Monday, February 16, 2009

Michal Neuvirth: Facebook celebrity

It has to have been a whirlwind 48 hours for the young Czech goaltender, Michal Neuvirth. Friday, Neuvirth was just another prospect called up to fill a role. By Sunday morning, he was a hero with a highlight reel save on Vincent Lecavalier, one of the NHL's best forwards.

While it's uncertain if Neuvirth will play more than one more game as a Capital this season, he has already spawned a group of fans through the Internet.

On the social networking site Facebook, Neuvirth's profile has been flooded with well-wishers, fans and even photographs of his performance. His friend count jumps by the dozens every few hours. Michal Neuvirth is a Facebook celebrity, for the moment at least.

"Great Game last night way to go Michal "The Cobra" Neuvirth. That glove of yours is the best I have ever seen," wrote a fan from Washington, D.C.

Many comments of the same nature follow, some in English and some in Czech. Through Facebook, a worldwide community of hockey fans was able to praise their newfound hero. Neuvirth didn't ignore his new fans; in a message he wrote "thanks to all of u."

Michal's rise in Facebook popularity actually represents a new era of fan-to-player relations. In the past, a fan's contact with a player would be minimal. You might catch them after practice, after a game, or maybe at an autograph-signing session. Chances were that you would only hear about the player's personality through television, newspaper and magazine interviews.

Now with Facebook, fans can search for their favorite player and if their profile is public or they are willing to accept them as friends, get a glimpse of their off-ice life.

Neuvirth has photos of him vacationing with his Czech friends, is a member of several Facebook groups such as "The current music at Red Wings games sucks! Here's a list of better songs!" and "Petition to Get Rid of "is" from Facebook Status Update!" and has a widget showing the countries he has visited.

Neuvirth is not the first NHL player to make use of Facebook. Nicklas Backstrom is a member, Toronto Maple Leafs defender Luke Schenn is too, and Mike Green was at one time. For obvious reasons, many of these player's profiles are private, or simply unsearchable. Some have even had to delete them.

The networking site has also brewed some controversy over player photos. A photo of Columbus Blue Jackets defender Mike Commodore in his underwear rolling in money emerged from the Web site, and current KHL goalie Ray Emery uploaded a photo of Ottawa Senators star Daniel Alfredsson in a dress on his profile.

Fortunately for Caps fans, Neuvirth has made responsible use of his profile, but it is only a matter of time before this rare chance of fan interaction is no longer available.

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