and Fitch with stroller so the woman could pick up some stuff I presume. He was really down to earth, even after I felt I had kind of mugged him. I got a photo and talked a bit about his new baby boy.
Nothing extreme. Just real, down to earth guy. Good experience.
Rangers on the streets of New York
I met Henrik Lundqvist and Sean Avery outside of their restaurant in Manhattan (Tiny's in Tribeca). They are co-owners of the place. I didn't ask for a picture, just a handshake from each of them. Both were very, very friendly and did not dismiss me once they shook my hand.
Lundqvist was courteous enough to actually have a conversation with me. He could tell that I was clearly star-struck for a minute and instead of allowing there to be a moment of awkward silence and me just smiling at him, he went ahead and began asking my questions. He asked where I live in the city, what I do for a living, whether I go to games at the Garden... he appeared to be genuinely interested in speaking with a fan. He could not have been a nicer person.
So, the entire experience is something I will never forget, both as an avid Rangers fan and a regular person walking the streets of Manhattan.
Can you wait here while I get a pen?
I was a die hard L.A. Kings fan growing up.
It was the first round of the playoffs in 2002 and the Kings were playing Detroit. It was a weekend and between Games 2 and 3. I saw Ian Laperriere and Eric Belanger at the Santa Monica boardwalk eating ice cream. Belanger didn't have his teeth fixed at the time so it was hilarious to see him eat ice cream.
I was 14 at the time and super excited. I walked up to Lappy to ask for an autograph but didn't have a pen. He told me to go get a pen and he and Eric would stand there until i returned. I got a pen from a nearby store and got their autographs. They talked to me about hockey and gave me tips on my playing. All in all it was a great experience. I doubt most pro athletes would stop and wait till some kid found a pen.
Then again I was the only person to recognize them in a crowded day at the beach.
(This is my second-favorite story of the whole group.)
Buckets of fun thanks to Shawn Bates
Not a huge star by any means, but I ran into Shawn Bates at Dave & Busters in Westbury, N.Y., in late 2007. Went there with five of my college buddies to watch a Sunday night Eagles-Giants game.
The place was empty but we were seated right next to Bates and one of the prettiest girls I've ever seen. I didn't want to bother him while she was there but eventually she went to the bathroom so I said hello, told him I played hockey at Hofstra and that I was sitting behind the net when he beat CuJo on the penalty shot in 2002.
Then for the rest of the evening, every 20 minutes or so a new bucket of beers would appear on our table and our waitress kept saying they were from Shawn (she didn't know who he was, so you should have seen how confused she was when she kept saying "that guy just bought you guys ANOTHER bucket").
He ended up buying us three or four buckets and spent around $100 on beer for us. Great guy and a cool memory for all of us to have.
Met Brad Boyes in the late '90s at a bar in Toronto when he was with the Leafs. Struck up a conversation, and he was more than happy to partake.
A little wine and a little Mark Messier
I was in a wine cellar in a swanky New York restaurant, and this tall bald man walked in to gander at the fine bottles. I asked the guy showing me around and said, "Hey, is that Mark Messier"? The man showing me around then said, "Mr. Messier, you have a fan."
He was very nice and said hello. I then asked if I could have a picture. He obliged and then shook my hand. I was pretty giddy. So yeah, I met Mess in the basement of some restaurant with only about three other people being in the room, and he was a really nice guy.
A story involving Chris Higgins, Subway, Jay-Z and Kanye
I once met Chris Higgins after a Canucks event. We were walking up Robson St. in Vancouver and just as we were passing Subway, he came out of its doors, so we chatted with him for a few minutes. Seemed nice, but was in a bit of a rush so we said our goodbyes and he left.
I also met retired NHLer Stan Smyl at at bar once, right before a Jay-Z/Kanye show. Super cool guy. Asked him if he was going to the show and he was, so that made him infinitely cooler, like that cool uncle we all dream of having.
Anyway, those are a couple of my stories.
Drinks on Buff
I was at a bar in Fort Lauderdale one night, last year, when I ran into Dustin Byfuglien (and a few other Jets). He bought my friend and I quite a few drinks and shots. Super cool guy!
Book learning with Ron Francis
Last October I was fortunate enough to meet Ron Francis at the Cornell University Book Store. Being from North Carolina, I was wearing my Carolina Hurricanes hat while looking through the Cornell Hockey jerseys for the upcoming season. To my delight, I heard a voice from behind me asking if I was from Raleigh, which was very exciting for a freshman student who had not met a single person from the South in his three months at college.
