From the moment he found out he'd be facing John Tavares in a competition at the NHL Store Powered by Reebok, Michael Grabner knew he would be victorious.
The Calder Trophy finalist squeaked past his New York Islanders teammate Thursday afternoon in a skills competition that saw the pair attempt to sell T-shirts to consumers, as well as folding shirts and pressing their names and numbers on Isles' sweaters.
One thing Tavares learned after the competition, though -- Grabner had previous experience.
"It was a little rigged, but my first job was working in a hockey store … I was 14," the speedy Austrian winger said afterwards. "I was used to talking to customers and printing shirts and stuff like that. I'm one-up on Johnny to start the year. It's 1-0 and that's all that matters right now."
Not surprisingly, Tavares first earned his paycheck on the ice. He wasn't pleased in dropping the competition to Grabner, but he was humble in defeat.
"My first job was working for a goalie school," Tavares said. "It was definitely a lot easier than this. I think it was a little bit rigged, but I'll let Mike take this one."
When Doug Weight retired in May, it left the New York Islanders without a captain.
That vacancy is expected to be filled, with the most likely candidates being Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo. But if John Tavares joins that mix, that's just fine the third-year pro who turns 21 this month.
"I'd love to be (captain)," Tavares told NHL.com Thursday morning. "I definitely understand maybe I am still too young and just need to worry about the game, but if it was presented to me, it definitely would be something I would talk about and make sure it's the right decision for the group and for myself as well. I'd love to be a leader of this team.
"Mark Streit and Kyle are great guys and are going to be highly recommended, for sure. But I still feel I'll be a big leader no matter what, and I'll still have a lot of responsibility in a lot of ways. Whatever way it goes, it's going to be a guy that definitely deserves it and will do a great job at it. If I get the opportunity, it would be a huge honor."
When it comes to skating, just call Michael Grabner "The Natural."
The New York Islanders forward won the Fastest Skater competition during the skills competition at All-Star Weekend in January and went on to lead all rookies with 34 goals, becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
He said Thursday that his skating skills just came naturally.
"I've never trained for it," he said. "I did a lot of sprints -- track and field -- when I was in school. I always practiced with older guys when I was in school when I was younger, and I tried to keep up with them. I wanted to be the fastest. That probably helped me.
"But I didn't do any specific training or have any skating coaches or anything. I guess I got lucky."
Grabner is one of just three Austrian-born players in the NHL (Thomas Vanek and Andreas Nodl are the others). Hockey isn't the big sport in his homeland, and Grabner may owe his career on ice to a fortunate accident of geography.
"We lived across the street from the rink," he said. "My mom signed me up when I was 5 because my friends and a lot of people from school were playing. That's how I got into (hockey). I liked it and started to play roller hockey in the summers. After that, I would spend five or six hours a day at the rink. I loved it."
The NHL season starts in less than 30 days, but Brad Richards might be even more excited for the start of the NFL season.
The newest New York Ranger was born in Prince Edward Island and played his professional hockey in Tampa and Dallas. Yet Richards has always been a fan of the Green Bay Packers, who will kick off the NFL season against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
But why the Packers?
"My dad was a big NFL fan, so I watched it a lot," Richards said. "When I started getting interested, I was probably 15 or 16, right when (Brett) Favre was winning MVPs. It was all him. But then I found out more about Packer tradition and Lambeau Field and I always just went with."
Even during his time in Dallas, home of the Cowboys, he never kept his love for Green Bay a secret.
"Oh no, " Richards said. "I was very open about all that."
After Zach Parise signed a one-year contract this summer, a lot of people started reading into it. Why wouldn't he sign a long-term deal? Does this mean he's angling to leave New Jersey at the end of the upcoming season?
On Thursday, Parise talked about the contract and said by no means did he sign the deal thinking it would be a one-and-done situation.
"We talked about both," Parise said of discussing short- and long-term deals. "Without getting into too much detail with respect to everyone involved, we came down to that and that made the most sense. We said it right after we signed it, that we were going to keep talking. It's not as if we're not going to talk until next June 30. We'll keep going and keep working on it."
Parise said despite the rumors that he wants to test free agency, he likes playing for and living in New Jersey and would like to stick around.
"I know people's initial reactions are, 'Oh, it's one year and get out of there.' But that's not how it went down, that's not how it worked out. We'll keep trying to figure it out."
Parise also talked about his commercial, in which he plays a police detective who's partnered with a pair of Easton hockey skates. During the ad, Parise appears to slide across the hood of a car, causing some to question why he'd do that when he was dealing with a knee injury.
"I had a stunt double for that," Parise said. "I took a lot of heat from people saying, 'You can't play hockey but you can slide across a hood?' That wasn't me. I literally just got my brace off four days before that. I could barely walk, so I wasn't in any condition to be doing that. That wasn't part of rehab."
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I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.