Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday Friendsday, Vol. 4: Ron "Puckhound" Saar

Time for another edition of Wednesday Friendsday, where we get to meet another friend of mine from the autographing world.  This time we're going with another former Bostonian-- the first of the old crew to be featured here.

Although he's also moved out to warmer climates, Ron and I were part of a good size group of collectors in Boston back in the early to mid 2000's who used to hit up the Fleet Center (now TD Banknorth Garden) and various hotels.  Ron's also a long-time blogger (you'll see a number of links to his past blogs in this interview, and his current blog is linked to the right) who was part of the Sports Fans' Online Network with myself and Corey Mansfield about five years ago. Here's a little more about him!

Mathieu Garon signs for Ron (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times)

Name: Ron Saar   

From: Machias, N.Y., living now in the Tampa Bay area

Age: 51

Years collecting: About 40 years

Main items you collect: Hockey-related items, primarily pucks and cards

TGC: You're a fellow journalist. Has the profession led to you getting to meet any stars over the years?

RS: No, not really. I try to keep those two worlds separate. There were a few times, early on in my sports-writing career, when I’d get press passes (Bernie Kosar and Jim Kelly) or baseballs (Mike Schmidt) signed. Looking back, that was a big no-no.

TGC: How did you first get into autograph collecting?

RS: As a kid, I would mail letters to NHL teams and players. The New York Islanders sent me this big packet once, full of signed 8x10s. Though none of the big names (Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Glenn Resch and Billy Smith) were in it, I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve been collecting, on and off, pretty much since then. To give you an idea as to how long it has been, I still have fan packets (someplace in The Vault, so you’ll have to take my word on it) from the NHL’s Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Barons.

TGC: Do you remember the first item you ever got signed?

RS: Not exactly, but I remember getting a signed photo and note from Phil Mankowski, a fellow Western New Yorker who played for the Detroit Tigers.

TGC: Do you prefer getting yours in-person, or through the mail?

RS: Definitely, in-person hounding brings me the most enjoyment. I like the face-to-face interaction because it often leads to stories. Though I’ve done my fair share of TTM (a 1,000-request TTM project for hockey players with about a 70-plus percent success rate comes to mind) requests, I’ve gotten away from that. Living in or near NHL cities has spoiled me.

TGC: What are your top five favorite items in your collection?

1.)    A Team Canada goalie mask, with Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, among others, on it.

"From far and wide, O Canada, we guard the net for thee!"
2.)    A Colorado Avalanche jersey signed by Joey Sakic

Who doesn't love Joe Sakic?
3.)    A goalie stick signed by Patrick Roy

"Got this in January 2006 when Patrick Roy, the owner/coach
of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Quebec Remparts
traveled to Lewiston, Maine, for a game against the Maineiacs.
I was the only person waiting for him when the bus pulled into the
Le Colisee parking lot and had him sign this and the Team Canada
goalie mask. Five hours later, after the game ended, about 200
people tried to get his autograph." - RS
4.)    A Bruins puck signed by Patrice Bergeron with his rookie number (#56) on it

"Notice the No. 56. He signed it sitting inside
Martin Lapointe's car outside the Fleet Center on
September 25, 2003." - RS
5.)    A FleetCenter sign autographed by former and current Bruins players. I was outside the newly minted TD Banknorth Garden when I noticed some workers carrying out old FleetCenter signage. I asked if I could have one. It’s now hanging on my son’s bedroom wall.

"Got this FleetCenter signage the day they were changing
the name to the TD Banknorth Garden. Has Milt Schmidt,
Ray Bourque, Wayne Cashman, Willie O'Ree, Patrice Bergeron,
and Phil Kessel on it. Name changed occurred March 14, 2005." - RS

TGC: Rip Simonick. Tell us about the (lengthy) quest in getting him to sign.

RS: Ah, Rip, the source of my biggest public hounding humiliation, back in Boston in the mid-2000s, when the longtime Buffalo Sabres equipment guy shot down my request to have him sign two pucks.

Rather than simply saying no, that he didn’t have the time, Rip noticed and then told me that one of the pucks, bearing a paper Pepsi-style bottle cap logo of the old AHL Buffalo Bisons, wasn’t an official puck.

So, not only do I get shot down by one of the original members of the Buffalo Sabres organization, but the puck also becomes worthless. But he was right. I bought the puck online, knowing the logo was a piece of paper glued on. But I figured it wouldn’t matter. Well, it did matter.

I finally caught up with Rip a few years ago down here in Tampa. This time, though, I had an official Buffalo Bisons puck, which I’d bought at the Buffalo Sabres Pro Shop during a trip back home a few years earlier. And, yes, he signed, but only after  providing another laugh at my expense.

