100 games a season: Gare Joyce's puck blog

Just like being in the scouts' & press' lounge, without the bad coffee and day-old Timbits

Location: Toronto

I've written for ESPN The Magazine and espn.com the last five years. My work has made the "notable" list of the Best American Sports Writing seven times and won four Canadian National Magazine Awards. My most recent book is Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts. I've written three other sports books: When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game; Sidney Crosby: Taking the Game by Storm; and The Only Ticket Off the Island: Baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A year begins ... in the middle of the season

First, an apology. I fully intended to start this blog January 1. But hardware problems pushed back the launch. (On January 1 my old unit melted down and seeing I was in Tallberg, small-town Sweden, there was no hope of support beyond Divine Intervention, a program I opted out of years back.) So this calendar year starts not quite three weeks in but I've spent my time wisely, gathering thoughts and keeping my eyes and ears open.

I write about many things but mostly sports and of the sports I write I focus mainly on hockey. This blog will mainly be about hockey. I'll grant myself the license to branch out every now and then, but if you bookmark this, expect stuff from cold, dumpy arenas.

It's always been my belief that editors of magazines and newspapers and television producers concentrate on the NHL to the absolute exclusion of the feeder systems to the highest level of the game. Look at the arrival of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in the NHL--a majority of puck scribes had not laid an eye on either of them beyond, say, highlights of the world juniors during the NHL shut-down. That has nothing to do with public tastes--when Crosby was 17 I was on of about 15,000 watching him against the Remparts one night in Quebec City. And that certainly has nothing to do with what passes for a professional interest in the game--by the time Crosby and Ovechkin played (as under-agers) in IIHF under-18 tournaments every scout, general manager and agent knew exactly who they were and wanted to dope out their games.

The way the major media cover hockey reflects the taste of sportswriters of a certain vintage and certain tastes. They like the NHL because they can stay on the well-beaten track and collect Mariott Points and airmiles with maximum creature comforts. To me that's like covering the PM (or, for our American brothers, POTUS) and wilfully ignoring Parliament, the Supreme Court, provincial legislatures and regional governments (or, for our neighbours, both houses of Congress, SCOTUS, state houses and mayors and the like).

In politics and in the arts, in business and the sciences, the grass-roots get their due. Even in other sports the grass-roots get play. Fact is, maybe the grass-roots get more play than ever before in other sports. Look at high-school basketball in the US--it's blowing up in the media, getting feature treatment in major outlets, US national rankings, national preview issues, the take-off of scouts.com and other recruiting sites, the works. And yet in hockey--in Canada, the self-proclaimed heartland of the game--you're hard-pressed to find a hockey beat writer or columnist who has gone to to a junior game this season. Or in many seasons. And if you to the US you'll cross hockey writers who've never been to a junior game or a NCAA contest. (Fact is, in the US, you'll cross hockey writers who cover Joe Sakic yet couldn't tell you which province the Swift Current Broncos play in.)

By the time of my computer-glitchridden trip to Sweden I had taken in two dozen junior contests this winter, just as a work-up for the world juniors. Not a burden, mind you. Lots of them were entertainment that made the NHL version (especially down at the foot of Bay Street) pale by comparison. And in the space of 10 days at the under-20s I saw more high-entertainment games than a NHL beat guy would eyeball in a month (or likely more). So the best thing I can do for you the reader is to give you a heads-up on who's coming--you know, just so you know when another Crosby or Ovechkin is in the chute even if the media puck-arounds are completely clueless. You can be in the loop even if the experts are in the dark (with eye shades on and ear plugs in).

So in coming days, some observations on a few incoming, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, John Tavares and others. Of course, it won't be all sunshine. It's going to take me a couple of days to come up with something nice about some WHL games I caught last month ("dreary" doesn't start to cover it).