TORONTO — Naturally, the first time Novak Djokovic played hockey should take place in Canada.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday afternoon at Toronto’s Rogers Cup, when a host of NHLers played with some tennis players, including Canadian juniors Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Ben Sigouin and, of course, Djokovic, the top men's player in the world right now, in a friendly ball hockey game contested on the Aviva Centre’s Centre Court.
On the NHL side of things, Connor McDavid, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza participated along with Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, Ryan O'Reilly, Michael Del Zotto and Dominic Moore. Former NHLer and Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos also suited up.
Because it was family weekend at the Rogers Cup, scores of children were in the stands for the game. And while this is technically a tennis tournament, the majority of them were itching to see the Edmonton Oilers’ young superstar, who received a loud cheer when he stepped onto the court. The other big cheer went to Djokovic, who came onto the “ice” shortly after the others and warmed up by taking some penalty shots, much to the delight of the crowd.
The NHLers and tennis players were split up between two teams - red and white. McDavid scored once in the game, which may or may not have ended in a 3-3 tie. (The score seemed to be mostly an afterthought in the amicable affair so no shootout was required). For a rookie, Djokovic looked pretty comfortable on the rink, calling for passes and even getting some quality scoring opportunities. Naturally, the three Canadian juniors looked, well, like three Canadian teenagers playing ball hockey and having a blast. Sigouin even netted one for his white squad.
Afterward, the world No. 1 told the press he “enjoyed” the experience of playing with the NHL’s best, though suspected they went “very easy on us.”
“For me, it was a unique experience because it was the first time I have played ice hockey, ice rink or not,” he told the media in his press conference. “They put me on the spot right away. I had to do the shootout, the penalty right away. So it was a lot of pressure. But I enjoyed it, I really did because you don’t get these opportunities very often and so you try to get the best out of it.”
Following the game, Djokovic took some time to pose for photos with some of the NHL players.
— Tyler Seguin (@tseguinofficial) July 24, 2016
— DERO (@dwaynederosario) July 25, 2016
As the top seed, Djokovic received a first-round bye and will play his first match Wednesday afternoon.