Before Justin Bieber became a global celebrity (for a variety of reasons), he was a moppet in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, playing hockey in Canada.
It’s remained a part of his identity as an adult, or whatever. Bieber brings his gear on tour with him, and tries to get an opportunity to skate with a pro team wherever he can. “It’s a good release for him from the manic world he lives in, especially on tour,” said Neil Russell, general manager of the Manchester Storm of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the U.K.
Russell and his team found this out firsthand this week.
For years, Bieber has been known to drop in at hockey practices while on tour, ranging from a 2014 club team practice in Atlanta (wear he wore skinny jeans) to a Los Angeles rink last summer. Currently on a European tour, Bieber’s dropped by team practices in Munich:
And in Denmark:
On Tuesday, he added Manchester to the list. And it was quite a frantic night.
Russell said he “popped an email off to the management company” for Bieber a few weeks ago, after seeing him skate with that team in Munich. “I didn’t hear anything back. I didn’t expect to hear anything back,” he said.
But then he got a phone call from a buddy in Belfast, who had a buddy who worked at the O2 Arena in London, who passed Russell’s number to Bieber’s personal assistant. And suddenly, Russell was in talks with the camp of a pop star about him dropping by their hockey practice.
Bieber was expected to pop in last week, with his reps giving Russell three different days to be on high alert. Alas, the practices were Biebs-less, although many of the players were invited to take in his concert at the Manchester Arena last Thursday.
But on Tuesday night, Russell got a text. It was Bieber’s personal assistant. He was on his way to the rink to practice with the team, in about 40 minutes.
Guess who wasn’t at the rink?
Guess who was at the rink? Youth teams, practicing on the same ice that Russell now needed, and with players that needed to be cleared out before the biggest pop star on the planet walked through the doors to their screams.
“I had to clear all the kids because the building had to be cleared. And the next session had to be cancelled, so I had to talk to the parents and get that sorted out,” said Russell.
Meanwhile, he had to get his own players down to the rink, as they didn’t have a practice scheduled. “They were all at home, chillin’,” he said. “So I had to get all the boys down to the rink in super-quick time.”
Frantic as the moments were, the players arrived, and soon Bieber arrived to skate with them.
So what do you do when Justin Bieber joins your practice?
“The one thing that his security team said to us is to be cool with him. Don’t be awkward, just act normally and he’ll enjoy himself,” said Russell.
He practiced with the team for the better part of an hour, including a scrimmage and a shootout.
“I know our guys were more than impressed with him, I have to say. He skates well. He’s got good hands,” he said.
After practice was done, it was obvious the players had gotten on with him well. So Bieber invited them out for drinks and purchased a few rounds.
And then a few more, as he and some of the players hit Manchester.
And then a few more, back as Bieber’s pad in the city.
“The boys said they were feeling like royalty last night,” Russell said. “The security staff said this hasn’t happened before, where he’s taken a hockey team out with him and had some drinks and what have you. It’s pretty cool.”
Russell said Bieber was, in the end, one of the boys. Which is a side of him you don’t often get to see, since his reputation has been defined (and crushed under the weight of) tabloid headlines, like his recent adventure driving on the wrong side of the road in London. (Hey, what American hasn’t?)
“He’s gotten some bad press around here, because he walked off stage in Manchester, and all that type of stuff. But he was a gentleman with us,” said Russell. “Nothing but good things to say about him.”
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