May 22, 2008
The abridged review of the NHL Powered by Reebok Featuring XM with Special Appearance by Starbucks Store: Cool gear, awesome customer service, but I was promised an ice wall "which serves as a backdrop to feature merchandise as well as the Stanley Cup at select times throughout the year," and I did not get to see an ice wall "which serves as a backdrop to feature merchandise as well as the Stanley Cup at select times throughout the year."
Instead, I saw that, on the right: Cold steel with skates in front of it. The ice wall was on the fritz last Saturday evening when I, and my dedicated assistant Andrew, made our maiden voyage to the NHL Store, located on 1185 Avenue of the Americas at the corner of 47th Street in Manhattan.
When the wall does work, it's not really even ice, we were told by one of the employees; it's more like frost. Which made us wonder if we could use the windshield of our cars in mid-January as a backdrop to feature merchandise as well as the Stanley Cup at select times throughout the year.
Ice wall, shmice wall. There's still a lot to love about the store, but there's also some constructive criticism that can be offered as well. Thus begins our photographic journey through the NHL Store.
Here's your friendly neighborhood blog editor, fresh from the Mets' outstanding victory against the Yankees and outside the NHL Store. Andrew kept telling me to "act like you just discovered something really awesome," so I gave him the same "ta-da" pose I use whenever someone asks me to do something stupid. While it may appear that the tourists are gazing at me in awe, I later found out Sean Avery was running across Sixth Avenue with a stack of Vogues and Vera Wang bridal gown, late for a shoot. L.C. is so getting that trip to Paris.
File this under bitchin' cool. This would be your NHL Chopper, designed and custom built by Orange County Choppers, the guys from that show we all used to watch. All teams are available, so you can recreate scenes from "Easy Rider" or "Wild Hogs" on an officially licensed Blue Jackets chopper. If you've got an extra $100,000 between the couch cushions, come on down to the NHL Store and have a chat with a sales associate.
It's always sort of fascinating which players they choose to pimp on a jersey. Wonder how many Edmonton Oilers fans are thumbing through their wallets looking for that $300 and change to proudly rock the sweater of a guy who scored 10 points in 26 games, was a minus-7 and yet made more money than Stoll, Gagner and Staios combined. But as we learned from the NHL Store's front display -- they're not very big on updating based on current events.
There's a good amount of men's and women's hockey schwag in the store; the sort of casual golf wear you might find in the parts of Sears that don't have power tools. I was going to mention to Andrew how wonderful it was that the interests of female hockey fans were being served so well by the NHL Store ... but then I caught him groping a mannequin in a Blues T-shirt. This is what happens when eHarmony fails you. Moving on ...
Hey, look! It's the star of Pixar's new "WALL-E!" No it's not; it's actually the absolutely wicked cool hockey stick chandelier that hangs over the checkout counter in the NHL Store. What we tried to show here was a small detail that gets lost in other photos of the sticks: The lights inside of it are actually shaped like hockey pucks. Glowing hockey pucks. Glow pucks. Did anyone else just feel a chill?
"Did someone order a Montreal shoe?" asked a customer service rep as he emerged from a backroom. Yes, indeed, you can design your own logo-branded kicks at the store. Although you can't completely custom design them; for example, the computer doesn't give you the option of putting your favorite team on the side and the team you absolutely hate on the sole.
In fact, there are some rules for customization of jerseys, too. Andrew and I spoke for a while with a really friendly (they pretty much all were) sales assistant named Mike who told us that the store won't do, for example, a "FlyersSuck75" Devils jersey. (Not that we were making a formal inquiry, mind you.)
Mike was a rather cool cat. He spun tales about the hockey celebrities who have come through the store for signings and radio appearances, like Mark Messier and Luc Robitaille. He said heartthrob Zach Parise will just arbitrarily stop by the shop unannounced to check out the gear. And he told a great story about going to Mexico during the lockout and spotting Claude Lemieux at a bar. So Mike goes over to talk with him, and Claude's sitting with two other guys whom he said turned out to be Brenden Morrow and Brad May. Mike says something about how Morrow always gets him goals on a breakaway when he plays his favorite hockey video game; the other two players note that they have, in fact, never seen Morrow actually earn a breakaway. And then they all start making fun of Lemieux for being a dirty player, which I imagine is a rather common occurrence for him in social settings.
If you've ever wondered what the décor in a hockey-themed Starbucks would look like, here you are. I scanned the menu hoping for some hockey-themed drinks: The Milan Michalek Macchiato, or the Ruslan Frappuccino perhaps. No dice. I suppose it's nice that they added this to the NHL Store, because it's nearly impossible to find a Starbucks in Manhattan. I just wish that it was a bit more hockey-centric; hell, I'd settle for a colorful mural of Phaneuf's car getting jacked while he picked up his coffee.
On the back wall of the store -- which really isn't as large as you'd expect it to be, especially in comparison to the NBA's cavernous retail home over on Fifth Avenue, where they hold Bar Mitzvahs -- is a collection of fine-looking hats for every NHL team and a few defunct ones, like the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota North Stars.
This is where I believe the NHL Store needs a bit of improvement. Not in hats, but in history. Having been to the Hockey Hall of Fame, one of the coolest things was seeing jerseys from the Nordiques and the Jets and the Whalers up close, personal and ready to wear. They had a long-sleeve Whalers shirt at the NHL Store, but no sweaters. All of its coolest historic jerseys were on a small rack tucked in a corner, with a few Mike Bossy Islanders sweaters mingling with some other more pedestrian ones. It was a letdown.
I guess the point here isn't to jam the walls with California Golden Seals jerseys, because that's not what I'm getting at. I think the advice is: More $100,000 NHL motorcycles, less Sheldon Souray Oilers sweaters. I expected to walk into the NHL Store and geek out over things I couldn't have imagined, or that I had only seen in a catalogue before. But it seemed more like a shop in the mall than a catalyst for puckhead joygasms. We can play NHL '08 at Best Buy; give us a vintage bubble hockey game. We can get the Penguins polo shirt online; give us that dopey purse with the Swarovski crystals.
It's a great shop, don't get me wrong. It just needs to get a little more die-hard.