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NHL's Thanksgiving Day float paints inspiring picture

by Dave Lozo

-- As the NHL's float for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is going through its final bit of preparation -- a touch of paint here, some leaves there -- assorted Care Bears, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mr. Peanut casually stroll past in a workshop that is something out of a dream.

About 20 feet from the float, a group of children on a tour they'll never forget run screaming toward Julius the Monkey, who welcomes the delirious kids with open arms. Before getting their gift bags, they all try to reach up to touch the spot on the NHL float where kids their age will be skating on synthetic ice as millions watch.

The NHL's float for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is in the final stages of preparation for the big day. (Photo: Michael N. Todaro/NHLI)
It's business as usual at Macy's Parade Studio, where the new floats are constructed for the parade that will traverse Manhattan next week. The NHL's float is in celebration of the 2011 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown game the following afternoon between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings at 1 p.m. ET on NBC and TSN.

The NHL float depicts an autumn scene near a frozen pond. The makeshift hockey rink features a scoreboard, a perch for watching the eight to 10 kids who will skate on the ice and a 25-foot tall turkey as a goaltender. It's the product of the imagination of John Piper, the vice president/creative director of Macy’s Parade Studio, who has been designing and building floats for the Thanksgiving Day Parade for three decades.

"The inspiration really came in our meeting with the folks from Discover and NHL," Piper said. "I look for threads that are going to take us to where we need to go. The one I heard was youth hockey and how important that is to the whole program of the NHL. It's the fact that they support kids playing hockey.

"We decided we wanted to zero in on the kids. We knew that it makes more sense that if we did it naturalistically, it would be the first freeze of the fall, that moment all the kids are waiting for all summer long when they can get the skates back out, get the sticks out, find the puck and all meet at the pond."

Among the celebrities on the float will be Hall of Famers Cam Neely and Larry Murphy, and musical artist Cee Lo Green, who will be performing throughout the parade. That's a lot of talent on one float, but it will be hard to ignore the goaltending turkey, who won't be dropping down into the butterfly, instead choosing to stand tall to face the shooters.

"What's the greatest Thanksgiving icon? The turkey," said Piper, who originally got the job building floats by answering an ad for a carpenter. "What if there happened to be an old barn nearby that was falling into disrepair and took all the old boards and nailed them together and made a goal, and in this case, it was a turkey. That became their Thanksgiving tradition, and each year, after the first freeze of the season, they're taking slap shots at the turkey."

Construction usually begins on a float about three to six months prior to the parade. But Piper and his crew started building this float only six weeks ago. Knowing he was up against a tight deadline, Piper's team started spitballing ideas for the float long before he was given the green light.

"My team started doing research into ice hockey, mascots, NHL -- we didn't know where it was going to go," Piper said. "We were already searching and percolating ideas and this really fell into place. We're in an overtime situation at this time of the year, so we did add some extra hours. We had to put a lot of the team working on this simultaneously, which is great. We've got a great team to do that, but it's always tricky. You're trying to make sure the piece that's being designed over here is going to fit with the piece that's being designed over there.

"It took everything we had, but we brought it in."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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