8/27/18 – Marginalized Backwoods Hockey Fans

This week people have been tweeting about The Hockey News Yearbook, and in our sphere of influence specifically about Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin being the only Dallas Stars in the ranking of the top 50 players. I wanted to see who all was ahead of John Klingberg only to find out that the Yearbook isn’t online, but that you could order it with custom-ish covers.

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The variations of the cover athletes stuck out to me a little bit. Let’s see (roughly) where these guys ply their crafts using this Ottawa Senators-inspired MS Paint map. The hastily spray painted blue areas are where the players are from, though some teams like the Senators, Devils, and Islanders get swept up into the fray.

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I know this isn’t breaking news, but all of the cover athletes come from the areas Top Hockey Men think matter to the sport. I realize like five of us think this is problematic, but the promotion of hockey in general is so specifically targeted to straight white northern and Canadian middle to upper class men that the sport rarely does a good job of reaching marginalized audiences.

The way the sport interacts with women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community is significantly more important as a general issue than the plight of this subset of southern hockey fans, but we’re here to talk about the general disdain for the southern hockey fan right now.

General opinion from fans and the media from across the league tends to view non-traditional markets in a negative light. The NHL and media often have as much interest in reaching out to this large group of untapped potential customers as The Big Lebowski had in seriously finding Bunny.

Is it the responsibility of The Hockey News or any media outlet to speak directly to what is, currently, an apparently small group? Responsibility? No, but if you’re trying to find new markets or expand current ones then what good does constantly trying to draw in the kids of Toronto or Montreal do? They’re going to be around regardless.

It’s easy to chalk these covers up to demand driving supply on the surface. I have a hard time buying that a product like this would do poorly with a special cover in Vegas the year after the expansion club made the Stanley Cup Finals, and the market proved the value it can provide. If P.K. Subban is on a cover people aren’t going to buy it? Los Angeles is the second biggest media market in the world, and they have two NHL teams. How easy would it be to put Drew Doughty and John Gibson on for the LA metro area?

Even if we operate under the theory that this would be cost prohibitive due to not selling outside of a home market, and barely selling in the home marker, I found these for order online. It takes zero effort to have a couple special covers available only online just as a token that you care about expanding an audience in an area where it might not be as large as it otherwise could be.

The key word there is effort. It takes effort to build up an audience. That is the responsibility of a publication. Any publication that thinks they only serve an audience instead of serving and growing it is doomed to fall behind the competition. Team-specific sites do just fine, even in non-traditional markets.

Why do they succeed? They put out quality content people want to read. The most successful ones have writers who take the time to craft well-written stories that are interesting to read on the merits of their prose. They cover interesting topics. They try to provide interesting perspectives you can’t find anywhere.

Those doomed to fail regurgitate the same uninteresting garbage you can find anywhere. The audience is assumed to be stagnant or uninterested. That lack of interest is assumed to be because of a lack of interest in the team, but the harder logical road for writers to follow is that the lack of interest is in the work they are creating.

It’s arrogance and foolishness. The NHL is in so many markets that could provide so much more value if the NHL and its media cared to consistently speak directly to them. Every year I expose my 99% minority urban students in north Houston to hockey through some highlights of hits, dangles, and fights. They always love it. They don’t necessarily have the interest the media and NHL look for, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have interest.

They simply don’t have exposure.

And showing southern hockey markets how little they matter consistently, and these covers are just one small example of the larger trend that has been established for at least 25 years, keeps this larger audience far enough away to satisfy the preconceived notions of The Top Hockey Men who “matter”.

3/26/18 – The Stars Need a Collective Hug

The Dallas Stars have a media scrum after every game. Every team does. Players get to bask in the glory of wins in front of the media and feel like they’re in a firing squad after a loss. Imagine doing that after eight losses in a row and spiraling right out of the playoffs. No thanks.

I saw the John Klingberg portion on the post game show. The Stars send the quotes out after the game. This is the transcription, but the words don’t do what he said justice.

