NHL Network Radio host Scott Laughlin on meeting your heroes

Borje Salming
Borje Salming

I’m guessing it must’ve been the 1978-79 season. Perhaps the opponent was the Colorado Rockies? Maybe the Minnesota North Stars? Neither was anywhere close to what you’d consider a Stanley Cup “contender, but I was just happy to be at an NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens nonetheless.

Dad worked at CCM and occasionally he’d be able to snare two rail seats in the Golds, right between the Leafs’ bench and the opposition. For a nine-year-old kid, this was akin to being at Disney World, only Mickey and Donald had been replaced by Darryl Sittler and my idol Borje Salming. That night I had a chance to meet the latter…or so my father thought. My Dad had arranged for me, through George Parsons who worked for CCM as a liaison between the company and numerous NHL’ers, to head into the Leafs’ dressing room after the game. Win, lose, or tie (yes, the NHL had them back then), I was gonna have the opportunity to meet a future Hockey Hall of Famer in the prime of his career! BUT, only one thing held me back. I know it’s hard to believe in 2016 doing what I do for a living, but I was just too shy. Maybe it was the fact I was an only child, at least at that point.

Whatever the case, as the game wore on and intermission after intermission passed us by, my anxiety about entering the Leafs’ dressing room tore me up inside and ultimately my Dad sensed this. My post-game visit was postponed and it wouldn’t be until Toronto hosted the NHL All-Star game in February of 2000 that I’d get a chance to enter that very dressing room to talk with that very player. Me, now working at The Score television network, and 31 years of age. Salming, then 49, a successful underwear salesman back in Sweden in his life after hockey. He was preparing with all of the other legendary players for that weekend’s alumni game, while I was trying to piece together a story for our six o’clock update. Our exchange went well and I left that very room that afternoon asking what it was exactly that held me back some 21 years earlier, even though deep down I knew.

Now, at 46, I wonder if there are other nine-year-olds out there who will have their Salming moment presented to them? Would they still have that same feeling of excitement, anxiety, nervousness, and trepidation I once had? Is that even possible anymore? You see, in 1978-79 we didn’t have every game from every team available to us each night on the Centre Ice package. We had a mid-week, Wednesday game as well as Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night. That was it. There wasn’t any access to two major sports networks in Canada and two all-sports radio stations in Toronto. We didn’t have anything that even remotely resembled NHL Network Radio. The only way to find out about the Atlanta Flames was to follow the exploits of Tom Lysiak and company through the newspaper the next day or when they made a rare visit to MLG.

Then there’s social media. You used to wonder what your favourite player was like. Now through Twitter and Facebook and such you already have a pretty good idea as to what kind of a person he might be and even what his favourite meal is. There is no mystery involved. You already feel like you know him to a certain extent. You know of his faults, which for some play out quite prominently in all forms of media. There is no hiding anything. Back then, we knew Salming as “The King”. However, it was years later that we found out that nickname applied to both his on and off ice exploits. Now, it wouldn’t take years for a player’s off-ice accomplishments to see the light of day, you’d likely find out within weeks, days, or even hours.

“The Times They Are a Changin” for that there is no doubt. We are inundated, even smothered at times, with daily NHL news, readily available to us with the click of a button. In a day and age where hockey cards sell for $3 a pack, and with NO gum mind you, and where some athletes actually charge for an autograph I wonder if the innocence is gone? Replaced by those who know everything about every team and every player.

For the sake of that nine-year-old, I hope that is not the case.