You know, it's funny sometimes how things can work out. After our previous success with getting photos with some of our hockey heroes on Friday, A.J. and I came up with a plan to see if we could find more people from our target group to get photos with and maybe even an autograph or two. At the very top of A.J.'s wish list was Brendan Shanahan. If anyone knows A.J. for any length of time you soon find out that A.J. is a HUGE (I mean HUUUGE) Shanny fan. He wears #14 every season of hockey, he collects Shanny cards and memorabilia. He even owns a Shanahan Rangers jersey. A very close second for A.J. is Steve Yzerman. The Captain is the very definition of leadership and humility. He is the standard by which all captains in the NHL are judged. After that, it was all about getting the opportunity to see and get photographed with as many of our heroes and hockey people that we liked or admired.
On Saturday morning, the 2nd round of the draft was scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. A.J. and I decided that we would leave our house at 8:00 in order to perhaps catch a few players and management on their way to the Staples Center. We arrived at Staples and parked by 8:55 a.m. We gathered our gear and headed towards the Ritz-Carlton. I had my trusty Canon 50D and A.J. had his backpack full of jerseys and player photos.
We went over to the Ritz-Carlton and did not see much activity. We thought we should take a stroll down towards Pico (our "T"-route we employed on Friday) and had no luck there, either. We then proceeded to go back towards Staples and check out the bus entrance. When we arrived at the bus entrance, we walked up on a small group of people talking and noticed that one of the guys was Red wings assistant coach, Brad McCrimmon. Brad has very distinctive hair, so he can't hide if he wanted to. We asked for a photo and he kindly obliged. Day 3 was off to a good start.
There were a lot more recognizable players and management, but they were lining up to go inside for the draft. We decided we should try to get a good seat so we went inside to check it out. We had lower bowl seats for the final day, but still not close enough to get a good look at each team's draft table. Our seats were right above a tunnel entrance to the draft floor, so we were able to see an occasional media member pass by, but no actual NHL types. Our hopes were that we would see Brendan Shanahan (we hadn't seen him the day before) and maybe find a way to get an autograph or two. While we were settling in and getting ready for the draft to get going, a tall, dark-haired man came out of the tunnel right below us and stood gazing out at the draft floor. I leaned forward in my seat and said, "Ooh!" (yes, brilliant words often come flowing from my mouth) and pointed him out to A.J. It was the man himself. Mimico, Ontario's own Brendan Frederic Shanahan! Literally 20 feet from us! A.J. started to reach into his backpack for his Red Wings Shanahan jersey and just like that, he went back into the tunnel and disappeared! Oh no! Gone! A.J. did his best to not look disappointed, but I was really bummed. How often do you get such an opportunity on the West Coast? How about never? Man.
So, we settled in to listen to the draft and it started to move along pretty quickly. A.J. had heard that Kings captain Dustin Brown was signing autographs, so he went up to seek his swag. After a while he returned with autographed photo in hand and since it was getting near lunch time, I went up and overpaid for pizza and soft drinks and we dined. Meanwhile, A.J. had been looking through my zoom lens and saw that Shanny was hanging around the opposite side of the arena near a tunnel just to the left of the stage. He suggested we move over to that side to see if we could get closer and perhaps get an autograph opportunity. When we got over there, the entire front row was wide open, so we eased into two great seats. Standing maybe 10 feet away was Shanny. Wow. Right in front of us. His back was to us and he was talking with a few media types. When he finished his conversation, he headed back towards the tunnel. This was A.J.'s big opportunity and I was afraid he was going to blow it. I was about to get his attention, when from my right comes this booming voice, "Hey Brendan, would you sign my jersey?" Shanny looks up, makes eye contact with the questioner and says, Sure". A.J. then tossed down his jersey and a Sharpie, and just like that, the biggest autograph of A.J.'s life was secured.
After that, I snapped maybe 25 more shots of Players and NHL celebrities. The big autograph secured, everything else would be gravy. We still held out hope for an Yzerman auto, but he was on the other side of the arena with no signs that he would end up on our side. The draft ended a couple hours later and the teams all started to pack up and head out. There were a few young guys in suits still sitting in the audience after the draft had ended. I felt really bad for a few of these kids. Imagine getting all dressed up for perhaps the biggest day of your life and nobody picks you. The disappointment was evident on the player sitting nearest to us. I guess Shanny noticed him, too, so he came up into the crowd to talk to him for a minute or two. I thought that was pretty cool and the kid seemed to feel better when Shanny finished talking to him. A.J. and I were watching this unfold and I told A.J. to go over there and ask him if yo can take a photo with him (remember, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity). We were sort of "out of bounds" by this time, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Shanny sees us coming and he hesitated. A.J. walked up and asked for the photo. He said yes and I snapped away. Not my best shot, but it was definitely a keeper!
