Friday, June 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos, sticks and souvenirs — an NHL All-Star story

There's plenty at stake in tonight's NHL All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, including $100,000 going to every player on the winning team of the 3-on-3 tournament.

But Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said there's one priceless prize he would like to bring home: a stick signed by future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, 43, the captain of the Atlantic Division team.

"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."

"Hopefully," Blackhawks star Patrick Kane said, "(Jagr) brings a lot (of sticks)."

The 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.

Stamkos estimates he has around 50 sticks — "too many to name." His favorites are from his idol Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne. Penguins icon Sidney Crosby has 10 to 15 sticks; he made a point to trade with prized 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Connor McDavid of the Oilers this season. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has sticks from Selanne, Rob Blake and Alex Ovechkin. Hall made sure to get one from Kane, the league's leading scorer this season.

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.

Lightning wing Ryan Callahan also seized the moment as a rookie with the Rangers in 2006, getting a stick from Brendan Shanahan, who was finishing up his Hall of Fame career, and Jagr.

"(Jagr) doesn't give too many people (a stick)," Callahan said. "I had to get the trainers in New York to convince him."

Swede Hedman has sticks from all his Swedish idols, including Markus Naslund, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Peter Forsberg. But Hedman also approached Blake, Selanne and Ovechkin during games early in his career for one of theirs.

Hedman remembers that about four or five years ago, he lined up next to Ovechkin in a game awaiting a faceoff asking him if he could get one of the Capitals star's CCM 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, 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."

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 ones from Crosby, the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon and the Sharks' Brent Burns.

"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 was with Ottawa, he got sticks from Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. 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."

Kane doesn't have any signed sticks, though he said has thought about getting some as he gets older.

"I think there's kind of a cycle you go through," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Early on in your career, you think (collecting sticks) is pretty awesome. And then you get desensitized to it a little bit. And I think maybe near the end of your career, it's something you start to completely appreciate over again."

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, grinning.

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."

 
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