OTTAWA - "I am a defenseman that plays on the Ottawa Senators and I'm the league leader in plus-minus. Who am I?"
Give Tom Preissing credit for being a good sport. The Canadian sports TV network, Sportsnet, persuaded the Senators defenseman that it would be fun to go to the Rideau Centre, the biggest mall in Canada's capital, to see if anybody recognized him.
When nobody in hockey-mad Ottawa on that November day could identify him, Preissing put on his helmet and jersey to give folks hints.
Not even that worked.
Patrons guessed Jason Spezza and Patrick Eaves, Chris Phillips and Dany Heatley. Two even chose Preissing's defense partner, Joe Corvo. Some even called him a liar, yelling, "No you don't," when he claimed to play for the Senators.
Finally, after asking "Who am I?" to more than a dozen people, one shopper guessed, "Tom Preissing."
Ecstatic, a stunned Preissing screamed, "Ding! Ding! Good work. That's huge, I'm not going to lie."
Six months later, the Rosemount High School graduate finds himself entrenched on Ottawa's third defense pair in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Preissing also kept that league-leading plus-minus pace going, tying for first among defensemen (plus-40) with some guy named Nicklas Lidstrom.
"Hey it was fun," Preissing said of the mall stunt. "It was a good-spirited piece, and to be honest with you, I'd rather go to the mall and have no one recognize me than be like [Daniel] Alfredsson or Heater who go out in public and get approached by a lot of people.
"It was a little bit cheesy, but it was good TV, I think."
Preissing, who was born in Illinois but grew up in Minnesota, is still stunned anybody recognizes him. After all, it wasn't long ago where the NHL was just a dream, and even that's an exaggeration.
"Every step of my career growing up, I just kind of hung around and was able to do something a little bit good," Preissing, 28, said. "I never really was one of those kids pegged to play in the NHL like a lot of those youth hockey kids in Minnesota.
"I never was all-state or anything like that. I was an above-average high school player. That's about it."
The turning point came in 1998-99, when Preissing played for Green Bay in the USHL.
"My career was almost stalled," Preissing said.
But with him languishing as a forward, Preissing's coach -- St. Paul's Mark Osiecki, a journeyman defenseman who played 93 NHL games for Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and the North Stars -- experimented by putting Preissing on the blue line.
"Tom was a very gifted athlete and a gifted hockey player, but as a forward, for whatever reason, he wasn't seeing any opportunity to score any points, and we couldn't figure out why," said Osiecki, now an assistant coach at University of Wisconsin. "He could see the ice tremendously well, so we were talking as a staff for a long time that just maybe if he had control of the puck starting out in his own end, he'd flourish.