Things are certainly different when you go to a Canadian city for a road game. As soon as you arrive, the customs agents and the bus driver know exactly who you are. They also know most of the players by name and it is really amazing because you go into any restaurant and people look up and know you. As soon as we got to Toronto, the bus driver asked me to sign a copy of my book. That will not happen anywhere else, but in Canada it is a big-noise type thing.
I have never noticed it as much as I have on this trip to Toronto and Ottawa, but hockey truly is what runs the engine in Canada. You go out for a bite after the game and everybody knows who you are because they watched the game. They might not have known who we were before but they saw us on TV and now they know us. I guess it is almost like being a New York Yankee and going anywhere in baseball season.
In Washington, we are who we are and everyone knows a lot of our players and that is to be expected in a good hockey market, which we have. For a visiting team on the road in Canada, it is really a different thing and opens your eyes.
It is really cool coming back home. You cannot deny that. On Saturday, the Leafs honored Ian Turnbull, a guy that I played with in the 1970s. It reminded me of how old I am getting, but it was also really cool to see him and the fans appreciated it.
Down below where our dressing rooms are is pretty much a sanctuary for our players in Washington and most American cities. In Toronto, it was almost a free-for-all with all the media and everyone else who is around the room. The media attention is very intense. The only thing I can compare it to would be an NFL game. It seems like every single player does some sort of interview before the game.
It is the same way in Montreal and Ottawa, and I assume it is the same way in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. You certainly have to be focused, especially if you are from Canada and have not been home in awhile because it is pretty easy to get distracted. You have to understand and know the reason you are there and the people that you see while you are there is secondary to that.
For me, it is not a big deal because I have a job to do. I told some friends that I would go out and have a bite to eat with them after the game, but we do not talk before the game. My mom and brother know this as well, and I will not talk to them the day of the game. The day after the game, I phone them up and get their critiques.
In Toronto, I asked one of the ushers how long he had been working the games and he said 37 years. That is amazing to me. There are usherettes and ushers that I have known since the early 1970s there. The people that they have seen go through their doors is pretty amazing.
There is also a buzz in the crowd before the game. When Alex Ovechkin
touched the puck in Toronto, nobody booed, but it almost seemed like they were gasping. There is so much Ovechkin hype there. You hear it written in stories and it seems like it is overhyped. But when you are there and he gets the puck, it almost seems like the fans were holding their collective breath waiting for something to happen. I found that very interesting. In Canada, or at least on Saturday, they were too silent to do anything because they were waiting for him to do something.