The Time Daddy Wrote For The Vancouver Canucks
Hey Sydney and Trey...did you know Daddy used to write for the Vancouver Blue Fishes...err, the Vancouver Canucks? It's true, back in 2006-07 I wrote game stories and feature stories for my favorite hockey team!
You're probably wondering how I managed to pull that off? Well, here's the story of how a simple email led to me interviewing players in the dressing room just a few short weeks later.
I was working at eBay in the early 2000's, a pretty good job with great benefits and plenty of pride because back then eBay was very popular and all over the news. I made some great friends along the way while working at eBay, many of whom I'm still friends with on Facebook.
Anyway, I was getting bored at eBay and my job performance was slipping so I was looking for other things to do to keep me interested. Back then online blogging was just becoming a thing so I started my own blog and wrote about whatever was on my mind..mostly sports and pop culture stuff.
One day after I left eBay I was browsing the Vancouver Canucks website and saw the 'Contact Us' link. It crossed my mind that maybe they would like my writing and might be looking for a writer?
I clicked the link and sent them an email...here's how it went.
My name is Josh and I've been a Canucks fan my entire life. I live in Vancouver and was born the same year the Canucks entered the league in 1970.
I'm contacting you to inquire if the Canucks are looking for a writer?
I've been writing my own blog and I frequently write about the Canucks. If you have some time, I'd appreciate if you could check out some of my recent posts.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I honestly wasn't expecting a response but it didn't hurt to try.
A few days later I got an email from the guy in charge of content on the Canucks website that said he liked my writing and the Canucks were in fact looking to expand their blogging presence and they thought I would be a great fit! He said he would be in touch shortly to set up a meeting at GM Place in Vancouver.
Are you serious!?!
My Call-Up To The Big Leagues
The next week I went to GM Place and met my future boss. But there were two other writers in the meeting who were just as excited as I was to meet their future boss, too!
I was confused. What were these guys doing here?
The online content director told all three of us the Canucks were looking to expand their social media presence with fan blogs and the three of us had been selected to get the project rolling. We would be all be issued press passes for home games and we would work on a rotating basis covering the games and writing game recaps. And occasionally we would be assigned feature stories to write to be featured on the Canucks website.
That sounded pretty cool but I didn't like the idea of sharing the gig. I wanted it all to myself so I decided right then and there nobody would do a better fan blog than me. I almost felt like a hockey player who had been called up from the minors and my job was to impress and keep my job in the big leagues...looking back I think our boss did that on purpose, he mimicked the process hockey players go through trying to keep their jobs in the NHL.
I enjoyed the competition and took the initiative to think of ways I could differentiate myself from the other writers as soon as possible, even though my first chance at writing a game recap a few nights later didn't go so well.
It was a preseason game and the Canucks were playing a road game, I forget who they were playing but my job was to watch the game and then write a quick recap of the game to be posted on the Canucks website as soon as it was over.
I was awful at it.
Trying to write a story under that sort of pressure was very, very hard. I kept writing and then deleting, looking for the perfect words to describe what I saw during the game...the words just didn't come naturally and the harder I tried the worse it sounded. An hour after the game ended I still hadn't sent the story to my editor so he fired off an email to me in ALL CAPS...
ARE YOU FINISHED YET? HURRY UP, THIS ISN'T POETRY!!!
Ugh, I hated him. I finally submitted my perfect recap and when I went to the Canucks website a few minutes later to see if he had it posted, there was a completely different story on the site. He had lost faith in my abilities to get the recap done so he wrote his own story and posted it.
I failed on my first attempt at game recaps and felt absolutely crushed.
First Time In The Press Box
I licked my wounds for a few days and then proactively asked the editor if there were any feature stories he needed writing? I felt like those types of articles would be my bread and butter because I could take the time to get them right and submit them to him after proofreading and editing as many times as I liked.
He told me the team would be at the PNE amusement park the next day riding rides and mingling with season ticket holders so he said I could tag along and write a story about that.
It went much better than the recap. I quickly realized I had to write from the perspective of a fan but also as someone who was promoting the team and their efforts in the community. The story was posted without much editing and I felt like I was back on track with my boss. Hooray!