On difficult result and how it’s changed so quickly over last few weeks:

I don’t know. We don’t deserve to win right now. Like Meth [Methot] said, we were doing all the right things before games, coaches give us all the information, we just don’t execute enough. We don’t have any confidence at all the way we are playing right now, on d-zone, neutral zone and o-zone. We didn’t do anything right and you can tell there is no confidence now. It’s tough to play, then.

On the losing streak being surprising after resilience of the team all year:

I don’t know this. This is something that builds on for a while. Obviously we had a real good confidence in the team around Christmas, started with the homestand, then we won one game, lost one game and kept going like that for a while. Then we have been losing a lot of games here now. Obviously the confidence gets shaky and it’s tough to play.

How do you regain confidence after loses:

For sure. We have six more games. If we play perfect, then maybe we have a chance, it will be tough, but we have stay professional and try to do it.

I tried to find the video, but it doesn’t appear that the Stars posted it on the website. After watching it on the post game show I don’t blame them if they didn’t. I have never seen Klingberg so down.

You can read anything into that you want, but none of it is ideal. It is human though, and I think too often the human element is forgotten. Ken Hitchcock looks beaten down too, and he has the last two games.

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I mentioned this on Twitter, but when I look at them I think of my students around November. I work with the students who have never passed a state exam before. One class in particular was just completely mentally done before Thanksgiving. They exhibited many of the same traits you see from the Stars.

There is no amount of anything I can do to guarantee every single one of them will pass the STAAR exam. I had to realize that and adjust to do everything in my power to get the most out of them. So, I changed my approach. We stopped stressing about tests because, well, what did it matter? The class average was always a 30. We still did them and took them seriously, but we stopped stressing.

I started letting them see their own mistakes using a program called IXL. They started fixing them on their own so I didn’t have to seem like I was coming down hard on them – they did it to themselves. Our relationships improved, and the students who have bought in are improving. They listen to music and work most days without me having to say much to them after I teach a lesson or we go over a strategy.

Grown adults playing hockey will need specific approaches to their own situation, but no one performs at their highest level when they are stressed out. You can point to “clutch” performers who perform well in high stress situations, but I would argue that those players aren’t actually stressed. These Stars clearly are for whatever reason.

Being competitive is natural, but so is being human. Professional sports takes the “professional” aspect way too literally. Hockey is the worst about it. This season is over. There is no longer any real external pressure. These guys seriously need to relax and make the best of the next couple weeks before vacation. No matter how much pressure they put on themselves right now it isn’t going to change reality.

Real life sucks sometimes, and accepting inevitability can be really tough. They need a collective hug and a pat on the back. I know I probably sound like an asshole half the time, but I am 100% serious.

2/13/18 – Quote or Content: What Drives a Story?

I remember early on in college I figured out how to get a competent paper written when I either didn’t care to write it or had nothing useful to say. I would find some relevant quotes that presented my idea, cite them carefully, and add my own thoughts on top of the quotes to build a solid A paper.

I don’t think I actually fooled anyone, but I wasn’t trying to. English papers didn’t really matter to me. I could blow off an entry level history paper for an A with relative ease. I still remember an online music history class I took at UNT. It was one of the most fascinating courses I ever took content-wise. One of the requirements was a 5-7 page paper per week. Cake.

You don’t really need quotes to build an argument or a story. Sometimes quotes can be a crutch for poor writing or laziness. They’re merely one form of evidence a writer can use to carry their point to the logical conclusion they’re attempting to lay out for their reader. Video, statistics, photos, diagrams, charts, graphs, and any number of other ways to say “data or pretty pictures or data and pretty pictures” can be substituted in the place of a quote.

The problem is that more often than not it takes more effort to do that than it does to drop a quote into a piece.

When I saw this Tweet slide into my feed I did the “confused dog tilting her head” bit or the “dog is confused why the cat is laying on her” thing and thought about if for a couple of weeks.

