On the morning of Sunday, January 22nd, I found myself at the hockey rink. Not exactly breaking news, weekends at hockey rinks are a second home for Canadians, but this day was unusual for one gigantic reason. Along with many Moms and Dads (and about 35 kids, age 8-12), I had been invited to spend a morning at Rogers Place with ‘an Edmonton Oilers player’ whose identity would be revealed on arrival.
CIBC had been reaching out to clients and community partners – such as Hockey Heroes – over the previous months, offering a special experience to young people across Northern Alberta. I was among the very few people at Rogers Place that morning who knew the identity of the Oilers player—Connor McDavid. Unknown to me and the other gathered guests, we were about to witness a fun morning that would be captured, edited and presented online as part of an innovative ongoing series.
Youngsters arrived early with their Moms and Dads, spent a few minutes milling about, grabbing coffee and donuts, and then kids headed to dressing rooms to get ready for the morning skate. This took place at the Rogers Place community arena, it is a fabulous facility and I imagine there will be many local teams of all ages using the ice in the months and years to come.
I was in the hallway outside the dressing rooms when Connor McDavid emerged and made his way to each dressing room. I don’t know exactly what was said, but the loud cheers that came from both was an amazing moment. Not only were these youngsters going to skate on Rogers Place community ice, they would also get a chance to skate with and against Connor McDavid! Everyone got a Skate with McDavid jersey, with their name on the back. Every player was professionally introduced over the PA, and all who attended were treated with an outstanding rendition of O Canada (how anyone can sing that well at 8 in the morning is beyond me).
The action on the ice went on for a full 30 minutes, with McDavid playing exactly half of the time with each side. The kids ranged in age from 8 to 12, and of course had varying degrees of ability. McDavid is a competitive sort, and delivered some amazing moves while playing at half speed, but he also made sure all of the kids had success and enjoyed themselves. These young boys and girls would gladly have been there no matter the circumstances, but 97 took a shift with and against every player, and tested all goalies (the goaltending was excellent, I mean it really was terrific).
I spoke to Jesse’s Dad about his boy, who appeared to be the youngest in the group. ‘We had no idea he would be skating with Connor McDavid, we had no idea until five minutes before he went out on the ice. The reaction was total excitement, it was unbelievable. My son is going to be over the moon, and I imagine he will get an autograph and it will be in his room forever. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’
The kids reaction to the event was obvious from the smiles on faces, and Connor McDavid enjoyed himself too. I wondered why this type of event to profile CIBC and McDavid? Andrew Greenlaw (from CIBC, who leads the Bank’s relationship with Connor) mentioned that the event reflects where Connor is most himself: on the ice and having fun with kids vs. delivering a keynote to a large audience where Connor jokes ‘he’d probably put people to sleep’. The Orr Hockey Group (Agency/Jeff Jackson who represents Connor), Cimoroni & Company (marketing agency supporting the Orr Group clients) along with Connor are all engaged to ensure there’s an authentic fit, and even more important, that it doesn’t distract from his focus on the team/winning.
Said Greenlaw: “Connor does these events in part because of his desire to grow the game, to inspire kids and because of his family’s longtime relationship with, and loyalty to, CIBC. I get asked a lot about what Connor is like away from the ice and I always say ‘great guy’… Very personable, down to earth, modest and an obvious love for hockey and winning. He has clearly been raised well by his parents (Kelly & Brian) and older brother (Cam). They’re a great family, and Connor has worked hard and deserves all the accolades he’s getting and will continue to receive over his career. But you won’t hear him talk about anything other than the team. And he has the right support system around him (Orr Group & Cimoroni & Company)”.
I was close enough to the bench to hear some of the back and forth, and McDavid seemed very comfortable with the kids, and, after a time, they with him. You know, it wasn’t so very long ago that he was their age and he mentioned to me afterward that he approached it from that point of view. Connor McDavid: “I think back to when I was a kid, if the roles were reversed, that’s the way I would like to be treated by someone I looked up to” and that is exactly how it looked from afar.
After the on-ice session, Connor McDavid patiently signed autographs and took photos (for a long, long time) with the kids and their parents. The young man has more patience than I do, and seemed to enjoy himself during the entire event.
The kids were on cloud nine, as you might imagine. Testing their abilities with (and against) the greatest young player in the game would be a thrill for anyone, but for someone their age, it was a truly unique experience. I talked to some of the kids afterward about the event, and they seemed excited about two things: Meeting Connor McDavid, and being a part of the filming going on around them.
CIBC and the McDavid family have had a long relationship, and used the morning at Rogers Place to roll out a new campaign in celebration of Canada’s (and CIBC’s, as I learned) shared 150th, asking Canadians to show/share how they #StandForCanada. The game we love and its emerging superstar – and proud Canadian (and someone we should be proud to call our own!) – combining to reflect the fabric of our country and the things we hold dear. Fresh faces and iconic hockey players have been a part of Canadian advertising seemingly forever, and this event continues that in a less scripted, more natural way.
It was a great experience for me, to meet some of the parents and the hard-working individuals behind the scenes. To talk to the parents, and to Connor McDavid on several subjects (I will have a few quotes from him on various things in the days to come). I am thankful to have been a part of a special, unforgettable morning for everyone involved, and am certain the kids and adults will remember it for a very long time. My sincere thanks to CIBC, The Orr Hockey Group, Cimoroni & Company and Fadoo Productions.
I discussed the idea behind Skate with McDavid with Mr. Greenlaw.
- Lowetide: Once the video is produced, what kind of reaction do you anticipate?
- Andrew Greenlaw: “This will be the fifth piece of content that we’ve done featuring Connor and they have generated an average of a few million views each and very positive feedback/engagement. There is a significant demand, across Canada, to consume content that allows people to get to know Connor ‘off the ice’ (at least the professional ice!).”
- Lowetide: As these content pieces get that kind of audience, will there be more?
- Andrew Greenlaw: “Yes! Whether it’s creating a community event, such as ‘Skate with McDavid’, to surprise a group of kids or showcasing – in a fun and authentic way – how CIBC fits Connor’s life… we are always looking for engaging ways to share our relationship with him. 2017 is an especially exciting opportunity as we celebrate Canada & CIBC’s shared 150th – and what better ambassador than Connor McDavid!”
No shins were harmed in the making of this video. Enjoy!