My next challenge came when I would be attending my first home game with an official press pass and writing the game recap. I was terrified!
A few months after that first game in the press box I wrote about it so I could remember the experience...my Dad laughed hard when I read it out loud to him.
My first day as a fully credentialed member of the media was on September 24, 2006. I remember it well; it was a pre-season game versus the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Anaheim Ducks and I was a nervous wreck. The game started at 7 pm, but I hopped onto the skytrain at 4:30 - I didn't wanna be late for my first game. No worries there, newbie.
I met my boss at the reception desk, he handed me my press pass and asked if I knew my way to the press box. Hold on a second, how the heck would I know how to get to the press box? My boss, who was a very busy man, gave a heavy sigh and showed me the way to press box with me in tow like the nerdy kid who can barely hang onto all the text books and who ends up dropping them all over the floor.
We stepped out of the elevator on Level 5, walked down the hallway, made a quick left and went down five or six steps to press row. And there it was - in all its glory - the ice surface of The Garage from what seemed like 10 stories up. My boss was giving me instructions on where to hook up my internet connection and where the phones were etc. I was nodding thoughtlessly, not listening to a word he was saying because I was too numb with excitement. Then suddenly, he left me all alone up there when he returned to his office. I didn't get a tour, I had no idea about the buffet and I had no clue about where I was supposed to go after the game to get quotes from the players and coaches. Good times!
I was literally buzzing with excitement at being in the press box, so the first thing I did was email all my friends and family and tell them where I was. Nevermind reading the game notes or doing pre-game research, I had to send a bulk email first. It was definitely a dream come true!
My seat in press row was directly in line with the goal-line at the Canucks end. To my right was a guy from The Hockey News who has since become a great friend of mine, and to my left were the seats reserved for the scouts. They say the best view of a hockey game for scouts is from the corner, so I was pleased with my new digs. The mainstream media from The Province, The Vancouver Sun, the Associated Press, the Canadian Press and others were situated right at center ice.
It didn't take long for me to make my first mistake, though.
My friend from The Hockey News wasn't there for the first few pre-season games, so I had the section pretty much to myself on that first night - except for a scout from the Tampa Bay Lightning who was sitting a few feet away. New head coach Alain Vigneault had a fresh, speedy line of Jesse Schultz and some other quick forwards I can't recall right now on the ice, so I said to the scout, "Wow, this line's got some speed, eh?"
The scout looked up from scribbling on his notepad and grunted his agreement. Ok, Josh. Lesson number one: The scouts are there to do their jobs, not converse like a regular fan with an internet writer about the Canucks new line combinations. Got it. Won't happen again. The scout sat a few seats further from me for the start of period two. Snob.
The Canucks eventually won 4-3 in an overtime shootout, and that's about the time I started writing the game story. I was secretly hoping my boss wouldn't ask me to get quotes because I was too freakin' scared to go into the dressing room for the first time. It would have been fine if I got a quick drill on etiquette beforehand, but I got nothing. Not good times for a beginner.
Then my busy boss peaked around the corner and said, "Let's go Josh, we're going to the room."
Great. Based on my faux pas with the scout earlier, I was terrified I might break an unwritten code of having my recorder too close to Markus Naslund or forever ruin my chances of getting a quote from Roberto Luongo in the future if I stood too close to the All-Star goaltender. The ride in the elevator to the bottom level was terrifying. Still no coaching from my boss. Some of you might wonder why I didn't ask any questions? Well, I did't wanna seem like I had no clue about what I was doing. I think we've all been in that position, yes?
The elevator hit the dressing room level and my boss pointed to the other waiting media and told me to follow them and do what they do. OK, got it. Then the P.R. guy for the Canucks yelled, "We're open."
For the other seasoned journalists, this was old hat. This was a pre-season game and I got the feeling most of them would rather be at home doing something else. But for me it was my first time and it was like walking into an unknown abyss. Later, I described the experience to my Mom like this:
Walking into the Canucks dressing room for the first time was like getting into heaven; all your life you try and get there but when you finally do arrive there's an undeniable feeling like you just don't belong.
