My dad and I arrived at the Hilton around 8am on Saturday morning. (In retrospect I wished we would have gone on Friday to at least register and get the schedule for the weekend, but at least now we know for next year.) Upon arrival we saw a long and winding line. We were told by a few people in that crowd that the line was for getting wristbands to get autographs. I stood in the line while my dad went to the registration booth to check us in. He arrived back a few minutes later and told me the registration area wasn’t open until 9:00am so we hung out in line until 8:30am when we were allowed into the ‘autograph area’.
Okay, once you’re in the autograph area you have 4 options, as 4 players sign at a time on 4 different stages. My dad and I hopped into the Dave Bolland line right as they started handing out wristbands. Each player will sign 315 autographs and that’s it. So we knew we secured at least one autograph. The guys in front of us in line let us look at their program book and we were able to figure out who else we wanted to get autographs from during the day and which panels we wanted to attend. Finally at 9:00am my dad got out of line (once you have a wristband you are free to leave the line and come back anytime during the ‘signing time’). After checking us in he came back with a drawstring backpack for each of us filled with the program book (schedule) and a few little tinkets. The most important thing about registering is getting the ‘scratch and win autograph tickets’. Since it would be a madhouse in the autograph area if any of the top players or alum were down there the only way you can win a ‘VIP’ autograph session is to have a winning ticket (or if you stay in the hotel for 2 nights you automatically get one winning ticket). If the ticket is a winner it tells you what time to be at the VIP session, but you don’t know what player you will meet until you show up at the session. Sadly, both of our tickets were losers. At 9:30am Bolland showed up and started signing. The line moved pretty quickly. You were only supposed to get one item signed and he wasn’t allowed to pose for pictures, but being the nice guy he is he would pretty much sign anything you put in front of him (as long as it wasn’t like ten items) and would pose for a quick picture. Each player had a ‘handler’ sitting with them. Most of the ‘handlers were 20-something year old women. How do you get THAT job, seriously? For the most part they weren’t too pushy and as long as the line kept moving there wasn’t really a problem. Dave was very nice. He shook my hand and asked if I was enjoying the convention. He signed a trading card for me and a birthday card for my friend. My dad got a puck signed. Once that was over they cut off the wristband and we were free to get in another line and get a different autograph. (You are only to have one wristband on at a time.)
By that time all the 9/9:30am autograph sessions were filled up and the next sessions were at 11/11:30am. At 9:00/9:30am they started handing out wristbands for the 11/11:30am sessions. I wasn’t really interested in anyone during the second session so I tried to get a wristband for the photo op with Brent Seabrook, but all those wristbands had been handed out already. (Basic rule of thumb: wristbands are handed out 2 hours before the actual session…but if you want the wristband it’s a good idea to wait in line an hour ahead of time. So if I had known that I probably would have lined up at 9:30am for the Brent photo op to make sure I got a wristband). My dad wanted Scotty Bowman’s autograph so he got a wristband for that and I went up to see the ‘Life on the Road’ panel with Sharp, Seabrook, Keith, and Bickell. It was a pretty amusing panel. Sharp and Seabs were the stars of that show. Keith didn’t have much to say and Bickell was really quiet. When the session was over Seabs stayed after and signed a few autographs, but OF COURSE my dad had the sharpies so I didn’t have anything for him to sign with. Oh, well. Another lesson learned…always carry a sharpie with you. I ran back downstairs and secured a sharpie from my dad, who was still in the Bowman line. He asked if I’d get in the Ab McDonald line for him. Poor guy had NO ONE in line for him so I got his autograph pretty quickly. When I finished with that I ran back up to the ballroom for the ‘Most Wanted’ panel featuring Sharp, Toews, and Stalberg. Since I knew there would be a chance the players would sign on their way onto the stage I hung out by the railing, but was quickly shooed away by the Blackhawks management saying they wouldn’t be doing any signing. The group I was standing with wasn’t really perturbed so we kinda still hung close by in case any of the players did stop and sign. That panel was the highlight of the whole day. Sharp and Toews have great chemistry together and I laughed through the whole thing. Stalberg (who is drop dead gorgeous) really didn’t add a lot to the panel, but he’s new so I guess he doesn’t have the relationship that Sharp and Toews do. Toews did stay after to sign, but I wasn’t close enough to get an autograph.
