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Centennial Fan Arena

NHL Centennial Fan Arena impresses P.K. Subban

Mobile, interactive museum stops at All-Star Weekend before tour of League markets resumes

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- P.K. Subban was fashionably late Sunday morning for his private tour of the NHL Centennial Fan Arena.

And when you think about it, that's exactly the way it should have been. Twelve hours earlier, Subban had been on stage with Snoop Dogg, performing -- sort of -- with the iconic rapper at a splashy NHL All-Star party.

"Seeing Snoop Dogg, that's pretty sick. I'm not going to lie, that's pretty cool," Subban said, calling his stage act the highlight of his 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend. "Everything that transpired [Saturday] gave us a little bit of street cred. I think it's all good for the NHL. I was dancing and I might have thrown in a little Snoop walk. I didn't plan on going up there, but I ended up going backstage, hanging out with him for a little bit and he said, 'Yeah, let's go do it.'"

Subban looked none the worse for wear when he arrived at the Fan Arena, the mobile, interactive museum that will visit every NHL market in 2017.

This weekend, it's been attracting huge crowds while parked adjacent to Staples Center outside the Los Angeles Convention Center, site of the popular Fan Fair as part of All-Star Weekend festivities.

Subban was tuned to hockey history long before he arrived in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens for the 2009-10 season, his father a Canadiens fan before his son was selected by Montreal in the 2007 NHL Draft.

So it was, leisurely and with deep curiosity, that Subban navigated the Fan Arena for 20 minutes.

The Nashville Predators defenseman's first stop was at a display of goalie masks, from a primitive piece that barely covered the eyes, leather framing a few metal bars, to the molded fiberglass models that followed decades later.

"I'd like Pricey and Pekka to throw this one on for a game," Subban joked, referring to Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

"That's a goalie mask?" Subban continued with a sigh. "I've got sunglasses that have more protection than that."

He laughed at the old leather goalie pads, a derivative of what was developed in English cricket, pretty much the way Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had laughed at them on his own tour a day earlier.

Subban moved on to a touch-screen likeness of the Stanley Cup, the brush of a finger enlarging winning teams.

"I don't feel like touching anything on that screen yet," Subban said, the unspoken idea being that a player doesn't touch the Stanley Cup until he's won it.

He whistled at a display of helmets, including "that old Gretzky bucket" and a crude piece of leather from decades before that.

"I think they should bring that back," Subban said of the latter model, even contemplating borrowing it to wear while warming up for the Central Division for the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game that was less than three hours away.

He checked out timelines and displays of little-known facts, and then a score sheet used when teams actually were allowed to grade the work of officials. Imagine.

Subban absorbed it all, from heavy wool sweaters to skates worn by goaltending pioneer Georges Vezina and human apartment building Zdeno Chara and eras in between, to interactive exhibits of trophies.

"That's what's so amazing about Bobby Orr," Subban said of the 1970s vintage leather skates. "Think about how fast he was, and how strong he was, how strong his ankles had to be in those skates."

Imagine, he was told, how different Orr's career might have been with modern medicine, where knee scopes would eliminate the need for the major surgeries he had.

"I don't want to imagine it," Subban said. "That would be scary. He might still be playing."

He turned toward a display of sticks, from ugly chunks of lumber that had been shaved into shape to the first aluminum and composite models. Included was a Stan Mikita stick, the wickedly curved blade making a soup spoon look like a knife by comparison.

And then Subban detoured back to the goaltending equipment, his breath still taken by the economy of its size and the precious little protection it offered.

"Think about how much better a goalie you had to be then," he said, not meaning disrespect to the modern goaltender. "You had to worry about protecting yourself first. There's a video clip of Johnny Bower (of the Toronto Maple Leafs) taking two shots in the bare face. Bang, bang. It was ridiculous."

Subban cut a quick video clip encouraging fans to visit the Fan Arena when it comes through their town, and when the camera clicked off, he said, "Really, I meant that. This place is amazing.

"When you play in the NHL, you realize you're part of a generation. A hundred years from now, people are going to look back and hopefully we'll be on this wall somewhere. It's pretty special to think that you're part of something as great as this. It's privilege to play in this league.

"It's incredible how much it's changed, how advanced it is now, how things have progressed so much. Look at the equipment now compared to what you see in here, and you have so much respect for the guys who have played the game before you, how tough they had to be to play it."

Subban was heading into the bright sunshine, a buzz of fans outside awaiting him, having sensed his presence. But he left not before he gave one last look at the goalie masks displayed above the paper-thin leather pads and gloves that wouldn't keep your hands warm in the autumn.

"Hey, I mean it," Subban said. "I want Pricey and Pekka in that mask."

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