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There’s a lot to unpack from that Tweet. So let’s start with the trigger. Why does Ryan Rishaug need quotes so badly?

Hockey players are boring and rarely show their personality when the media talks to them. Does any reader consciously seek out player quotes because they just need to know how a player is doing prior to a game or after? The quotes usually add nothing.

Some random examples:

Dan Hamhuis on accomplishing one thousand career games:

“It’s something I’m quite proud of, but I certainly didn’t get here on my own. Getting to that first NHL game was, in large part, due to my parents and the sacrifices that they made to get me to game one. And then it took a whole team of people to get me from game one to a thousand. You go through a lot to get to a spot like this, but it’s been an incredible journey to meet so many great people along the way. It certainly has been a group effort.”

and

Ben Bishop on what he saw on Los Angeles’ three goals on 1/30/2018:

“On the second one; there wasn’t too much you could really do about it. It went off a handful of guys and it was like a backboard, and on the third one he [Alec Martinez] went back to the post and I couldn’t see around [Jason] Spezza. Martinez did a good job of just throwing it at the net and I don’t know how we didn’t have an instant replay yet, but I didn’t see it. The first one was a screen in front and sometimes you get bad bounces. I don’t think the bounces went especially my way tonight, but I don’t think it changes the outcome of the game. Sometimes you have a bad game and sometimes you have bad bounces. Tonight was a little bit of both.”

and

John Klingberg after the shootout win on 2/9/2018 against Pittsburgh


On the comeback win:

“Tough way to start a game but we showed character by coming back in this game. Obviously Lehts really stepped up and made key saves all game. It was a tough night with the energy, coming in late [from Chicago] yesterday, but we still got two points.” 

On the team’s character:

“We’ve come a long way from the start of the season. I feel like Jamie, Rads, Spezza and a lot of other guys are talking more in here. More guys are talking in the locker room and we have a lot of confidence in how we’re playing. We’re staying in the system and playing our game, so the confidence is high right now for sure.”

On bottling up three of the hottest players:

“That’s huge. Players like that are still going to get their chances, but I feel like we closed them off pretty good.”

Those quotes add virtually nothing to this story other than to prove that most quotes are boring. The occasional Ken Hitchcock quote is interesting, but we could do without most NHL player or staff quotes unless a specific story is being written about them or a topic they are being quoted on. Pregame and postgame quotes? Nah…

The funny part about this to me is where I got those quotes from. Public relations emails them out after each game. The quotes come from the media scrum, but you don’t need to be down there to use the quotes or transcribe them.

If you need quotes they’ll be there I promise.

It comes back to a question of audience. Does a reader want to read a bunch of empty quotes said by a member of a team, or do they want to read a well written column that explains or expounds upon an idea? Does that qualify as a writer making herself the story instead of just reporting, or is it just good writing?

Does any of it actually matter after you go on Twitter and try to shame the backup goalie of a mediocre Western Canadian team? Rishaug made himself the story anyway, but he did it without having to take the time to write a thought-provoking or interesting column. Instead, shred the goalie and get ratioed on Twitter. Rishaug should be ashamed for dragging that into this all because he couldn’t get a couple of meaningless quotes.

That shredding is part of the problem too. The “Montoya not talking” thing triggered his response, but the response itself is petty and childish, but not in the “fun NBA way”. How dare he question Montoya’s mental fortitude in response to not talking on game day. #BellLetsTalk is huge. The NHL has a mental healthy problem with several former players dying from depression and mental health related issues.

Why do you need quotes to write a story? The story is the story whether or not a quote comes from the source. We’ve all seen the quotes that usually come out of these scenarios. Most of the time the information relayed publicly is useless or a distraction.

Be better. Write better stories or more interesting articles. Bring back the creativity and writing quality that leads to more well-written and interesting columns. Above all else maybe don’t lash out in speculation about someone’s mental fortitude when you have no idea what is going on with that player. It’s a bad look.

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