An Interview with Brendan Shanahan

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Not even kidding.

I received the opportunity to conduct a phoner interview with Brendan Shanahan, currently the VP of Hockey and Business Development (or, as his Twitter profile says, VP of “blah blah blahblahblah”) at the NHL.  I had a double-take moment where I debated the validity of this offer, and then immediately had a moment of panic after accepting.  I’m not a journalist (or a pharmacist, for that matter).  There’s a reason I have a career as a publicist, rather than working the actual media side of things.  But I think I got some decent questions in, and hopefully a little bit of insight from one of the game’s greats.  Maybe nothing Earth shattering, but hey, give me a break–I was talking to Brendan freakin’ Shanahan.  I’m surprised I managed to be coherent at all.

Gatorade REPLAY is a documentary series that takes rivalry games between some of the biggest high school sports rivalries in the nation, and re-pits them against each other to determine a winner (I believe the games chosen are typically, if not always, ties).

For season 2, REPLAY is taking the Detroit HS hockey powerhouses Detroit Central Catholic and Trenton from a 1999 game, in which the game was stopped at a 4-4 tie and never resumed, due to the nearly fatal incident of a player having his jugular slashed on the ice.  Eleven years later, players from those teams will be undergoing an 8-week training and nutrition program to get themselves back into game-shape for the rematch.  The program was created by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, and will be conducted with local help from the Velocity Sports Performance center in Canton, MI.

So what does Brendan Shanahan have to do with all this?  He and Scotty Bowman are going to be honorary coaches–Shanahan for Trenton, and Bowman for Catholic Central.  I asked Shanahan how his chances are, and if he feels he’s at a disadvantage coaching against the legendary Bowman, to which he offered a sarcastic, “Against the winningest coach in NHL history?  Nah.”

Practices were run on Saturday and Sunday during a “Pro Training Day.”

The game will happen May 9, 3:00pm ET (doors at 2pm), at Compuware Arena.  Tickets are available for $10 starting April 24 at Kennedy Ice Arena at the Sports Service sotre.  Tickets can also be purchased on April 26 in the Catholic Central gym.  Tickets can also be won at Meijer through April 25 (today).  The game will be tape delayed on FSD (air date and time tk–check listings).

Learn more about the series at

I was really interested in talking to Shanahan about some of the things the NHL is doing in terms of social media and fan outreach, and how, as a former player, he feels it’s worthwhile.  He’s fairly active on Twitter, and can often be found offering insights and humorous comments on memorable events, such as when he scored the 2002 empty netter and subsequently gave Yzerman a bloody nose from rolling around on the ice in celebration, or how he actually hurt Patrick Roy’s shoulder when he went sailing into him during The Brawl.

Getting Shanahan on Twitter was something that I know several of my friends joked about the minute we heard about his hiring at the NHL, and so it was a pleasant shock when I heard he had actually joined on.  It’s important because as a valued voice and a highly respected former player (and personally a favorite and hero of mine), Shanahan getting on board with the blogs for and Twitter shows that the NHL is really taking social media seriously, as an effective method of communication.

“The NHL asked me to blog at the Olympics, and then I kind of fell off of it, and picked it back up again.  I get on [Twitter] every once in a while and try to be involved.  For the most part it’s been fun and I have had a good experience.  I try to keep it pretty simple and talk about the subject at hand.”

He added that he was surprised that the first day he signed up for Twitter, he traveled to Vancouver, and then logged on to find he had over 2000 followers in that short time (in no way, am I surprised at this.  The tweet announcing that he was on Twitter was RT’d like wildfire).

Shanahan commented that “I think it’s great” that players can use Twitter as a platform for communicating with fans directly. “Some of the conversations I have with players after games, where they’re just devastated after losses; I’m able to offer a glimpse of that,” continuing to add that getting those views from the players allows fans to connect with their favorite team and players, knowing that they’re all just as passionate and feel the same way about outcome of a game.

Guys like Dan Ellis (@dellis39), who interacts with his fans, and also talks about harmless, random things that are still entertaining and simply funny, are a good example of using the direct line to fans effectively.  It’s certainly made me more fond of him as a player, even though I don’t care for the Nashville Predators one bit.  (Along this note, I was catching up on episodes of the Grindcast podcast with Craig Custance and Sean Gentille of The Grinder blog over at Sporting News, and they have a hilarious segment talking about Ellis’ Twitter account in Episode 4.  I highly recommend listening to it).

