Having grown up in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and played collegiate hockey at Boston University, it should be no surprise which team Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel is rooting for in Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
"I'll go with the Pats," Eichel said. "Obviously I'm a big Pats fan, but I think, No. 1: They've been there before. Not knocking Atlanta at all, I think that if there's one team in the NFL that has a chance of giving them a good game, it's Atlanta. I think the Patriots prepare too well; they're too well-coached. [Coach Bill] Belichick will have them ready for every situation the game throws them.
"Then you have the best quarterback of all time playing. How do you bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? I think Brady's been out to prove something all year … and he's not going to stop."
The Patriots received a good deal of support from NHL players in an informal NHL.com poll. The major reason cited was the partnership between Belichick and Brady, who have partnered to go to the Super Bowl six times and win four of them.
"Patriots," Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price said succinctly. "Because of Bill Belichick."
"It's kind of hard to go against the Patriots," Washington Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. "I was there [in Boston] for a year and a half so I went to a few games and it seemed like they never lost."
For some players, their Super Bowl pick was based more on reputation than insightful analysis.
"I think the Patriots are going to win," Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky said. "I don't really follow football a lot, but every year they're fighting for a spot in the Super Bowl. Every year they're very good. They have a lot of experience. They've won it before and they have a really good plan … from what I've heard from a lot of people, the coach is pretty good and their offense and defense is pretty good too."
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole made his pick based on a cherished childhood memory.
"I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan," Cole said. "When I was about 8, we went every year, but I remember one year especially, I was a little kid and went to the University of Michigan media day on the football field. Really long lines for all the big-name guys like Drew Henson, and I ended up going to some of the players that didn't have anybody by them. One of them happened to be Tom Brady.
"I met him and talked to him for a little bit and got a picture with him. He was the nicest guy, so ever since I was a kid, I've been a Tom Brady fan. I think with the success that the Patriots have had, if you want to make an educated pick, I don't think you can bet against them. Me personally, being a Tom Brady fan and the success they've had, I'd say the Patriots."
Not so fast, said Anaheim Ducks center Andrew Cogliano, who's among those picking the Falcons to win the Super Bowl for the first time.
"Everyone says it's tough to go against Brady and the Patriots," Cogliano said. "It's tough to do with them winning constantly. But I think the Falcons are going to win. I think they've hit their stride. They're playing well. Like any sport, it's when you peak at the right time and everything is going well. It seems like their offense is in high gear. I think they're going to pull off the upset."
San Jose Sharks forward Joel Ward was more definitive.
"It's going to be 31-27 Falcons," Ward said. "Matt Ryan is the MVP … I'm going to go with the underdog on this one and hopefully they take it home. I'm not a Patriots fan because I'm a Ravens fan, so it's tough to cheer for Tom Brady."
"I'm not much of a betting guy, but I'd like to see Atlanta win," Sharks defenseman Paul Martin said. "If that's going to happen, I don't know. I think it's definitely a possibility. They both have such potent offenses, it's going to come down to defense. I think Atlanta's defense has surprised people this season down the stretch, so I think if they can find a way to stop Brady and the Pats, they'll have a good chance."
Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, well-versed in fantasy football, offered his assessment for the real-life game.
"It's tough to go against the Pats, right? They've got the experience. They've been there before. They're playing well. So … I'm taking the Falcons. I don't know, I think New England's schedule has been a bit too easy this year, so they haven't really faced like a juggernaut. I don't know. I've just got a feeling Atlanta is going to somehow pull it out … 32-27."