I turned around to see that the person was none other than Ron Francis. He was genuinely excited to see a Hurricanes fan at Cornell and talked to me for about five to ten minutes. He was there visiting his daughter who was a Senior in the school of Human Ecology. It was nice talking to him about how when I was younger he was my favorite player and gave me a love for hockey that I continue to have to this day. He was pleased to see the growth of the sport in NC and how it was truly making an impact on people's lives. It was pretty cool having him be so genuine and willing to talk to me.
Jason Arnott has this round
I met Jason Arnott through a mutual friend at a beach bar in Ontario. He was a great guy. He was buying drinks for everyone at the table, but without making a big deal about it. He was in his hometown, so he was pretty humble.
I figured it was my round, so I went to the bar to get shooters for the table. Arnie got up, walked over and introduced me to a hot girl standing near me. While I was distracted, he paid for the shooters I ordered.
When I asked why, he said "Timmy, I appreciate it, but I just signed my deal. I got this tonight."
Throwing them back with Zach Parise
A couple of my buddies are friends with Zach Parise's wife. I was lucky enough to tag along on a trip out to Jersey to watch them play the Blackhawks. We chatted with him in the VIP lounge/Famly room (also met Martin Brodeur among others) after the game. They lost in a shootout so we were careful not to be a**holes. The Devils had to leave shortly after to head to Carolina to play the 'Canes the next night.
So we went out on the town the next night had a few too many. We went back to their place afterwards and Zach had just arrived home after beating Carolina. We had some beers with him while watching him score goals on NHL on the Fly. It was pretty surreal. My buddies were drunk and telling him how they went to 'State' in baseball back in high school! I bet he was impressed with their athletic abilities.
We openly asked all of those 'If I could have beers with him, I'd ask this...' questions. He was a good sport and answered most of them. Very humble and down to earth guy.
Funny side note: When he ordered a 12-pack of beer from room-service, they literally delivered it on a silver platter. He was embarrassed and gave them a hard time saying they could have left it in the box.
A special appearance from Pat Burns
When I was 12 years old, my hockey team was playing in a tournament in Buffalo.
It was a rare "sleep over" tournament so we all brought our required mini sticks to annoy hotel security guards with. We were in the lobby, shooting around a tape ball and the late, great Pat Burns just walks right up to us (Habs were in town taking on the Sabres).
We all took some pictures, and he made fun of a teammate of mine for wearing track pants that had the Leafs logo on them, telling him that "they suck."
Two rounds later, Burns was fired by the Habs and hired by Toronto!
Still have the pic.
A Disney vacation with Ryan Smyth
I once was vacationing in Disneyland with my wife and daughter and having dinner at Ariel's Grotto. As we were dining, a family walked in and I recognized the gentleman right away, Ryan Smyth (then of the Colorado Avalanche).
My wife and I had started an autograph book of Disney characters for my daughter and I thought it would be neat to get Ryan's autograph as well. I hate interrupting any 'celeb' during a meal (or during family time) but I only had this one chance because we had plans right after our meal.
So I walked over and knelt beside the table, apologized for intruding but asked if I could have his autograph. I didn't get any sports updates during the week prior (not a lot of hockey news in California, sigh) and didn't know the situation and asked if he was in town to play the Ducks. He responded that he had just broke his ankle and was taking time off with the family.
Anyway, he asked me where I was from (I think knowing I had to be from Canada because who else recognizes a hockey player in Disneyland??), I said Calgary and he smiled. We chatted for a few more seconds and I left him and his family alone after an appreciated thank you from myself. I have placed a hockey card of Ryan next to his autograph in her book.
A tame, nice story about meeting Patrick Kane in a bar
My story of meeting a player in real life happened at a bar, not shocking.
Up until last year I lived in Chicago and my last apartment was above a bar. Obviously I frequented there quite a lot and in the fall of 2012, in strolls Patrick Kane. This was during the early stages of the lockout so I noticed him when he walked in and asked him if him being back in Chicago was any sign of the lockout being over. (He was playing in Sweden at the time) He said no, he was back for a wedding and said he knew as little about the lockout as anyone else.
After he walked in, he met up with his buddy and the place was a buzz because Kane was there. The bar is a pretty crowded place normally on a Saturday but they don't normally attract celebs or anything so some people were freaking out. I am from Pittsburgh and a Penguins fan so I didn't really care about him so I walked up to him and his buddy and told him "I think you are pretty good but you suck compared to Crosby and Malkin."
