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GENE'S BLOG: Hoping this gets your stamp of approval

The first instalment of Gene's mailbag includes insight on the Harley Davidson helmet and vest given to the Oilers player of the game, dressing up as Drake and more

by Gene Principe /

Hi everyone. How are you? I hope your answer is good, fine, healthy, or even ok will do during these ever-changing times. I also hope you are doing your part to help keep the coronavirus numbers from climbing. It's proving to be a very difficult challenge but we are part of the biggest team around - Team World.

Since the last game on the NHL schedule, which happened to be Winnipeg and Edmonton, I have been laying as low as possible. Grocery store visits, checking in on my 88-year-old father and grabbing some fresh air simply to get a further break from staying home.

Now should be the most exciting time of the regular season with the build-up to the playoffs. However, as we close in on two weeks of the NHL season being paused, we anxiously await a return to the rink. Until that happens, let me post-al some answers to your questions in my weekly mail-bag segment!

@Aleexlilac on Twitter asks... Generic question, what are you up to without hockey?

Great question because I think right after "how are you?" the next thing people want to know is "what are you doing?". The answer for me is not too much these days. I alluded to the grocery store visits and hanging with my dad. I am doing some work from home. At Sportsnet we're attempting to 'Engage with Athletes'.

Simply put, we'll be checking in with players to see what they're doing, how they're feeling and what's going on in their world. I have done a couple segments (Carter Hart and Ryan Strome). The segments are easy to do. After picking a pre-determined time, the interview subject and I get sent a link from Sportsnet. We click on the link. The producer rolls and records and voila we have some up-to-date programming.

When I'm not doing that, I'm hanging out at home with my wife and three kids. My wife is a dental hygienist. Dental offices (excluding emergencies) have been shut down. Two of my kids are in university and the other is in high school. They are doing school work and tests from home. Last but not least, we're getting, like so many, a lot of family time, which means movies and board games - Scrabble and Clue, to name a couple.

@jimi_Kendrick on Twitter asks... My family and I loved what you did with your Drake segment a couple years back in St. Louis. It's still saved to the PVR. Are you a big fan of Drake's and what other modern artists would you like to incorporate into a performance?

Very interesting question. Yes, I remember it very well. First off, the seed was planted when Drake Caggiula wore a Drake-related costume for the Oilers Skills Competition. It made me think it could work for an opening.

Tweet from @EdmontonOilers: Breakaway challenge? Drake as Drake! #OilersSkills

Just before that St. Louis game where I did the Drake opening, the Oilers had played the Dallas Stars and Caggiula scored two goals. I thought, ok here's my chance. On the off day in between games, I found a Halloween store and bought some Drake-appropriate props. I remember saying how instead of the 'Hot Line Bling' Caggiula was on the 'Top Line Bling' because he was playing with Connor McDavid.

With three kids aged 21,18 and 17, I do listen to some music I wouldn't normally be in tune with. As a result, I have done openings revolving around Justin Bieber (Justin Schultz in his rookie season when he was just a Baby, Baby, Baby Oh), One Direction (Connor McDavid and the Oilers were playing with a lot of different Styles) and Taylor Swift (Taylor Hall's first game back in Edmonton and when it came to the trade he was trying to Shake It Off).

@hockeyhunka on Twitter asks... When the team travels to another arena, do they bring the player-of-the-game helmet? I believe a Harley Davidson helmet!

Brenda, I'm glad you asked that because people do wonder about the Harley Davidson helmet and vest that the Oilers player of the game wears after a victory. It was born out of some brainstorming by two former Oilers, Pat Maroon and Matt Hendricks, and a current one Zack Kassian.

The three of them decided on something to signify the Oilers top player in a win. It gets passed on just before the room opens to the media as the helmet and vest get awarded from the previous player of the game to the current one.

Tweet from @EdmontonOilers: Well-deserved Harley helmet for Oscar with 3 assists & a team-high 27:30 TOI. #LetsGoOilers

It does get brought on the road just like sticks, helmets, jerseys, etc. The players are asked or maybe told to do their post-game interviews in the Harley Davidson vest and helmet, which I like. Some things are to be kept inside the four walls of the dressing room, but this is something the team can share with the public. It's kind of funny because on the road and especially in back-to-back game situations the player is barely finished his final sentence before the helmet and vest are quickly off, packed and ready to go to the next city and the next player.

@LeviFonzzy on Twitter asks... Gene, have you always been the witty pun king that you are? Or is that something you worked on when you started covering the Oilers? 

I get asked this one a lot, but I think it's important to give some context to how the puns all started. We're going way back, like rewind to the 2006-07 season. The Oilers were coming off that glorious yet heartbreaking run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The follow-up season was a difficult one. I've always felt like I'm the first person you see on the game. As a result, I want to set a positive, happy, entertaining opening impression to start.

Now I've taken it well beyond that on many nights. Sometimes too much, but since then, nearly 15 years ago, I have continued to use puns and props to open up the games. I don't do it for national broadcasts, which I understand. However, my bosses at Sportsnet have been incredibly supportive allowing me creative license.

Tweet from @EdmontonOilers: We feature a truly Gene-uine man in this week's #Oilers In Depth, going behind the puns with @GenePrincipe:

I will say, as the world has changed in the last couple years, if I think there is a slight chance at a negative spin or feedback on what I'm doing, I'll run my idea past a producer on site and sometimes a boss in Toronto. It's just to make sure I have a couple layers of objectivity who might see things differently.

Finally, the true 'King of Puns' is Ron MacLean. Ron and I aren't that different in age but I remember watching him on Hockey Night in Canada and he was/is a master wordsmith. I love the props and puns and hopefully I can keep it going for years to come.

Keep the questions coming, Oilers fans!

I hope this first mail-bag segment gets your stamp of approval.

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