|Todd Bertuzzi got his first look at the NHL Powered by Reebok Store on Wednesday evening.
While most of the team was in Washington, D.C. meeting with President Bush in honor of its 2007 Stanley Cup championship, other members – such as forward Todd Bertuzzi and defenseman Mathieu Schneider – took in the sights of the greatest city in the world on Wednesday. Bertuzzi, Schneider, Jonas Hiller, Brandon Bochenski and Brian Sutherby also took some time out for a Q&A session with youngsters, and stuck around for quite some time afterwards to sign autographs.
“This was a super event,” said Schneider, who was born in New York City and spent time with the New York Islanders and New York Rangers. “I had a great time. It was my first time at the NHL Store. It’s a pretty cool setup. I’m really thrilled to see what they put together here. It’s exciting. To have the kids out, being from the area and to see how hockey has grown from the time I was young growing up here, it’s really great.”
Schneider grew up in West New York, New Jersey, which is just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. He’s grateful for these youth hockey players who have many more opportunities to play as opposed to when he was young, thanks to the rinks that have been built in recent years.
“It was pretty special,” Schneider said of growing up in the New York area. “I remember growing up in a high-rise. When I was old enough to go to school, we moved down to southern Jersey, where I spent my formative years. We did a lot of traveling to find hockey rinks.”
Bertuzzi – who was drafted by the Islanders in 1993 and played on Long Island from 1995-98, was more than happy to take some time out to spend some quality time with perhaps some future stars of the NHL. Combine that with the chance to hang out in New York again, and it made for a special time.
“I love coming back here,” Bertuzzi said. “I think whenever you get an opportunity to come back to the city, it’s such a good vibe and environment, especially when you get a couple of days to enjoy it.
“I think the turnout was nice,” he added. “It seems that everyone’s kind of kicking our sport around and making it a second-tier sport, but you come here and get a turnout like that, you see that it’s still an important part of the sports world. We still are on our way up, so I think it’s a good sign.”
Bertuzzi is confident that the NHL is doing the right things as it attempts to attract both older and newer fans. With the influx of young studs such as Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Bertuzzi believes the sky is the limit on a promotional scale.
“With the new guys coming up, there’s some unbelievable hockey players,” Bertuzzi said. “There’s some guys who can take the sport and bring it to a new level. I think those are the guys you have to promote and showcase. If you do that, it can only get better.”
One reason why hockey is growing – especially in the United States – is the commitment of parents to place their children in youth hockey programs. Schneider believes it’s imperative for the kids to continue to play the game, as the buzz of hockey in the U.S. continues to build.
“It’s the future of our game,” Schneider said. “The more young Americans we can get involved, I think American athletes in general have the means to become great. We’re very lucky and fortunate to be Americans. You see the passion, especially in hockey families and the lengths they go to for their kids to get ice time, it’s truly amazing.”
In the meantime, the NHL continues to find new ways to generate excitement about this great sport of ours. The NHL Powered By Reebok Store is just one of the latest examples, as fans packed the venue to get a glimpse of some of the game’s top players. Hundreds of pedestrians on Sixth Avenue stopped and looked in the showcase window to see what was going on.
“I think the League has taken some very big strides,” said Schneider, now in his 20th NHL season. “For a long time, there seemed to be a closed-mindedness, and I’ve really seen that open up in the last couple of years. It’s great to see. I think we can really take this game to new heights in our new partnership with the owners. It’s going to be hopefully an amazing decade for us.”
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