October 16, 2012

From NEHJ: Follow the Tweeters

By Jesse Connolly

After rising to fame in the game of hockey, a sport that requires physical exertion for 60 minutes or more, a number of NHL players have become even bigger celebrities thanks to their ability to entertain the masses in 140 character or less. 

Cam Atkinson —@CamAtkinson13 on Twitter — helped bring local stars together for a charity event by spreading the word on Twitter. (Getty Images)

Created in 2006, Twitter has exploded over the past few years and is now one of the top 10 most visited websites in the entire world. It has become the go-to source for breaking news of all kinds, especially among sports fans. It’s also the perfect venue for hero worshipping, with unlimited, instantaneous access to what someone’s favorite band is working on in the studio or what their favorite athlete is doing to keep busy when he or she’s not on the field.

For stars of the National Hockey League, Twitter has provided an opportunity to connect and interact with fans, sometimes ’round the clock, in a way unlike ever before.

“It’s exciting,” said Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson (Greenwich, Conn.). “It’s nice to know that I have great support from all the fans. It’s also helpful when I go out and I’m looking for a place to eat in a certain location. I’ll say I’m near so-and-so and I’ll get a bunch of responses back. It’s nice.”

Atkinson’s buddy and former Avon Old Farms teammate, Nick Bonino (Unionville, Conn.), has been enjoying Twitter a lot more since deciding to be more interactive this past summer, but the Anaheim Ducks center certainly recognizes that NHL players and the like have to be mindful of just how massive their audience is.

“Obviously playing hockey and knowing people want to hear what I say is humbling. But at the same time, you’ve got to be careful,” said Bonino, who makes it a general rule to not tweet on game days and believes most players are cognizant of the potential consequences if they cross the line.

“You don’t want to say anything that gets you into hot water. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

As anyone who’s ever taken the time to visit an online forum or the comments section of a webpage can attest, sometimes readers spew hateful things just for the sake of getting a rise out of someone. Atkinson says you’ve just got to shrug it off.

“Obviously when I tweet I don’t always get positive responses out of it,” the former Boston College standout said. “It is what it is. I’m not going to hold any grudges. Everyone’s different, and that’s the way the world works.”

When asked if Twitter has given him a new perspective on how fans think and feel, Bonino said the wealth of feedback in the early days of the current NHL lockout have certainly done just that. 

Nick Bonino — @NickBonino on Twitter — has embraced the social-networking site by being more interactive, but he won’t tweet on game days.

“There’s been a lot of positive feedback towards the players,” said Bonino, who’s also relied on Twitter to keep tabs on his fellow players’ thoughts on the work stoppage. “But at the same time, you get the fans who are angry at us for kind of holding out and looking for a deal we want. You get to see both sides. A lot of fans aren’t shy about telling you how they feel, that’s for sure.”

Players such as Atkinson also have utilized the social-networking website for a good cause. In August, Atkinson brought a number of NHL stars with local ties together — including Bonino, Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) and Rangers phenom Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) — for an autograph session at his mother’s high-end knitwear boutique in Greenwich. The 23-year-old forward helped raise money for the Marty Lyons Foundation, which grants special wishes to children and teens with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.

Being able to not only spread the word through his own Twitter page, but via retweets from friends and followers alike, was a big boost.

“It’s obviously very important,” Atkinson said of using Twitter for charitable causes. “That’s probably the best way to not only get your name out there but your fundraiser, too. When you follow a bunch of big names and they retweet it to all their fans, it definitely helps and it definitely helped with my event.”

Atkinson and Bonino have made the most of their off-time, but the two — just like every other locked-out player — are surely itching to get back to work. When they do, Bonino will be on the West Coast in Anaheim, something that gets a little tricky sometimes when most of his close friends are multiple time zones away.

“The only thing that kind of stinks about it is when I’m tweeting something at around 9 o’clock, I know most of the East Coast is sleeping,” said Bonino, a national champion at Boston University in 2009. “It’s tough to figure out what audience will receive them.

“As far as my buddies playing hockey on the East Coast goes, it’s huge. I know what they’re up to, and they know what I’m up to. It just keeps the updates coming.”

The beauty of Twitter couldn’t be summed up in a simpler fashion.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal and is the editor of hockeyjournal.com

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com