Everyone looked tired and like they just wanted to go home. A.J. fit nicely into this group. We hung around a little bit to see if we could get Bruce Boudreau to sign A.J.'s copy of "Gabby". Alas, it was not to be as we were ushered out of the stands by Staples personnel. We started to leave the arena and I suggested that we go wait near the buses to see if we can get some last minute photos and autographs. It was sunny and hot and we were tired but remember, this is a chance of a lifetime, so we decided to hang out for a few minutes. We walked out and ended up near a bunch of Montreal Canadiens Execs. They were in the process of dressing up a little Canadien's fan in a draft day '10 jersey and hat. This little boy was so excited and babbling on in French, now sporting a jersey that hung to his knees. The Canadiens guys were hanging around the bus waiting to leave. I noticed head coach Jacques Martin standing among them, so we did our usual, "can we get a photo" routine. Of course, being a hockey guy, he said yes. Not our top choice, but a good guy, nevertheless.
The Canadiens execs discovered a box of draft hats and dove in. They were all laughing it up and trying on the hats like little kids. Just then someone came over and said something to them in French and they all went off to a different bus. As they walked away, A.J. walked over to the front of the bus and made a startling discovery: The bus had a Red Wings logo right in the window! This is no coincidence, my friends. Providence has led us to the ultimate opportunity for two die-hard Red Wings fans. It was clear that this was the bus that was to take the Red Wings entourage back to their hotel. It was what we were waiting for. We stood there not believing our luck and waited...and waited. About ten minutes later, three guys came up to the bus and boarded. It was not any of our wish list, so we let them pass. About 5 minutes later, here came a bunch of guys in suits. Could it be? It was. The Red Wings brass was headed our way in a group. First one in our direction was the architect of 4 Red Wings Stanley Cup Championships, Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland.
Next in the group was Senior Vice President and 2010 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Jim Devellano.
Finally, completing our coup, Red Wings Assistant G.M. Jim Nill.
Not one other autograph hound had seen them! After posing for pictures, they all boarded the bus, unseen by the others. It was incredible. We had waited for two days for this chance and our patience paid off. I was so happy for A.J. (and for me). I remember thinking to myself, "That was so cool, I can't imagine it getting any better!"
I was wrong.
A.J. and I decided to call it a day and head home. We couldn't believe our good fortune. The Red Wings brass walked right by us, and we got pictures, besides!
As we walked back towards the Staples Center, A.J. noticed a man walking with a young woman. He said, "Dad, is that Steve Yzerman?" I said, "I don't know, it could be." Sure enough, it was Stevie Y walking with his daughter, Isabella. Again, nobody notices him and we have him all to ourselves. We got a quick photo and A.J. wasted no time whipping out his Yzerman jersey for an autograph.
He was quiet and humble. He answered question in one word sentences and smiled when A.J. talked to him. Here is a guy who was just named GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, had just finished an exhausting two day draft and he took the time to make a couple fans happy. Ironically, he headed towards the Red Wings bus, but got a good look at the gaggle of autograph seekers standing just past it and thought better of it. He headed back our way with his daughter in tow and crossed the street towards the Ritz-Carlton hotel. As he crossed the street and we watched him go, a woman wearing a Red Wings sweater with about 50 signatures on it, started running after him. He made the corner with the woman in hot pursuit. She caught him and, being the gracious man he is, he signed her items for her.
On the way back to the car, A.J. and I agreed that this weekend was everything we hoped it would be and more.
We saw some of the future stars of the NHL.
We met a broadcasting icon.
We met some Hall of Famers.
We met the Red Wings brain trust.
We met NHL Head Coaches.
We met A.J.'s favorite athlete, bar none.
We met the man who epitomizes the Red Wings and is the standard of what a Captain should be in the NHL.
Thank you Los Angeles Kings for hosting this weekend. Thank you NHL for bringing this important event to the fans in California.
Not too bad for the price of a FREE admission ticket.