So, thanks, Drew for bring it up. Really.

And there they are!

TGC: How did we end up meeting?

RS: Well, after bringing up Rip Simonick, I should probably be regretting that moment, eh? No, seriously, it’s OK. Most likely, we met outside of some hotel in Boston waiting for NHL players to sign. Of all the years I’ve been a hound, I had the most fun in that city.

TGC: Any fun stories from hounding over the years?

RS: My favorite story involves my son, Colin, meeting Teemu Selanne and telling the NHL great that he was responsible for him getting in trouble with his coach for celebrating his first-ever hat trick in organized hockey by mimicking Selanne’s famous duck-hunting goal celebration.

Anyways, it didn’t take long for Selanne to know what Colin was talking about.

I also get a big kick out of watching Colin interact with a few other players, particularly Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, his best NHL buddy and the reason why we wears No. 37.

The season after Patrice came back from his serious concussion, the Bruins flew into Tampa. We were waiting at the team’s hotel in Tampa when the bus arrived. The moment Colin saw Patrice walk off the bus, he started shouting “Patrice! Patrice!” Patrice looked up, dropped has travel bag and motioned for Colin to come over. Colin ran over, meeting him halfway, and gave Patrice a big hug. After telling Colin he was feeling better, the two talked hockey and school grades. That’s something I’ll never forget.

Beyond that, most of the fun in hounding comes from hanging out with my fellow hounds. We give each other grief, tell stories and, generally, have a good time. If you’re not in it for the money, and I’m not, you’re in it for the moments and memories.

TGC: What's your opinion on autograph dealers?

RS: At first, they were the bane of my existence. In Boston, I’d try to make most of their lives as difficult as I could [Drew's note: Jimmy and Pete deserve it]. Since then, especially since the economic downturn, I’ve asked myself who am I to deny someone a chance to make a living. I may not like it, but there are bigger things in life to worry about.

TGC: What is your favorite place to hound?

RS: Tampa. I spent far too many brutally cold days in Boston, relying upon visualization of far warmer climates like Tampa to cope with subfreezing temperatures, to not relish the opportunity that I have here in Hockey Bay. Sure, it gets warm, from time to time, but there’s something about hounding hockey players, while wearing a T-shirt and shorts, that makes it all worthwhile.

I also enjoyed the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Some of today’s stars (Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler, etc.) were playing in the American Hockey League. Living near three AHL cities (Portland, Maine; Manchester, N.H.; and Lowell, Mass.) allowed me to load up on these players.

TGC: Of all the players you've encountered, pick five you would say are the friendliest in terms of interacting with fans.

RS: The first player to come to mind is Teemu Selanne. He’ll sign multiples and sign for the house. Very few players of his stature do that. He signed four pucks for me in a single day:   

Of course, Joey Sakic, one of my all-time favorite players, made my day, so he gets a top-shelf nod here as a friendly player. Mike Commodore is another good guy, who will stop and chat with you. Mike Knuble is pretty nice, too. Zenon Konopka and Andre Roy, a couple of tough customers on the rink, were excellent with fans off the ice. It’s easy to see why players like these guys, not the NHL superstars, quickly become the fan favorites.

TGC: On the opposite end of that, who are the, shall we say, roughest around the edges?

RS: Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton from Boston, Sean Avery from New York, Todd Bertuzzi of Detroit and Robin Regehr, from whatever team he was with. Ryan Kesler could be abrupt, too. Sorry, that’s six.

TGC: Has anything ever made you want to get out of the hobby?

RS: The cost. From buying cards, pucks, jerseys, sticks to gasoline to supplies, it adds up pretty quick. Now that my son is playing hockey, I’d rather spend my money on him. That’s why I’ve scaled back as much as I have over the past few years.

TGC: Any other thoughts, words of advice, anything like that for other collectors out there?

RS: If it isn’t fun, there’s little sense in hounding. I get more enjoyment watching Colin interact with NHL players than anything else, so that’s what I’ve been focusing on for the past few seasons. Our autographed puck collection is nearing 2,500, so I/we really don’t need many more there. It’s more about having Colin meet some of his hockey heroes. And, if he can score a few autographs along the way, that’s good for him.

Now, for the grumpy old guy in me, I have one major pet peeve: Do your homework. If you’re out hounding, you really should know the majority, if not all, of any given team. Not just the stars, the rookies or AHL call-ups, but the third liners and sixth and seventh defensemen as well.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Drew, for providing this platform. I look forward to reading the others.