"I just got a broken stick. I just got a broken NHL stick. My first!"
A couple weeks ago, we mic'ed up an 11-year-old boy named Kevin at a morning skate, and while he had a lot of memorable things to say, this was the one that stuck out to me the most:
Kevin was one of the winners of our NY 529 College Savings Plan Jr. Reporter Contest, and for his prize, he got to come watch practice and interview some of the players in the locker room. We hope you enjoy Kevin's segment with Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson (Kevin plays goalie on his youth team in Rochester), along with the moment he got the broken stick.
Kevin was great for this not only because he looked very dapper in his suit and asked good questions, but also because he was so vocal about everything he was experiencing. Pro hockey looks pretty different through 11-year-old eyes.
This didn't make it into the final edit, but just to give you an idea of the kinds of things that Kevin was noticing, at one point, he looked at the bench while the players were on the ice, saw all the water bottles lined up and said, "They're so lucky they get Gatorade at practice!"
When big hockey players see a little guy around the rink, it's got to take them back to the days when they thought having Gatorade at practice would be pretty cool. That's probably part of the reason why kids like Kevin often walk away from these experiences with souvenirs like extra pucks the players toss over the glass to them, or maybe even a stick (who cares if it's broken?).
I might have thought Kevin's excitement over a broken stick was unusual if I hadn't just seen the same thing happen a couple weeks before this in Nashville.
We took 8-year-old C.J. Gworek, who has gained notoriety for building an "Eichel Tower" of pucks each time Jack scores, to the morning skate on the day of the game against the Preds. He also nabbed some fun stuff to take home. Here's how his dad John described it to us:
"When we got to the morning skate that day, he just wanted to hang by the tunnel where the Sabres came out and make sure he got to fist-bump Jack.
He got his wish and more: Anders Nilsson flipped him two pucks, one for him and one for my daughter. Zach Bogosian broke a stick and gave C.J. the pieces, which he thought was the coolest thing… until Sam Reinhart came off at the end and gave him the perfectly intact stick he was using. He loves that thing."
If you somehow haven't seen the feature we produced about C.J., his tower of pucks, and his meet-and-greet with Jack, you can watch it here:
Video: The Eichel Tower
It was very special for us to be able to make this happen for C.J. and his family, and it's been gratifying to see the positive response to the story from our fans. It even got picked up by NHL Network!
These stories are meaningful because they remind us that sometimes it's just about the little things, especially to kids. I loved this text I got from a friend who brought his nephew to a recent home game: "We had blast! I forgot what it was like to be a 13-year-old at a hockey game."
To borrow one more phrase from my colleague Dan Dunleavy, who put it best in his tweet about the Eichel Tower, "Hockey should resonate with the kid in us all!"