Since then, I've found the answers to my questions. Mostly, during the early years when we hounded the Carolina Hurricanes in Greensboro, N.C., I sat back, around the periphery, and observed. Doing so allowed me to learn from others.
Now, more than 20 years, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on the process. I take the time to memorize faces. I know the best times to find a team, though I can't often break away for them. I've learned to be happy with only one autograph
Really, it's not rocket science. Having said that, though, I spelled out my approach a few years ago with some Tricks of the Trade, in an attempt to flatten the learning curve for those just getting started in the hobby.
Along the way, I've become pretty set in my ways. I believe there's a right way to go about hounding and, ahem, some things that I'd never do. Unfortunately, I've seen some of those instances pop up this season, primarily with the lack of consideration and preparation among them.
All too often, I've seen or heard NHL players get skewered for signing a single item. I've heard wide-eyed, giggling "fans" say "Who's that?" so many times I wonder whether they're owls. And, most recently, I've seen a bothersome lack of manners by some younger hounds.
Despite its simplicity, it took me a while to gain a full understanding of the hounding process. I can't say, either, that I've never committed any of these acts myself over the years. The one thing I've done, though, is learn from my mistakes.
Really, it could be nothing more than I'm becoming more of a curmudgeon with each year. But I believe there are three things that any hound -- from dealers to collectors to fans -- must follow:
- Know the players: Given the relative ease to access the Web for information, there's no reason, other than sheer laziness, to not know a team's bigger-name players and the top two to three lines and defensive pairings. Rookies and call-ups are one thing, and that's where last-minute homework is useful, but if a player has been in the NHL for three to four years, they should be fairly easy to recognize.
- Practice good manners: Don't cut in front of others. You don't like it when someone does that to you, so why do it to others? Trust me, you're not as entitled as you think, even if you're a kid. Remember, too, to say "please" and "thank you." If someone does something nice for you, as in signing an autograph or providing a player's name, you're obligated to thank them for doing so.
- Don't be greedy: This is a tough one, as the economy has led some people to become dealers as a way to have a primary or supplemental source of income. Still, even if a player signs only one item, it's still one more than you had before. That's where team items work best. If a player signs more than one item, good for you. Still, if you want to try to double-dip, please wait until everyone else has had a chance to get an autograph.