NHL teams like to show a little love with promotions big and small

The best NHL club promotions celebrate the human element, writes Rob McKenzie.

Anaheim Ducks great Teemu Selanne is greeted by fans as he walks toward the ice for his number retirement ceremony on Sunday before their game against the Winnipeg Jets. Michael Goulding / AP Photo / Orange County Register / January 11, 2015
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The Los Angeles Kings held a special promotion for Monday’s game against Toronto. It was Canadian Heritage Night.

Which seemed kind of redundant. After all, it was a hockey game.

The game also celebrated another time-honoured element of Canadian heritage: the Maple Leafs lost.

Final score: LA 2, Toronto 0.

In suitably Canadian fashion, the promotion was low-key; indeed self-effacing and almost apologetic. Fans who bought tickets via the Kings’ website got a free Drew Doughty mini-locker. But watching the game on Fox Sports, one heard or saw little evidence of the promotion. The game did not even have bilingual announcements, in recognition of Canada’s francophone populace.

Every team has a variety of special promotions like this. It’s a long season and they keep fans interested. Some teams do it with more vigour than others.

The Pittsburgh Penguins held Ice Scraper Night on December 20. Practical, but not exactly stirring.

The San Jose Sharks are hosting Metallica Night on January 21 (an idea lifted from the San Francisco Giants). Ticket-buyers receive a Metallica-themed team T-shirt. The band’s website says: “We’ll be on hand for the first strains of “Seek & Destroy”, kick-off the game with the puck drop, and partake in some of the intermission fun and games that Sharks fans know and love.”

The league needs to show its fans a little love with such promotions to make up for having alienated the paying public with repeated labour disputes. The 2012/13 lockout shortened the regular season to 48 games. The 2004/05 lockout murdered an entire season, unique in North American sports. In all, there have been three lockouts since Gary Bettman became commissioner in 1993, the other coming in 1994/95 and reducing the season to 48 games.

But the best promotions are not the ones based on give-aways, they are the ones that pay tribute to a player after a stellar career.

Anaheim did this on Sunday night, retiring the No 8 jersey of Teemu Selanne as the Ducks hosted Winnipeg, the city where Selanne started his NHL career before the Jets foolishly, ruinously traded him south in February of 1996.

Selanne was with Anaheim when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and his reputation as a good guy burnishes his accomplishments. The Winnipeg Free Press newspaper reported from Sunday's ceremony: "Selanne spent most of his speech thanking those who helped him, including his parents, his Finnish friends, even the Zamboni driver and cleaning lady at the Honda Center."

He also went out of his way to thank fans in Winnipeg, a metropolis which to its detractors can seem a barren, frozen, mosquito-infested outpost in the wind-swept middle of a vast yawning nowhere: “I didn’t know too much about Winnipeg until I got there. I learned two things come from Winnipeg: hockey and great people. The way the fans treated me, there are no words.”

Anaheim won Sunday’s game 5-4 in a shootout, the winner scored in the sixth round by Sami Vatanen, like Selanne, a Finn.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

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