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NHL icons promote 'Showdown' in Macy's parade

by Davis Harper
NEW YORK – A parade steeped in tradition, a crowd driven into a frenzy of excitement, two hockey icons – members of the Hockey Hall of Fame – on a float, smiling and waving at the admiring masses.

This milestone parade, however, included no Stanley Cup, no widespread partisan support and none of the closure of a season ended. In fact, upon closer inspection, the two players -- Bruins president and legend Cam Neely and former longtime Red Wings defenseman Larry Murphy -- rejoicing beside each other signified a different kind of celebration altogether

The carriage was not a famous Boston duck boat like the one Neely rode this summer, but a finely detailed, floating ice-hockey rink. The streets weren’t those surrounding Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, but instead are those leading through midtown Manhattan and ending at Herald Square.

The NHL, in cooperation with partner Discover, launched its inaugural “Frozen Fall Fun” float Thursday at the 85th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The float made its debut in coordination with the 2011 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown, which pits Neely’s Bruins against Murphy’s Red Wings on Friday at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and TSN.

“When I was asked, it was such an honor,” said Murphy, who won four Stanley Cups in the 1990s – two with Pittsburgh (1992 and 1993) and two with Detroit (1997 and 1998). “I’m honored for the opportunity to sit in the parade. I love what it’s doing for the Showdown, to promote it, but also for the game of hockey in general.”

Austin Turek was one onlooker who agreed with Murphy’s sentiments. The 20-year-old, who was sporting a hometown New York Rangers on his cap, said he liked the idea and the execution, but he did take issue with the League’s choice of celebrity.

"It is certainly something I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do at all. I was joking with a buddy of mine that who would have thought this kid from a small town in Western Canada would be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on a float."
-- Bruins President Cam Neely

“Well, obviously I wish it was [Ranger legends] Mark Messier or Brian Leetch up there,” Turek said with a smile. “But no, hockey means a lot to me and I think it’s great that the NHL is moving into this area. I think this will definitely help.”

While certainly not the most ornate in the parade lineup – that honor went to Mr. and Mrs. Claus’ sleigh – the float’s main draw for onlookers was the synthetic hockey rink, which gave off an active vibe as youngsters in Red Wings or Bruins gear faced off. Above them towered a 12-foot turkey, which served as the goal-mouth, next to which stood Murphy and Neely on a raised parapet at the rear of the float.

At the float’s bow, best-selling artist Cee Lo Green gyrated as his music pumped from hidden speakers. While that seems like sensory overload, the fanfare was essential, as the float had to follow the Buzz Lightyear blimp, one of the parade's most popular attractions.

Despite the neutral site location, a few Boston and Detroit partisans populated the audience, which Macy’s speculated before the parade might balloon to 3.5 million people. One lifelong Bostonian, Dave Sousa, wished Neely a happy Thanksgiving before shouting, “Where’s the Cup?!” to which Neely responded with a warm smile.

Smiles were never in short supply along the 40-plus block parade route, and Macy’s volunteers who surrounded the float – either wielding sticks on roller blades or dressed in puffy, Michelin Man-like hockey puck outfits – fed off the capacity crowd’s energy.

“I just see so many people smiling in the crowd, I can’t keep a smile off my face,” said Len Rosenberg, who was bouncing down the route as one of the pucks. On the opposite side of the float, Len’s son Craig was navigating 7th Avenue’s cobbled roadways on his rollerblades, occasionally raising his stick in mock celebration.

“The coolest thing is meeting the players. Cam Neely, coming back and helping the team as president, it’s really inspiring,” the younger Rosenberg said. “It’s nice knowing that people are committed to the game of hockey and the NHL.”

For Neely – who took part in his first Stanley Cup parade this summer as president of the Bruins, the team he spent 10 decorated seasons with – the opportunity to participate was something he’d never really considered.

"It is certainly something I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do at all," Neely told before the parade. "I was joking with a buddy of mine that who would have thought this kid from a small town in Western Canada would be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on a float. It's going to be quite an experience just to see all the people that turn out for this event. You see it year after year on television and you know it has a huge tradition, and to be part of it in the middle of New York is going to be pretty special."
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