Many kids dream of getting the chance to one day play in an NHL game. For Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen, that childhood dream has become a reality. On Saturday, thanks to virtual reality, he got to accomplish something that is on most fans' hockey wish list.
Andersen drove an ice-resurfacing machine when he stopped by the Clear The Ice Zamboni VR Experience at The Pregame tailgate party before the 2017 Rogers NHL Centennial Classic Alumni Game at Exhibition Stadium.
The attraction, part of the NHL Centennial Fan Arena, gives fans the chance to compete against each other in a race to resurface the ice. While sitting in a mini-Zamboni, fans feel a cool breeze and their seat rumble as go across the virtual rink.
"It was fun, I figured I'd try it out since we were here," Andersen said. "I beat my little brother it looks like, so it was all good."
Even though he scored fairly well, Andersen joked that he doesn't think he would be taking anybody's job on the ice crew any time soon.
"I think just playing hockey is the most fun for me," he said. "It's probably best if we let the experts who do the ice cleaning do their part, they're good at it. I did okay; I don't know how good I would have been in real life."
Andersen's Zamboni experience capped his day after practicing on the ice at Exhibition Stadium for the first time on Saturday morning with his Maple Leafs teammates. It also marked the debut of the equipment he will wear in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic on Sunday (3 p.m.; NBC, SN, TVA Sports) which is inspired by the Bauer Reactor pads worn by former Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph. In addition to watching Joseph wear them, Andersen's father Ernst also wore the design when he played professionally in Denmark.
"I was at dinner with some of the guys from Bauer and we were just shooting around ideas of favourite old pads back in the day and obviously these came up," Andersen said. "They were one of my favorites and my dad wore the same model back in Denmark when he played. I was like, 'you know what, these are kind of special'. "
Joseph, who stood rinkside watching the Maple Leafs practice before getting ready to take part in the 2017 Rogers NHL Centennial Classic Alumni Game, was excited to see his old design back in action.
"It's real nice, it's nice to see the pads again, they look amazing," Joseph said. "I guess it's a print but they look just like the pads that I wore."
The pads feature a print image of the design Joseph wore during his career, allowing Andersen to stay with the style he is comfortable with while still paying tribute to one of his heroes.
"That's a very humbling thing and it's nice to hear," Joseph said of Andersen's tribute. "It makes you feel good that's for sure and it makes you feel like you did your job well to have kids look up to you."
Growing up in Denmark, Andersen did not have the opportunity to see very many NHL games on television but followed his favorite players by tracking down highlight video compilations on VHS tapes and collecting trading cards.
"We would watch them over and over until they broke basically," Andersen said. "I had a lot of trading cards with pictures of the guys and I remember having a folder with the designs of all the painted goalie masks. Obviously, CUJO's was pretty unique."
In the past, breaking in a new set of gear was an arduous process for goaltenders who can be very particular about the feel of their equipment. But nowadays, it is much less of a concern with the design improvements that goaltending equipment has seen in the past decade. Andersen said he has already gone through six or seven sets of pads since the season began so breaking in a new set specifically for the Classic was not an issue.
"Back in the day, you used to break in pads and keep them for most of the year because you didn't want to have to break in a new set but now it's so easy to break them in, you can go through them whenever you need," Andersen said.