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Player Media Tour an eye-opener for NHL stars

by Adam Kimelman

NEW YORK -- There are a number of benchmark dates on the NHL calendar, and one of them is occurring here this week.

The annual NHL Player Media Tour has brought 34 of the League's top stars to the New York area for two days of interviews, photo shoots, promotional videos and more.

"It's always cool," New York Islanders captain John Tavares said. "It always signals the season is right around the corner, training camp is coming up, the buildup [to the season] is coming. It's an exciting time. You always enjoy increasing that buildup with all the media attention we get there [for a] couple days."

For a number of players, this is their first time attending one of the NHL's biggest events. It was an opportunity for them to be exposed to some of the national media outlets that broadcast their games, as well as meet some of the League's elite players in a quiet, non-competitive setting.

"When I got the call to do it I didn't really know what it was all about," Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "I just saw the roster of guys who was here and my eyes were kind of lit up. There are a lot of players I looked up to growing up and a lot of good players here, so it's a lot of fun being here."

Detroit Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist had a team-best 28 goals last season, but said he also was surprised when he got the invitation to come to New York.

"I don't know why you guys wanted me here when I see all the other guys," he said. "I don't think I'm scoring 80 goals this year. But, you know, it's great. We're trying to reach out to fans, keeping the fans informed. We're happy to come here, represent our teams and grow the game as much as possible. New York is always a fun city too."

Bjugstad, 22, will be going into his second full NHL season in 2014-15. Nyquist hopes to spend all of this season in the NHL after splitting the past three seasons between Detroit and the minor leagues.

Wayne Simmonds, 26, is entering his seventh full season, but being part of the Player Media Tour is a wholly new experience. Simmonds went from an undrafted junior player to becoming a 2007 second-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings (No. 61), and last season for the Philadelphia Flyers he was third in the League with 15 power-play goals. A survey of writers released this week had him ranked No. 14 among power-play specialists for the 2014-15 season.

"It's a little bit of a change for me," Simmonds said of his inclusion among the game's elite. "I've never been in a position like this before in my life. I think it's pretty cool. Just going to try to represent myself and the team the best I can."

Some players are taking advantage of a busy time in New York. The New York Mets have home games Monday and Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies; the New York Yankees continue a homestand against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday; the United States Open men's tennis final is Monday; plus there's always a number of other events going on in and around the area.

New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made an appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS, while Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin had his sights set on a different kind of entertainment.

"On Tuesday night I'm going to a Fashion Rocks show since this is Fashion Week, so I'll walk around to check things out," he said.

Simmonds and Flyers captain Claude Giroux took part in a question-and-answer session at the NHL Powered by Reebok Store, hosted by NHL Live co-host Steve Mears. Topics included their strangest fan interaction and their most cherished hockey keepsake. Giroux also talked about spending his teen years playing in a bowling league near his hometown of Hearst, Ontario. Giroux's bowling passion had Simmonds laughing so hard he nearly fell out of his chair.

And in the spirit of Fashion Week, the players were asked which teammate needed the most fashion advice. They were unanimous in their choice of forward Jakub Voracek.

"I don't know what's wrong with him," Giroux said. "He just doesn’t get it. … He wakes up from a nap, he won't brush his hair, he goes to the rink. It's actually embarrassing."

Simmonds, Voracek's road roommate, said sometimes it looked like Voracek, "brushed his hair with a pork chop."

It was all part of two fun days for the players, some of whom will travel to Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for on-ice promotional work. But it also lets the players know that while summer might be over, the fun of a new season is right around the corner.

"It's exciting," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "It gets you excited for the season, for sure. You get to start talking hockey again. Whenever you start traveling to your team city you start thinking about it."


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