MONTREAL, QC. — Thanks for joining us today. Let’s play “who said that?”
“We’re all committed to winning gold and we’re all focused on that. Everyone has checked their ego at the door and it’s all about the team right now.”
What is your answer please?
Is it Joe Sakic?
A very good guess. The classy Sakic was assistant captain for Team Canada in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympic Games where his team won gold. It certainly sounds like something Sakic would say.
Or perhaps you are thinking it was Sidney Crosby who scored the “golden goal” and captained the Canadian team to a 2010 gold medal finish in Vancouver.
Maybe you guessed Mats Sundin or Teemu Selanne or Brian Leetch? All responses are very probable.
The answer we were looking for was Mathew Dumba.
Dumba made the statement in advance of the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship which began Thursday in the Czech Republic. Dumba, a draft-eligible defenseman from the Red Deer Rebels, has been selected as captain of Team Canada.
So how does a 17-year-old know the right thing to say to reporters — a quote that could just as easily come from the mouth of a seasoned NHL veteran? It’s clear that hockey cliches — got to give 110 per cent / take it one game at a time / didn’t play a full 60 minutes / we didn’t compete — are learned at a very early age.
These phrases are banal, meaningless and empty yet our friends in the mainstream media scurry down to the locker room daily to record and share them with you. What’s the point? Well, I suppose it’s a little like watching NASCAR cars go round and round on an oval waiting for a wreck — you know, like a juicy quote from a Jeremy Roenick, John Tortorella or a certain goalie for the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I have zero confidence in myself right now. If you probably throw a ball instead of a puck I’m not going to stop it…I’m terrible, I will apologize in front of the fans and in front of my teammates. I don’t know what is going on. I have no answer…I’m lost in the woods right now.” — Ilya Bryzgalov
There’s always been a somewhat awkward relationship between the media and athletes. At times reporters have chosen to bury a story rather than expose a player, and other times, have run with a quote that was intended to be off-the-record.
But what if you could bypass the middle-man so to speak and receive communication from your sports hero directly? It’s now possible. Welcome to the world of Social Media in hockey. For those fanatics who are hungry for a behind-the-scenes unfiltered look at the guys they worship, it was manna from heaven.
Fans were delighted to see Facebook photos of the Sopel family eating cereal out of the Stanley Cup. And thanks to Twitter we know that Hal Gill prefers Macallan single malt, loves the new Black Keys album, and describes former teammate Erik Cole this way, “a man’s man, wears a lot of denim, tells long stories and has oatmeal saved from this morning.”
From a player’s perspective, it’s simple: register an account, send a message or two from your smartphone and instantly you will have thousands of followers. When players communicate in any form, they will have fans hanging on every word.
Outside of the sweaty confines of the locker room, it’s very easy to drop the cloak of cliches that has both protected players from the days of minor hockey but also restrained them. Sometimes that new-found freedom is a double-edged sword.
Just ask Dan Ellis.
As a journey-man goaltender in and out of the NHL for the past eight years, Ellis is not at the top of the league salary scale but has done well for himself with multi-million dollar deals along the way. Ellis took to Twitter to voice his opinion on the impending NFL lockout. It didn’t turn out well.
- “If you lost 18% of your income would you be happy? I can honestly say that I am more stressed about money now then when I was in college.”
- “I can’t explain it and I never thought it would be the case but it is true. $ in no way makes u more happy or makes life much easier.”
Hockey fans shredded the backup netminder in a way opposition snipers never could. His comments even spawned the hashtag #DanEllisProblems attached to comments that ridiculed Ellis and the rest of his insensitive millionaire cohorts.
In another category entirely was a tweet by Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul this past fall writing, “Girls let’s see some Halloween costumes for a lonely man in his hotel.”
Now that’s just plain creepy.
