Thursday, April 26, 2018
Sports

Autographs not just for fans

The NHL All-Star Game provides a prime opportunity for the popular tradition of stick-swapping. Like NFL and pro soccer players who often trade jerseys on the field postgame, hockey stars collect each other's custom CCM and Bauer blades for their memorabilia showcases.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos estimates he has 50 sticks — "too many to name." His favorites are from his idol Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne.

Stamkos said there's one priceless prize he wanted to bring home from Nashville* — a stick signed by future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, 43.

"I want to add him to my collection," Stamkos said.

He might have to get in line.

"I'm sure everyone will want a Jagr one," Oilers All-Star Taylor Hall said. "That's on the top of my list."

Players negotiate trades on the ice before faceoffs or after games, often coordinating requests and exchanges through team equipment staffs.

But events such as the World Championships, Olympics and All-Star Game can be like Christmas morning.

Joked Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, a first-time All-Star: "I'll come with a bag."

As a rookie, Stamkos learned from veteran Mark Recchi about adjusting to life in the NHL. But Recchi also gave Stamkos some prescient advice about sticks: start his collection early. Stamkos took it and got to scratch Selanne, Sakic and Nicklas Lidstrom off his list.

"You never know when you get that chance," Stamkos said.

Hedman remembers that about four or five years ago, he lined up next to Alex Ovechkin in a game awaiting a faceoff asking him if he could get one of the Capitals star's sticks. "Then it was game on," Hedman said, smiling.

When Hedman returned to the dressing room after the game, an Ovechkin stick was in his locker stall. The Ovechkin, Rob Blake and Selanne signed sticks are upstairs in Hedman's Tampa home, next to the stick from Hedman's first NHL goal.

"Everyone in the league is very, very nice," Hedman said. "There's never any problems."

Penguins icon Sidney Crosby said he gets asked fairly often for one of his sticks, either for opposing players or one of their family members. He understands, recalling how after his first NHL game, he got a stick from future Hall of Fame goalie Marty Brodeur. "That one was pretty cool," Crosby said.

Hall made sure to snag several at the World Championships with the Canadian team last year, including one from Crosby.

"I'm trying to start a collection so that when I retire, whether it's in my cottage or whatever it is, it's just a cool little collection of sticks from the best players," Hall said.

When Bishop joined the Lightning, he asked for ones from Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Stamkos.

"It's a good chance to play with those guys you grew up watching," Bishop said. "It doesn't get much better than that. I've always been a fan and always will be."

Stamkos said it has been interesting to see the dynamic change.

Once, he was a nervous rookie asking for a star's stick. Now, as a five-time All-Star and two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner as the league's top goal scorer, Stamkos sees his stick is a hot commodity.

"Now that guys want mine, it's pretty cool," he said. "You can do a trade."

Jagr said he's getting a lot more requests for sticks this season, his 22nd in the NHL. "People think I'm not going to play anymore," he said.

Jagr, who doesn't collect signed sticks, said the reason he doesn't give many of his away is because he spends 15 to 20 minutes of work on each one to make them game-ready. "It's not easy," he said.

When told that Stamkos hoped to get one of his sticks during All-Star weekend, Jagr chuckled:

"He better have a lot of money ready."

*Editor's note: We'll let you know if Stamkos got his prize.

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