Oh yes, there was a time when I was a closet wannabe star-fucker.
I hid it well … as I do with all nervous emotions. Straight face, calm voice … but meanwhile, my brain is screaming.
Like the time I was interviewing Jarome Iginla. It wasn’t just his first professional hockey game in B.C. It was my first time in an NHL locker room.
Holeeeeeeeeeeeee … did Theron Fleury just walk in front of me naked?
I turned to Iginla, stone-faced and said something completely incomprehensible.
Iginla shook his head, widened his eyes and said, ‘Excuse me?’
‘Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. I guess I’m just nervous.’
‘Well, don’t worry. So am I. I never thought anyone would drive all the way down from Kamloops just to interview me.’
He flashed that boyish grin, gave me one of those ‘aw shucks’ shoulder shrugs and we went on with our interview. And 10 years later, one of the biggest stars in the NHL still wears that grin and lets everyone know he’s just the boy next door.
Iginla belongs to my list of Favourite People to Interview, along such illustrious company as Bobby Orr and Johnny Bower.
But there was the day, I bumped into the Names I Never Interviewed.
Bumped being the operative.
A decade ago, the NHL sent the all-star game to Vancouver. It was a banner event for the Kamloops Blazers. Former head coach Ken Hitchcock was on the World Bench, while the North American roster boasted Scott Niedermayer, Darryl Sydor and Mark Recchi.
Sydor, of course, was there as an injury replacement — can’t quite remember for whom.
With a little glimmer of hope, I placed the call to NHL head office. Somehow, someone at the end of the phone line deemed me worthy of a press pass. And yes, I still have that pass hanging from my bedroom doorknob. I’ll keep it forever … no matter how bad my hair looks in it.
Another drive down to Vancouver. Another stay with friends in Richmond.
The press seats — the overflow from the gondola high above the ice surface — were terrible. There was no reason to be jealous of this pass.
Oh wait, yes there was. It does, after all, say ‘full dressing room access’ on it.
I uncomfortably stand off to the side, while the media throng clamours around the post-game press conference. Where do I go? What do I do?
Aha! There’s Hitchcock!
‘Hitch! How’s it going?’
‘Hey, what are you doing all the way down here?’
(Really, people … I know you only ever did that drive on the Iron Lung, but it really isn’t that far from Kamloops to Vancouver.)
We chat. We interview. I get my quotes. It’s already been a helluva day.
‘Hey, Hitch, great game. It’s too bad we can’t do stuff like this more often.’
We’re interrupted. It’s OK. I stand and stare. I’m sure I ate a few flies in the few seconds the exchange lasted.
He turns to me, sticks out his hand for a shake and says:
‘Hi. I’m Wayne.’
Well no shit. It’s not like His Grace really needs to introduce himself to anyone. But that’s just how the best and most famous players in the NHL are. They’re humble, they’re gracious, they’re friendly and they’re grateful.
The day can’t get much better than that. Can it?
I bid my goodbyes and head for the North America dressing room. I just met Wayne Gretzky … most famous fellow in the NHL. Never had a lot of respect for him as a player, but dammit, I met the man.
I’m still revelling in the moment, I see a sign for the dressing room, I take a turn and I … BAM!
Ow, son of a bitch, that hurt! The only thing I can see is my hand in front of my nose, checking to make sure it isn’t broken. I didn’t see the brick wall I just ran into it.
Two huge hands of my shoulders and a giant bends down to ask me if I’m OK. I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. Are you sure? Yes, I’m sure but it was really nice of your nipple to dent my nose, Mr. Lindros. Thank you.
I give the guy credit, though. It’s not like he could see me coming. I’m only 5-foot-6, after all.
OK … one all-star game, check. One interview done, check. One star-fucking moment of a lifetime with Wayne Gretzky, check. One bruised proboscis, courtesy of Eric Lindros, check.
One shoulder damn near torn off by the Moose, check.
Yes, the next turn I take, I slam into another wall, otherwise known as Mark Messier.
Ow, son of a bitch that hurt! Except this one didn’t ask me if I was OK. He just kind of sniffed in my general direction, mumbled a ‘sorry’ and hulked off.
Niedermayer interview, check. Sydor interview, check. Fleury naked in the corner again, check.
All right, it’s getting late and I have a long — but not really that long — drive back to Kamloops tonight. Where the hell is Recchi? Has anyone seen Recchi? Where is that asshole anyway?
He’s standing in the middle of another room, signing sticks and cards and hats and T-shirts. Wearing nothing but a towel.
That drops the second he yells out my name.
‘What the hell are you doing here?’
In all my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be there. But I was.
And I revelled in the moment and still laugh when I tell the story.