The undisputed king of this no-holds-barred bit of digital real estate is Paul Bissonnette of the Phoenix Coyotes ( @BizNasty2point0 .) It’s no exaggeration to say that Bissonnette’s social media fame has eclipsed his NHL career. When welcoming Jaromir Jagr to Twitter, Kevin Allen from USA Today wrote “Hope [Jagr] can accept that Paul Bissonnette is the superstar in this arena.”
Indeed. But who polices this stage?
Prior to the beginning of the 2011-’12 season Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announced a new social media policy for NHL players and hockey operations staff. On game days there is a blackout period on the use of social media for players beginning two hours prior to puck drop ending when they have finished their post-game media obligations. The policy also includes guidelines on the appropriate use of Twitter and Facebook for players and team personnel.
As reported by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports, the NHL guidelines are as follows:
- All of a player’s communications are on the record and can be archived. A handy reminder that a deleted tweet can always be located and a Facebook page can be easily screen-capped.
- A player must take personal responsibility for comments, making sure it’s known that they are not the view of the team or of the NHL.
- Respect your audience. Make sure facts are accurate and don’t engage in insulting behavior. The actual line in the document: “Don’t be afraid to be yourself, but do so respectfully.”
- Do not divulge proprietary information, whether its lineup changes or coaching strategy or injuries.
- Stop and think before you post. Use best judgment.
There’s nothing here that should surprise anyone. The league has made it clear that it views comments made via social media with the same measuring stick it uses for interviews — that means fines for inappropriate tweets are in play.
Does this also mean that once supplemental discipline finds it’s way to policing digital speech that player’s timelines will start to fill with the same bland, melba-toast cliches we hear post-game? Let’s hope not.
You’ll also notice that the policy applies to the off-ice folks in a NHL franchise. On Wednesday night after Los Angeles skated away with a 4-2 victory over Vancouver in their first-round series, the official Kings account tweeted, “To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome.” Some felt the message was in competitive good humour and others found it offensive prompting an apology from Mike Altieri, the Kings vice-president of communications and broadcasting.
While the NHL and NHLPA have taken a first step towards monitoring and educating players about social media, what about youngsters who have not yet made it to the big league?
Mikhail Grigorenko plays center for the Quebec Remparts and is considered one of the top prospects available in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After the draft lottery where the Canadiens were awarded the third pick overall, Grigorenko tweeted, “Can’t wait to be drafted and maybe play for Roy again #NHLDraft”
Did he have inside knowledge about the Habs search for a head coach or was it an innocent expression of his wishes? Likely the latter, but the 17-year-old Russian couldn’t have predicted the explosive nature of his words on Twitter. His follow-up explaining that his comments were intended as a private message only dug the hole deeper.
His next move, possibly following advice, was to delete his account ending Grigorenko’s short appearance on Twitter. For now.
With many NHL-players fame came before their entry to Twitter and Facebook, yet with prospects, it is the opposite. Like any other teenager, some future hockey stars are already immersed in the world of social media.
So when Canadiens prospect Nathan Beaulieu decided to have a love spat with his girlfriend Kyla Wright, perhaps he didn’t realize that the eyes of the Canadiens fanbase were following each harsh word.
It can be argued that the public outburst by Wright and Beaulieu is normal and excusable for young people their age. But at what point does their behaviour begin to tarnish the image of the jersey they wear or hope to wear?
Last week it came to light that Hamilton Bulldogs defenseman Olivier Dame-Malka had been using his Facebook to troll for “hookups” with young female fans. While the same thing could happen at any Montreal or Hamilton bar, the lack of age restrictions on social media introduces additional concerns. His behaviour was at the very least unsavoury and unbecoming.
Interactions between players, media and fans are being redefined for the digital age.
For NHL teams this is new ground and providing guidance is a tricky path to maneuver. No one wants to see player’s language on social media sterilized to the point that they resemble the post-game interview. But advising athletes on the positive ways of dialoguing with fans and pitfalls is necessary to protect both their assets and their brand.
There’s no question about it.