Shanahan himself has also done similar, Twittering about things from his dog, to comparing the cleanliness of subway systems in NYC versus Toronto, and what line he rides (it’s the F train, for the record), to jabbing back and forth with Sean Avery (@seanaverydotcom, and talking about LOST: “One time I just made a comment about the TV show LOST, and all of a sudden I was getting hundreds and hundreds of responses about LOST.” With a mix of personal thoughts and hockey-related comments, it’s an extremely effective way to draw in more fans.

But there is, of course, the need for discretion, and understanding by players about how to make social media work for them.  Regarding players using Twitter, Shanahan said, “Players can do it, they just need to learn some parameters.  I’m a little bit of a guinea pig for the players… as we have younger players coming into the NHL now, they’re more comfortable with it–some of the older guys don’t care for it.

He added, “I’ll probably talk about this Gatorade REPLAY game on Twitter.  For someone who wants to get a message out, and talk about a good story, it’s a great way to get the word out.”

This last comment, of course, is something that Red Wings fans are extraordinarily familiar with, given the roaring success of Herm to Hockeytown.

I also wanted to ask for some of Shanahan’s thoughts on the playoffs, particularly the Red Wings series with the Coyotes.  Again, I’m not going to pretend like I had any deep, insightful questions–I was shaking the entire conversation, and, to be honest, kind of terrified to voice my opinion.

I asked if he was surprised at all by what the Coyotes have been able to accomplish this season, given the ownership and financial issues going on.  He replied that he doesn’t think that kind of stuff really bothers the players:  “It’s a great story, what Tippett has been able to achieve, [but] the ownership stuff doesn’t really touch the lockerroom.” He also stated that he does think the Wings will win the series, but isn’t really surprised that the Coyotes have made it a tough series, and that it’s been good hockey between the two teams.

With Game 6 this afternoon, and the chance for the Wings to close out at home, Shanahan said that the important thing for them to do is to “start well.  A good start is important.  It’ll be a tough game to play from behind.  With the travel back and forth [across the country], it’s less taxing to play with a lead.  They need to pour it on in the first 10 minutes.” This is a fairly common sentiment among the Red Wings bloggers as well, and I admit I feel ridiculously happy that I can say, to an extent, that Brendan Shanahan agrees with what I think the Wings need to do in order to win the series.  Yup.

More seriously, there have been a few interesting story lines and developments this post-season, including but not limited to, the Avalanche actually giving the Sharks a decent run for their money (maybe this shouldn’t be surprising at all, actually, given the Sharks…), the 70 too many men on the ice penalties been called so far this round, the goaltending musical chairs in Montreal, and more.  So I had to ask, what’s the biggest surprise to Shanahan so far, this post-season?

“I’m surprised that the Devils got knocked out early.  They have a good caoch, good depth.  But after the Kovalchuk trade, they weren’t able to really gel as a team.  It’s a team game, and you’re not going to win [if you're not together as a team].”

And, of course, when asked about his favorite playoff moment for himself, Shanahan unsurprisingly replied with, “They’re all special, but the first Cup is the most memorable.” It was certainly one of the most cherished moments for us fans, too, Shanny.

It was a dream come true to be able to talk for 10 minutes with Brendan Shanahan, and I have to say thank you to Fleishman PR for reaching out to the bloggers, and allowing me this amazing opportunity and honor.

And damn, I forgot to ask about the story behind this photograph.

Posted by EM   @   25 April 2010 3 comments
Tags : , , ,


Apr 25, 2010
11:10 am
#1 crperreau :

Totally cool that you got to interview him. I don’t know that I would’ve been coherent. I really like his perspective on Twitter and the guys in the league-it is an awesome way to feel more connected to the players.
Also, I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes Dan Ellis a little bit more after following him on Twitter.

Apr 25, 2010
10:35 pm
#2 Sara S. :

This is awesome, Ellen! :) Tell Shanny to tweet more text time you talk to him. *giggle*

PS: That picture has caused me the biggest mindfrak of the week.

Apr 26, 2010
2:13 pm

Sounds like a great experience.

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