He laughed out loud at my comment and took it pretty well and we ended up drinking for a while and just talked hockey. He told me about the Deadspin story blowing up and was worried about people taking photos of him ripping shots. He talked about Vancouver and the Olympics and all of the wild stuff that happens in Olympic village. We sat there and drank beers and talked hockey and watched football for a few hours.
All in all he was a pretty cool guy considering he is one of the more higher profile guys in hockey. Thus is the conclusion of my story.
Hey, is that Cory Stillman over there?
In 2006, I met Cory Stillman at a Raleigh sandwich shop. I was 12/13 or so and I was sitting at the table with my dad when I noticed him at the soda fountain. I pointed and said "Dad I think that's Cory Stillman." He looked and confirmed. Again I am right in my analysis.
My father went over to the fountain and said something along the lines of "Hey Cory if it's not too much trouble, my son would really like to meet you." Or something. Anyway he came over to our table and sat and talked with us for about ten minutes. He was incredibly nice. We asked him what he thought about the city and fans and he said he loved it here, and compared/contrasted with other cities he had played in (namely Tampa and Calgary). He talked about what he thought about the team that year when we asked.
He asked me who my favorite player was and where I went to school. He was just generally a great guy and was really down to earth and easy to talk to. He was one of my favorites from that point on.
Hitting the links with NHL players
I work at Cabot Links Golf Course in Inverness, N.S., Canada. Cabot Links is one of the best courses in North America so we get a lot of high rollers and high profile athletes, especially hockey players. To date I've had the opportunity to meet a few current NHLers (Scott Hartnell, Kevin Kline, Shawn Horcoff, Dan Cleary, James Sheppard).
The great thing about meeting these guys on a golf course is they're always in a good mood. Hartnell was by far the friendliest and most accommodating of all though. He spent about 5-10 minutes chatting with me about the local area and about #hartnelldown, and he even took the time to ask how long I had worked there, how I enjoyed it and how they treat their employees.
Sheppard was also a great guy. He was there with some pals who were currently playing semi-pro in Europe and in the AHL and two of them had actually played junior hockey with a close friend of mine so we ended up having a few beers in the clubhouse after their round and they shared some classic stories.
Dan Cleary was the only guy that wasn't a gem but I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that Horcoff had just beaten him on 18 when Cleary missed a 5-foot putt. He was so pissed he refused to pay the 25 cents on his bill of $500.25 because he claimed the $500 was already too much as is.
This led to a loud disagreement with our Pro Shop attendant and in the end he didn't pay the 25 cents.
(This is my favorite story of the whole bunch. It's a wonderful closer.)
Dumb & Dumber with Shane Doan
My story takes place in Halifax. It was the summer and I was working as a tour guide/historical interpreter at an old British fort right downtown called the Halifax Citadel. One of my duties included standing sentry, which more or less means you dress up like those Buckingham Palace guards with the big fury hats and red coats and stand absolutely silent and still for an hour so tourists can take pictures with you.
Well, not everyone just wants to take pictures. Elderly ladies would like to know what's under your kilt, some people who aren't the brightest of bulbs want to purchase their tour ticket off you and other people want to prove to their friends how funny they are by making the guard laugh.
I was standing sentry on a average hot, humid Halifax afternoon, passing the time by literally watching grass grow. Towards the end of my stand, I hear two people walking up behind me and then stop. I could tell there was more than one person, so when they didn't talk after a few seconds or make any sound I started to wonder what was going on.
Then, in one ear, I hear someone say "Mock" and then in the other ear "Yaaaa!" then back to the first ear "ing" then back again "Yaaa!" They continued and ended up finishing the song, which is of course the one from Dumb and Dumber that Harry and Lloyd sing after they pick up the guy who's after them.
So as I'm brooding over just another group of idiot tourists trying to mess with me, they step in front of me with huge smiles on their faces and look at me to see if they got me to laugh or give any reaction. Lo and behold, it was Shane Doan. Now, I'm not 100 percent sure it was him, but when your gut reaction is "Holy s**t! That's Shane Doan!" and the World Championships (2008) were taking place in Halifax at the same time, it's pretty likely that it was Shane Doan.
I've always wanted to ask him or find out if it was him, because after hearing an infinite amount of stupid jokes and lame attempts to make me laugh while standing sentry, that was probably the most creative. If there's any way for you to find out, I'd love to know.
(This would usually begin the mailbag portion of the Bag Skate, but you've done enough reading for today. If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week. Anything asked last week will be addressed next week. Promise.)
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.