When that panel was over I met up with my dad and we headed back downstairs. In the meantime he had gotten McDonald’s autograph too. (He has a friend who is a huge fan, but lives in Utah so he was collecting autographs for him too.) Sean O’Donnell was just finishing up his session, but my dad asked if he’d sign ‘just one more’ and he did. He’s a nice guy…really big. By that time I needed to hop in the line for Nick Leddy wristbands. So while I did that my dad got a wristband for Stalberg. I gave my dad the birthday card to see if Viktor would sign it too. The handler didn’t want to let him sign two things, but Viktor did it anyway. My dad told him he was a good guy and they laughed. I got my Leddy wristband after about an hour of waiting. Since the Leddy signing didn’t start until 3:30pm I had two hours to kill. I looked around the vendor area and bought a Seabs shirt. Around 2:30pm I got into the Leddy line so I wouldn’t be near the end. While I was in the Leddy line my dad was in the line for Jamal Mayers and Rostislav Olesz. As a last minute addition Michael Frolik was added to that table too. My dad only had two pucks with him so he had to buy an extra puck from the guy standing in front of him. I met Leddy and he was sweet. Really, really soft spoken…you could barely hear him. He signed my puck and the card and I shook his hand and told him it was nice to meet him and he said it was nice to meet me too. He’s a lot better looking in person than on tv.
When that was over my dad and I got wristbands for Denis Savard. In the meantime, we looked around the vendor area (we had to buy some more pucks) and then looked at the interactive area. Eddie O was in there with some of the prospects. The only one I recognized was Kyle Beach. The interactive area is mostly for little kids, but it was fun to look exhibits. After that we got into the Savard line. He was really sweet and signed my puck, shook my hand, and called me ‘honey’. That was enough for one day and we headed home around 6:30ish.
The next morning we arrived around the same time, but the wristband line was a lot longer. My dad was going for Corey Crawford and I was going for Niklas Hjalmarsson. By the time we got inside the Crawford line was full and I was one of the last ones to get a Hjalmarsson wristband. My dad opted for John Scott instead, whose line wasn’t really very long. Hjalmarsson’s line moved really slowly, mainly because he’s so friendly and nice that he was talking to everyone and taking pictures. When I got up there he shook my hand, signed my puck, posed for a picture with me. (I made friends with the girl behind me in line and she snapped the picture for me.) I asked him if he’d sign the birthday card too. He said no problem and looked at the card (I already had it open so he couldn’t see the front). Here’s the conversation that followed:
Hjalmarsson: Oh, so it’s Katie’s (he pronounced it ‘cat-ee’) birthday.
Me: Yeah, she’s turning 21 on Thursday.
He nods and looks at the card and sees other players’ signatures.
Me: So you can sign there next to your buddies.
He signs the card and then closes it and realizes there’s a picture of Kane on the front.
Hjalmarsson: *looks up at me* Kaner?
Me: Pretend you didn’t see that.
Hjalmarsson: *laughs* Okay.
I told him he was a sweetheart and was on my way. I met up with my dad and he wanted me to get Eric Nesterenko’s autograph for him and he was going to stand in line too and get one for my uncle. That line moved pretty quickly. I ran over to see Crawford once I was out of line. I obviously couldn’t get an autograph, but if you stand off to the side and take pictures no one really bothers you…so that’s what I did. He’s really adorable and seemed to be really sweet, from what I could tell. When that was done I headed upstairs to see a panel with: Eddie O, Denis Savard, Patrick Kane, and Dave Manson. I tried to stand near the front in case Kaner was going to sign, but the security shooed us away. The panel was actually kind of boring, but I mostly just wanted to see Kaner, so mission accomplished. A bunch of us hung out by the railing after, but he didn’t stay to sign. My dad and I did one more sweep through the vendor area and then headed home.
I should also mention there are opportunities to have your picture taken with certain players. Only 150 people at a time can do that, though, and it uses the same wristband process. There’s also a silent auction and locker room sale if you’re interested in memorabilia. Really expensive memorabilia. All in all it was a great experience. I met a lot of nice fellow fans. They shared their pictures and stories with me and that helped pass those long waits in line. I wish I could have gotten to meet more of the high profile players, but I knew going in that wasn’t really likely, but at least I had access to them at the panels. That’s closer than I’ve ever been before! We’re already planning our strategy for next year’s convention!