David Pastrnak doesn’t mind the spotlight. But he doesn’t want to see too much of it.
“I don’t play hockey for fame,” he said. “I play because I love it.”
It shows. Entering Monday’s showdown with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins (7 p.m., NESN), the Bruins’ top sniper leads the league in scoring (13-14—27) on the team that had the best record (10-1-2). Fans aren’t the only ones who love watching the Bruins play these days. Those with a financial stake in their success are excited, too.
Through its first 11 telecasts of the season, NESN reported ratings up 70 percent from this time last year, saying that is the biggest increase of all regional networks carrying NHL teams. NESN has seen the greatest increase with a big spike — 158 percent — in the coveted 18 to 34 demographic, and an 83 percent increase in adults 25 to 54. Approximately 750,000 people across the nine markets in New England are watching a portion of every Bruins game.
NBC Sports Network, which will show Tuesday’s tilt in Montreal, has carried only the Bruins-Blues Stanley Cup Final rematch from Oct. 26. They’re eager for the next Bruins game.
“From the high schools to the Beanpot to the Bruins to the Olympics, Bostonians know the sport and are passionate about it,” said Sam Flood, NBC Sports’ executive producer and president of production, who was raised in Dedham.
“Plus, although the league is more competitive than ever before, and that is good for hockey, Original Six teams still resonate with hockey fans nationwide. So when the Bruins are good, it generates a lot of attention. It’s no coincidence that the two most-watched NHL games on record involve the Bruins.”
Those would be the Game 7s of the 2011 and 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Last year’s Game 7 against the Blues drew a record 8.914 million viewers, passing Game 7 against the Canucks in 2011 (8.537 million) for most viewers among games since 1994. No. 4 on that list is Game 6 of the 2013 Chicago-Boston Final (8.160 million). According to NBC, which is in the final year of its deal with the NHL, TV ratings are up 20 percent through the same point last year.
On Tuesday, NBCSN will focus its spotlight on Boston’s top line of Pastrnak, Brad Marchand (tied for third in scoring, 8-15—23), and Patrice Bergeron.
The affable Pastrnak might stroll into the Bell Centre wearing a whimsical kind of suit, like his past dalliances with salmon-colored clothes or something covered in ocean creatures like fanciful unicorn-sharks. Duds aside, he is not a look-at-me kind of guy. Following in line with most of their NHL peers, few Bruins are.
They appear in social media content produced by the team and the league, and NESN is trying to bridge that gap with its My Story series, which already featured Tuukka Rask and will next dig into the backstories of locals Charlie Coyle (Nov. 6) and Matt Grzelcyk (Nov. 23).
Other than Pastrnak’s Dunkin’ commercial that ran last spring, the list of Bruins that pitch products is fairly limited, other than endorsements related to their own gear (nearly every player is a Bauer, CCM, or Warrior loyalist).
Pastrnak has three years remaining on a deal with Bruins sponsor ORG Packaging for his likeness to appear on cans of their sugary-sweet Want Want Milk drink, which is sold in China. Torey Krug, an investor in TDF Sports plant-based supplements, appears in a TV commercial for Plymouth Rock insurance, which sponsors the Bruins. Rask has a deal with Stoughton-based Franklin, which makes street hockey gear branded with his name. Brad Marchand and Kevan Miller recently launched a clothing company, March & Mill Co., with an outdoorsy vibe.
“That’s one thing I think fans are always looking for more of,” Marchand told NHLPA.com last summer, in a story on his new venture. “ ‘What are these guys really like?’ It’s not about who they are on the TV or who they are in front of the camera, when they’re prepped for the interview. ‘Who are these guys, actually?’ ”
We saw a little of Pastrnak’s comic delivery last spring, when Canton-based Dunkin’ pitched the NHL on the idea of putting him in a national ad spot. If you watched hockey on NBC at any point from January to June, you likely recall Pastrnak yelling, ‘Hey ref, check your voicemail, you missed some calls,” with an iced coffee in his hands.
Dunkin’ hasn’t continued running the spot this season, but Pastrnak didn’t hurt his stock with marketers. The morning of Dec. 18, the day after the Bruins won a game in Montreal, Pastrnak was at Bentley University’s rink to film the commercial.
“He showed up early, he was incredibly generous with his time. He was a delight to work with,” said Brian Jennings, the NHL’s chief brand officer and executive vice president, in an interview last May. “David seemed to really enjoy his moment, and hopefully there’s more to come as his star continues to shine.”
The NHL, forever thinking globally, is trying to make Pastrnak and other European players more comfortable with the spotlight.
“Some players, and this is universally true in other sports too, they would prefer to be the best athlete they can,” said Jennings, speaking not about Pastrnak but in a general sense. “That’s OK. You have to be authentic. . . . He’ll be a star player, but maybe someone who doesn’t want to have a lot of endorsement deals, maybe someone who doesn’t want to do a lot of long-form content behind the scenes, what music they listen to, a little about their family life, and things like that.
“I do think this younger generation in general, they’re growing up with it, they’re getting more comfortable with it. That’s allowing us to be in that mode of, you can be a good teammate, you can be about ‘team before [me]’, but it’s OK off the ice to show that personality.”
Bobby Orr was a pitchman for Planters, Chevy, and Mastercard, and locally, BayBank, among others. The height of his fame came when print, TV, and radio were the main advertising mediums. The social media age is more immediate and invasive, leaving stars like Pastrnak tough choices regarding how much they want to reveal.
Pastrnak, like many of his teammates, has given fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse through the NHL and Bruins’ social media channels (mostly Instagram). He’s friendly in interviews. He doesn’t want to be an international superstar, in the spotlight all the time, no matter the heights his career reaches.
“If you look at soccer players, it’s crazy how big it is in Europe,” he said. “Even basketball here in America, it’s on a different level than us.
“To me, I never try to focus on that stuff. I play hockey and it’s not my business to change things, you know, around the league. Obviously there’s always things that can get better, there’s always things that can get worse. I don’t really want to get into this, you know, trying to change things. I’m just going to play hockey.”
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports