Monday, October 31, 2005

My First Game

For this installment of the Blog, we welcome Ray Flowers' piece about his first experience in the Press Booth, as he took in a game between the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. Ray will give you a first hand account on what it is like to be in the Press Booth for one of the 30 NHL member teams. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. ~SW

The NHL is back, and anyone who doesn’t believe that statement wasn’t at the Tank in San Jose on Saturday, October 29th, when a sellout crowd of 17,496 people turned out to see the Sharks third straight win, a 3-2 shoot-out victory over the Flames. And while that is the focus of another piece for the Face Off Hockey Show, this piece will be a discussion of my personal experiences at my first game as a reporter for the show.

The Preparation

New experiences always cause a bit of trepidation for me, and this night was no different. After attending games for years at the Tank in San Jose as a loyal Sharks fan, tonight was different. I was no longer a fan, but a person in between those on the ice and those in the seats, I was a reporter. So I grabbed my notebook, my voice recorder, pulled on my tie and headed to the game for the start of what I hope will be a lifelong journey.

The Arrival

Arriving at the game I found a good parking space an proceeded to the media entrance to the arena. After getting what seemed like a 12 step plan from a Sharks employee on how to find the media room, I made my way to sign in and grab the NHL issued game notes. In the press room there was food, so I sat down and had a small dinner while perusing the notes. Looking up between bites of my fried chicken, I looked over to see Sharks TV broadcasters Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda sitting just a table over laughing and conversing with others. Not that we are equals by any means, but I was there in the same room as those two and other, and no one looked at me funny, except for when I got some ranch dressing on my arm, but that story is for a different time.

The Press Box

After finishing my meal I headed up to find my seat in the press box. If you haven’t been to a press box you should try to get there once in your life. After acclimating myself to the extreme altitude, I could jump and touch the arena roof, I found my seat and began to layout my materials for the game. After that initial set up was complete, I wandered around the box to get the lay of the land. The first thing I found was free food. Now I don’t know about you, but free food is always welcome in these parts. The food took the form of drinks, pretzels and a hot-dog machine that brought back memories of the old movie theater I used to visit as a child (you know, the one that had those stainless steel metal rollers that kept the dogs warm by turning). Fearing a repeat of “the 1982 event”, when I got sick off of a hot-dog at that theater, I passed on the hot-dogs and grabbed a water instead.

The Game

As the game started I fell into the mode I had found myself in many times before, watching the dancing puck move back and forth across the smooth ice, the elegance of the game thrown off only by the jarring hits that sporadically occurred. Despite the lofty position of my seat, I was able to actually get a better view of the game than I had been as a fan because I was able to see the whole ice from a superior angle. As I watched the game, Sharks employees came by every 10 or so minutes with updates of all the action that was taken place this night. I conversed with a few of the other reporters, nice people, and as the game began to wear down I started to wonder about how the post-game interview session would go.

Before I could dwell on that thought for too long however, the Sharks scored two goals in the last 5 minutes of the game to send it to OT. The OT was scoreless, and that led to the first regular season shoot-out in Sharks history. The Sharks ultimately prevailed in the 4th round of the shoot-out when Nihls Ekman scored off of Miikka Kiprusoff with an excellent start and stop move. With that, I was headed to the bowels of the stadium to find the locker room and begin my task of trying to land an interview for the Face Off Hockey Show.

The Maze

I don’t know about you, but when I get involved with a series of doors that all look the same, things get a bit confusing. As I was wandering around trying to find my way, I had a thought. Three very attractive young women walked past me laughing and smiling and I thought to myself ‘they must be either wives or girlfriends of the Sharks, follow them.’ Sure enough they were, an a minute later I was in the Sharks locker room standing 2 feet from Brad Stuart who’s goal had tied the game with 22.4 seconds left.

The Interviews

As I was standing there listening to Brad Stuart answer questions, I was struck by a couple of things. First, I was in the Sharks locker room, a place I had always wanted to visit, and I was standing there listening to an NHL player discuss how his play had brought 17,496 fans out of their seats a mere 30 minutes earlier. Of course, I had a job to do, so that feeling quickly passed.

The next thing I noticed was that Stuart really seemed very humble. In fact, he not only appeared to be humble, he was actually speaking so softly that you almost had to strain to hear him. This was not because the media was making noise, they were all very well behaved, it was because Stuart just wasn’t talking that loud.

Next up was Nils Ekman who had won the game with that shoot-out goal. He too was very reserved and quite, though he did crack a smile when talking about how he tried to catch coach Ron Wilson’s eye during the shoot-out after he had basically not played at all the last 5 minutes of the game.

Coach Wilson then gave about 5 minutes of his time to discuss the game, and he was also very accommodating. In fact, I was surprised by how reserved the players AND the press were. I had pictured, I guess from seeing the paparazzi harassing stars and wild playoff celebrations on TV, that the scene would be one of confusion. Quite the opposite was the case. The media seemed very reserved and all were quite and respectful as each question was asked. No one stepped on anyone’s toes, an all waited patiently for their chance to ask their question.

The Sharks staff even went as far as to go and find Patrick Marleau for myself an another reporter so that he could answer a few questions for us after all the other reporters had left to work on their stories. This was especially noteworthy since Marleau had already left the interview area. The Sharks representatives found him for us, he spoke with us for about 3 minutes, said thanks, and disappeared back into the depths of the Sharks locker room.

The Night

As I walked to my car after the whole evening’s festivities I found myself grateful. The game had been a spirited one where a goal was scored in the last 30 seconds which ultimately led to a Sharks victory in a shoot-out. The Sharks staff, and the other members of the media, were more than accommodating to this rookie reporter.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that was brought home to me that the players are just normal guys doing their job. Sure they get paid a lot of money and have fame beyond anything they ever dreamed of as a child, but when I stood there with the questions being asked, they talked to us all just like they would if you were a friend (minus the colorful metaphors of course).

So in the end my first experience as a reporter was extremely rewarding, and I would like to thank the staff at the Face Off Hockey Show for making a long time dream of mine a reality.

Ray Flowers, a member of the Society for International Hockey Research (SIHR) and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA), can be reached with comments and questions at: Don’t forget to check out his website for more NHL analysis and fantasy hockey insights.

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