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The St. Louis Blues' David Perron, at left, celebrates with teammate Brad Boyes. Perron is one of the NHL's most popular players on Twitter and has been introducing teammates to the micro-blogging service this season. (Jimmy Jeong)
The St. Louis Blues' David Perron, at left, celebrates with teammate Brad Boyes. Perron is one of the NHL's most popular players on Twitter and has been introducing teammates to the micro-blogging service this season. (Jimmy Jeong)

NHL Saturday

Are hockey players what they tweet? Add to ...

Like any other player on an off day in a long, gruelling NHL season, David Perron of the St. Louis Blues likes to kick back and relax, either at home or at a hotel on the road. But unlike his contemporaries, his version of down time often involves sitting in front of his computer and answering questions from fans around the world.

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Perron is on Twitter, and with a unique approach, has earned a following of more than 3,000 on the micro-blogging service that is already a huge hit with athletes and fans in other professional sports.

"It's amazing - the first time I did it, I got over 150 questions," Perron, 21, a left winger in his third season with the Blues, said. "The second time I got 250. I couldn't believe it. Obviously I can't answer all of them, but I'll answer 25 or 30.

"I think it's great."

Given his relatively low profile around the league, the youngster from Sherbrooke is an odd choice to be the face of the NHL's social-networking movement. But the one thing he and most of the league's other early adopters - including Martin Havlat of the Minnesota Wild and Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils - have in common is that they're all clients of Octagon Sports agent Allan Walsh.

Walsh first heard about Twitter last season from his agency's new media guru, Jim DeLorenzo, and soon had a vision of his players promoting themselves in ways he says the NHL has always failed to. A few months after Perron and others first started to reach out to fans, Walsh said he can already see the positive impact it's having in their markets.

"What the NHL has never really understood and will never understand is what the fans want is to interact with the players," Walsh, who has gained a reputation online for his own controversial tweets, said. "The league's philosophy over the years has always been: Fans buy tickets to see the team, to cheer for their team and that they're more concerned about the logo than the name and the number on the back on the sweater. But as many times as they say it, it's not going to make it true.

"What really drives numbers, attendance, TV ratings, are the personalities."

In terms of the numbers, NHL players still have a ways to go on Twitter. While stars in the big three U.S. sports such as basketball's Shaquille O'Neal (Cavaliers), baseball's Nick Swisher (Yankees) and football's Reggie Bush (Saints) have grown massive followings (2.5 million, one million and 680,000, respectively), hockey players lag well behind.

Some of the reasons for that are obvious, and greater access to the athletes hasn't always helped to wipe away the long-held stereotype of hockey players as being bland and uninteresting. While Shaq tweets his location for fans to find him in order to get free tickets and NFL bad boy Larry Johnson trash-talks his coach, Elias has posted only 39 tweets - and two involve taking his dog for a walk.

Perron is one of the NHL's exceptions, and in a city where Brett Hull (and his mouth) put hockey on the map, he is gaining a reputation as one of the Blues' most outspoken players. His escapades on Twitter involve lengthy Q&A's every two weeks or so, sessions where he answers questions that range from what kind of stick he uses (Warrior AK27) to who his friends are around the league (Kris Letang and Milan Lucic, among others) and what he went as on Halloween (a parrot).

He gets some weird ones thrown his way, too.

"Like you wouldn't believe," Perron said, chuckling.

"Like everything you do, there's always going to be people trying to abuse it. I got some questions about my coach, and how much this and that - I mean it's something you can't answer obviously."

Perron tweets knowing his team is looking over his shoulder all the way, ensuring he doesn't step out of line. Yet, while the NFL and NBA have set guidelines for when and where their players can use Twitter, such limitations have yet to come in hockey - at least in part because the league views its athletes as being different from those in other sports.

"It's not in the NHL player's DNA to be self promotional," Mike DiLorenzo, the NHL's director of social media, said in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports. "It's foolish to think that we'll never have a problem, but it's just not who our players are."

Walsh strongly disagrees with that assessment and says players have plenty to share that fans will want to read. He added that Havlat's tweets during the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff run last spring had his jerseys flying off the shelves, and that, soon enough, Perron's chats could do the same.

"Hockey is sadly lacking in terms of showcasing a guy like Alex Ovechkin," Walsh said of the Washington Capitals superstar. "I believe that the philosophy comes from the league down … there still is resistance in many quarters to putting the players out there. But Twitter is dragging teams against their will into this new realm where they are going to be forced to put players and their personalities and stories out there."

Word has already begun to spread in St. Louis, where Perron's success has prompted two teammates, Alex Steen and Brad Winchester, to open Twitter accounts. Perron said he expects more and more players around the league to follow suit.

"I remember just being a fan of the game, when you're not playing in the NHL, and wondering what players are like and why they do some of the stuff they do," Perron said.

"We're aware of the fans that are out there and we want to help the game of hockey get bigger and bigger and this is one way. If the fans feel connected to a player, they're going to want to come to games more often, watch hockey more and say 'I'm friends with him on Twitter' and stuff like that. It's a small thing that I can do to help the game of hockey."

The subjects in this story and its author are all available on Twitter: David Perron ( @DP_57), Allan Walsh ( @walsha), Martin Havlat ( @martinhavlat), Patrik Elias ( @pelias), Jim DeLorenzo ( @jdelorenzo), Mike DiLorenzo ( @umassdilo), Brad Winchester ( @bwinchester), Alex Steen ( @a10steen) and James Mirtle ( @mirtle).



Player

Team

Twitter ID

Followers

Sample tweet

Martin Havlat

Minnesota

martinhavlat

14,249

"Excited to be in Minny where I was welcomed and appreciated by management. The real story about what happened in Chicago to come out."

Patrik Elias

New Jersey

pelias

6,168

"You probably saw Michael Frolik score his 1st goal yesterday. He has me to partially thank for that. I was in the penalty box when he scored."

Mike Green

Washington

greenlife52

3,506

"Shooting geico commercial today with the Caveman. Should be interesting."

David Perron

St. Louis

DP_57

3,089

"One player I'd like to have on the blues? Alex Kovalev since he is my favorite player, i'm sure i'd learn a ton from him."

Mike Commodore

Columbus

commie22

1,994

"My dad gave me 2 great words of advice as a kid playing hockey...Keep your stick up and don't take any crap from anybody."

Alex Steen

St. Louis

a10steen

1,264

[My son]"Kingston just tried to outline his hand with a sharpie and failed 6 times. Here's the kicker... it was on my couch!"

Colby Armstrong

Atlanta

armdog

1,054

"FML. 2 hours sitting on the plane waiting for fuel after our game. Is this really happening!!!! WOW!!"

Brad Winchester

St. Louis

bradwinchester

826

"Anyone looking for some new Roxette tracks should follow @a10steen"

Other, less active, NHLers on Twitter: Dan Boyle, Donald Brashear, Riley Cote, Dan Ellis, Bruno Gervais, Alex Ovechkin. Steve Sullivan, Brendan Witt

Retired players on Twitter: Matt Barnaby, Valeri Bure, Tom Chorske, Wendel Clark, Tie Domi, Bret Hedican, Kelly Hrudey, Trevor Linden, Troy Murray, Brian Trottier, Kevin Weekes

NHL staff on Twitter: Gary Bettman, Mike DiLorenzo

Agents on Twitter: Jay Grossman, Chris McAlpine, Ben Hankinson, Allan Walsh

For a full list of NHL teams on Twitter, visit www.fans.nhl.com

 

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