A white Hummer H2 stretch limousine pulled into the driveway and eased to a stop in front of the Extreme Ice Center. One by one, members of the Dallas Stars emerged wearing sunglasses and walked through the cordoned-off area that kept their fans at bay. Cameras flashed as the team made its way through the entrance and into the sanctuary of the locker room.
No, it wasn’t those Dallas Stars. This was a group of Peewee players who were arriving in style at the 2009 USA Hockey National Championship 12 & Under tournament in suburban Charlotte, N.C.
The Stars, and every other team at the tournament, received NHL-type celebrity treatment suitable for Mike Modano as they arrived at the rink for their first game of the tournament.
Mike Mulhall, a USA Hockey District director and veteran of numerous National Championship tournaments, came up with the idea to bring added luster to an event that is already a big deal for youth hockey players around the country.
“He was trying to figure out what we could do to make kids feel like rock stars; to give them the best memories of the tournament,” said Maureen “Mo” Mulhall, the rink’s general manager and Mike’s wife. “We said, ‘they’re going to remember all these great games, but what else can they take from it?’ ”
The rink arranged to have all 24 teams picked up in the limo about two hours before their first game. Upon their arrival they were greeted by parents, friends and the tournament photographers. Inside the rink, they signed a huge autograph board, had their picture taken and then escorted to their locker room to get ready for their first game.
As you might imagine, the “rock star” treatment was a hit with the players.
“I think it’s a little booster for this tournament. It got us going a little bit and excited about this game,” said Jake Hagstrom, a 13-year-old winger for the Stars. Hagstrom knows all about rides to the rink. He makes the five-hour round trip from his home in Longview to Dallas three times a week for practice.
Once inside the limo, decked out with plush bench seats and mirrors on the ceiling, the Stars cranked up rap music on a killer sound system and kicked back and enjoyed the ride to the rink.
“I think if anyone was down before they got in the limo, they were pretty happy when they came out,” said center Braeden Brown.
Steve Lamere, the Stars’ coach, liked the treatment his players received but as he waited with his team before the first game, wondered what impact it might have on their on-ice performance.
“To be honest, we’ll have to wait and see.
I don’t think we’ll let it distract us. No matter what the situation, we’ll stay focused,” said Lamere, whose team won its first game against the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes, 5-1.
The red-carpet entrance wasn’t the only way the Extreme Ice Center made the tournament special. They also held the Extreme Skills Challenge, an NHL-style skills competition where players could compete against each other.
The event, which was sponsored by the Carolina Hurricanes, gave players the chance to show off their best slapshot, passing prowess and some of their best moves in a deke-and-shoot event.
Limos and sunglasses are one thing, but these teams came to North Carolina to compete against the best teams in their age brackets. Despite falling to the LA Selects in the quarterfinals, Lamere hoped once his players get a taste for the spotlight, it will push them to play harder.
“They know what they’re here for. To have these little extra perks is good for them,” he said. “It motivates them to get more of these perks, I would think.”