The first thing I saw as I walked into the room was Mattias Ohlund in a towel. What a totally skewed perception of reality! I was used to seeing Ohlund on TV in his hockey gear, but now I was face to face with him while he wore nothing more than a bath towel and flip-flops. It was complete culture shock.
The media scrum moved from Naslund to Luongo and then finally to Brendan Morrison, who scored the game winner in OT. I got all my soundbites without violating any unwritten rules or pissing off any players so I went back up to Level 5 and wrote my game story.
Looking back on it, the game recap was rudimentary and weak but that's what the preseason was for, we were all learning our new jobs and trying to get better everyday.
As the season went on, I gained more confidence with my game recaps and was trying to submit as many feature articles as I could. I could feel my boss gaining more and more confidence in me because he started emailing me feature story ideas and commenting about how he and the other Canucks staff liked my stuff.
The next thing I did was go out and buy a super expensive camera so I could start attending game day skates and practices. The other two writers had day jobs so they couldn't make it to any practices or game day skates, but I had quit my day job and decided to focus on the Canucks entirely. This became my main advantage over the other two writers and how I started to pull away from them.
I started taking pictures of practices and emailing them to my boss along with a quick blog and he quickly posted them on the Canucks site. Before I knew it I was the go-to guy for all Canucks content.
Wayne Gretzky Is Coming To Town
I loved writing for the Canucks and meeting all the players but the best day for me was when the Phoenix Coyotes visited Vancouver because I got the chance to cover Wayne Gretzky as part of the media.
On the day the Coyotes practiced, Wayne had agreed to meet the media before his team took the ice to answer any questions. At the time, Gretzky was the coach of the Coyotes so the throng of media waited in the tunnels of GM Place for Gretzky to step off the bus and make his entrance.
When he walked in the building towards us I had to catch my breath.
Wow! I grew up idolizing Gretzky. I'd been in his childhood home as a fan, I spent hours in the Hockey Hall of Fame looking at all of memorabilia and I even ate at his restaurant in Toronto, and now I was two feet away from him with a tape recorder under his chin listening to every word.
I had to pinch myself. What was I even doing here? How did this happen? Remember, all of this started because I contacted the Canucks on a whim asking them if they needed a writer!
I didn't even have a feature article to write about Gretzky or even a reason to be there that day, I just wanted to be in his presence. He entertained the media in every single city he visited, calmly and patiently answering any and all questions. He spent probably 20 minutes in the scrum with us and then spoke to any media members individually for another 20-30 minutes, obliging all who asked.
Meanwhile, I recorded everything. I still have my mini tape recorder at home with his interview on it. I'll never, ever delete those words.
All Good Things Come To An End
The problem I had writing for the Canucks was separating my fandom from trying to be a journalist. I know I wasn't a journalist in the truest sense of the word, I was more of a blogger, but I still let my emotions get the better of me when it would have been better to keep an even keel to be able to write effectively.
The Canucks were knocked out of the playoffs that year and I was so upset. I had visions of covering the team while they went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup, being in the locker room with the players, snapping pictures, getting quotes while drenched in celebratory champagne.
But it wasn't meant to be.
After the final game of the playoffs when the Canucks lost I had such a hard time writing the game recap. All the progress I had made getting stories in on time went out the window, I couldn't even write the first sentence!
My boss ended up writing that final story and posting it. I just couldn't muster up the energy or enthusiasm to get it done. I knew I was failing him but something inside me was telling me my time writing for the Canucks was up.
And I was OK with that.
The pay wasn't great back then, no matter how many features stories I pumped out it wasn't close to paying the bills. I'm not saying this to rip on the Canucks because they were very good to me; they gave a complete nobody like me a chance to write for his favorite team, but I couldn't survive much longer without a day job.
After I stopped writing for the Canucks it took me a couple of years to start following them as closely as I did before. I had seen all the inner-workings, the Public Relations efforts, the photo-ops and community initiatives, I had seen how much of a business a hockey team really was and I didn't like it.
Trust me kids...it's way more fun just being a fan.