Buckle up, boys and girls—or maybe plug your ears, depending on the sensitivity of your disposition—because Marty Turco is telling the story of his rookie dinner.
It was Dec. 2000. Then a 25-year-old goalie for the Dallas Stars, Turco had just gotten, in his words, “s--- kicked” on the road against Los Angeles, 5-2. Upon returning to his locker from the showers at Staples Center, Turco discovered that someone had arranged his golf clubs in the stall. Remember, rook? Tomorrow’s the day.
The next morning, Turco awoke at 6:30 a.m. and hit the links at Sherwood Country Club, a posh course designed by Jack Nicklaus that is situated below the Santa Monica Mountains and boasts a litany of Hollywood A-listers among its members. “We golfed 36 holes, drank margaritas on the back 18, sat in the limo after a steamer and drank more on the way to dinner,” Turco says.
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As veteran teammates rung up a hefty meal (and drink) tab at their meal, Turco and his fellow rookies were responsible for delivering skits. The results were … damaging. “One of the guys was pretending to be a bully on the ice,” says Turco, who currently works as president of the Dallas Stars Foundation. “And he pushed another guy and went through the wall of the restaurant. It was absolutely memorable, despite costing me about five grand.”
He is on a roll now. “So we pay the freaking tab, walk next door to some happening bar, some hot spot in L.A., and it was about midnight and I was totally wrecked and I walk outside and there is my golfing pal with his toes over the curb, swinging back and forth. ‘Mr. Hull, I think it’s time for you and I to go home.’”
Such is the time-honored experience of the rookie dinner, a welcome-to-the-NHL experience for any newbie. The estimated $5,000 that Turco coughed up at the turn of the century happened to be the same monetary limit that ex-Flames GM Brian Burke once imposed upon his players for their rookie dinners, deeming heftier costs “one of the forms of abuse” that veterans use to bully younger players. Today, on the other hand, tales of these annual, team-only events are largely pretty tame. A few cocktails, a nice steak, maybe some knock-knock jokes … it all adds up to a memorable evening.
Especially if bare butts and ice cream are involved.
Patrick Kane, F, Chicago Blackhawks: We actually had two that year. We had one in San Jose, and it was not the rookie dinner everyone was looking for. The older veteran guys weren’t too happy with it, didn’t think that’s the way we should celebrate, so they picked up the tab on that one. It was the same exact road trip, a six or seven-game road trip out west. We had a couple days off in Vancouver and we did it there. I had just turned 19 at the time. Just enjoying the moment, I guess.
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, New York Rangers (then Colorado Avalanche): We were at some fancy steak restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. They made us do skits. I got traded the same year and had two rookie parties. Didn’t have to pay twice. I think the years of rookie dinners being these extravagant dinners, bills being through the roof, they’ve really changed because rookies don’t get signing bonuses like they did in the past. They’re limited now in their spending. They pay a set amount, and then the team fund covers the rest.
Patrice Bergeron, F, Boston Bruins: There were five of us: Andrew Raycroft, Milan Jurcina, Ivan Hummel and Martin Samuelsson. I had to sing the Canadian national anthem. It was in English, and my English at the time wasn’t good. I didn’t know all the words anyways.
Eric Staal, F, Minnesota Wild (then Carolina Hurricanes): I was the only rookie. It was in Denver and we had the whole team there. I paid for the meal and they made me pick a song to sing in front of these ladies who were sitting at a table. I did “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Dylan Larkin, F, Detroit Red Wings: I sang “Hail to the Victors.” Only song I knew. I got some boos from some Michigan State guys.
Jordan Eberle, F, New York Islanders (then Edmonton Oilers): The best ones I’ve seen are when the rookies do a song, or a rhyme or a play to make fun of the veterans. It really cracks me up. I think it’s something you dread as a rookie. Obviously it’s a rite of passage, but you’re scared of the jokes, scared of what they’re going to do to you. It’s not like hazing. It’s a rite of passage. Veterans enjoy them more.
Tyler Seguin, F, Dallas Stars (then Boston Bruins): On the record? Yeah, basically jokes. I’d have to cheers and compliment a few of the vets, then put down members on the team. First guy I made fun of was Shawn Thornton. He does this thing where he’s skating off the ice and always looks over to the bench, at the coach, to see if he’s being called off. So I showed my perspective of him doing it. Went over well. He didn’t smile. Everyone else did.
Anders Lee, F, New York Islanders: I’m not going to pump my own tires, but I will. I had a pretty good one. I went through, razzed some of the guys, didn’t take it too far. When guys take it too far, then it’s not good for the person talking. Keep it light. No one’s asking for anything hard. It’s a funny joke. That’s why it’s fun. Then you sit down and pay for the bill.
Jack Eichel, F, Buffalo Sabres: I did it in Nashville. I just remember the skits. I did one about Gio [5’7” former Sabres captain Brian Gionta]. I came out on my knees. I think he might’ve been a little bit rattled.
Jonathan Drouin, F, Montreal Canadiens (then Tampa Bay Lightning): I had to chirp Brendan Morrow, a 20-year veteran. These guys know what’s coming, so it’s not bad. You still get a little red after.
Brendan Perlini, F, Chicago Blackhawks (then Arizona Coyotes): The guys do a good job of it not being older guys vs. the rookies. In junior it’s more like that. I don't know if the older guys feel like they were treated like s---, so they have to treat the young guys like s---. In the NHL, it’s not like that at all. Everyone knows that we have to do our jobs to win. So if you’re treating someone like s--- and stuff, it’s not going to be very helpful for him on the ice or off the ice.
Tanner Pearson, F, Pittsburgh Penguins (then Los Angeles Kings): I had my broken ankle. I was wobbling around on crutches. It was in Washington at some Italian place. It was Super Bowl Sunday too, so we had the game on. I had to do a skit. It was me, [winger Andy] Andreoff, [defenseman Brayden] McNabb and [goalie Martin] Jones. Jones took the lead on that one. He was lights-out. I’m not going to say who he was, but he was good. He put the whole thing together, all the lines and whatnot.
Connor Murphy, D, Chicago Blackhawks (then Arizona Coyotes): It was good that it was in Buffalo, because it ended up being cheaper than it would’ve been in a bigger city. They gave me an option, either tell a joke or sing a song. I’m not very funny. I can’t think of jokes very well. So I sang a rap song, “Hood Mentality” by Ice Cube. Not a very kid-friendly song to share that. But I thought it’d be funny, because I’m like the whitest guy ever.
Tom Wilson, F, Washington Capitals: That’s probably one of the best moments for a hockey guy, when you’re able to have that rookie dinner and let loose and let the veterans take over. When you’re having your rookie dinner, that means you’ve made it. It’s something you’ll always remember for the first half of the night … then things get blurry.
Ben Lovejoy, D, New Jersey Devils (then Pittsburgh Penguins): Everybody who has played in the league for an extended period of time has attended a rookie dinner and paid for a rookie dinner. You just do one. But if I was traded as a young prospect and tried to go into a new team and tell them that I had paid for my previous team, it would often be fact-checked, via text message to a friend.
Mine was great. It was in Tampa. I had a veteran team of pretty conservative guys. Nothing too extravagant. A great dinner at a fancy steakhouse, then a pretty casual bar after. We had a very smart team who knew that we had to play in a couple days. Depending on who your leaders are, it can be a tame event or a not-so-tame event.
Anonymous: We had to tell a joke, right? We had to get up on the table in our underwear and tell a joke. So after your joke, we had a big bowl of ice cream, so you had to pull your pants down and then put your ass in it, and then pull your pants back up. And then the worst joke had to eat the ice cream.