BY JAMIE HODGSON
Hello out there, I’m on the air. Finally.
I have one of the coolest jobs there is: I’m the Art Director of The Hockey News. I don’t have the profile of Ken Campbell or Adam Proteau, don’t get any bylines in the magazine or on the web, and don’t get to go to NHL games and sit in the press box.
And no, I don’t know Tie Domi or Mats Sundin – although I’m sure they’re nice guys.
But I have done many great and amazing things in the past nine years at my post that nobody else gets to do. This past weekend at the All-Star Game in Montreal, I got to do something that was pretty amazing and one of best ‘perks of the job’ ever.
Before I get to that, let me give you a quick rundown of some of my personal highlights over the years. It all started after I completed my first project – transferring our ‘Century of Hockey’ magazine to a hardcover coffee table book. As a rookie in the business, I was proud of my efforts on what was to me a big, important project.
My reward? I got to meet Bobby Orr, the cover boy of that magazine. I got a photo with him, shook his hand and shared a few words about the book. Bobby-freakin’-Orr!
I’d worked at THN for three weeks and I already hung out with the best defenseman in the history of the game? I hadn’t even been paid yet, and already this. I also got to attend the NHL awards that year at the Air Canada Centre and met Dominik Hasek, Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Modano. Oh, and I also had my photo taken with actress Tia Carrere and her famous Maple Leafs dress. (Schwing!)
Part of my job with our publication is to direct photo shoots we do for THN’s covers and inside stories. I advise the photographers and the players in terms of where to stand, how to act and what kind of vibe we are trying to achieve with the shoot.
My first shoot was a quick one in the basement of a Toronto hotel with a non-English speaking pimply-faced Russian kid with tree-trunk sized legs. He had absolutely no idea what we were saying to him, but he put on his blue robe and crown with a perplexed look as we anointed him ‘King Kovalchuk.’
I’m no slouch – 6-foot-3 on a good hair day – but I was put in my place at the Hall of Fame one summer afternoon as we shot the impressive ‘Big Z’ for a yearbook feature. Zdeno Chara is a big and mean man on the ice, but a big softy off it.
I also hung out with Alex Ovechkin for about an hour-and-a-half one summer morning after he was finished his training session and could barely stand up. But as you would imagine, he was a trooper and did whatever he was asked, with a giant grin on his face. As we took shot after shot to find the cover of All-Access Pass, he shared stories of hot Russian women, his workout program and even gave us a peek at his current girlfriend on his cell phone.
In between setting up the different locations for the shoot in the basement of the ACC, he helped out by grabbing a broom and swept up the floor while whistling away. He posed a photo with me, signed a jersey for a giveaway contest and promised if he scored a goal against the Leafs that coming season, he would point at the press box to show me some love. He’s all right, that Ovie.
Another special moment was sharing 10 minutes of alone time with Gordie Howe as we were setting up for another shoot here at our offices in Toronto. He entertained me with stories of his early days and his injuries as he noticed I was limping because of an injury sustained from my summer passion, rugby.
Gordie told me to suck it up and that whatever was wrong with me couldn’t compare to what he had been through. I agreed, and then he threw a giant elbow at my chin and apologized by grabbing my arm with his size XXXL Saskatchewan farm boy hands. Great, I was out for another week.
I don’t only get to chill with the legends of the game – I also recently did a photo shoot last summer, pre-draft, with a kid in Sarnia, Ont. We drove out there to spend a couple of hours at a local rink with a fair-haired skater nicknamed ‘Stammer.’ Unassuming and arriving on his own, he wandered around the arena with his plastic bag full of a few shirts for the shoot.
“Steven?” I asked.
“Yep, that’s me,” he said.
Stamkos was great; he couldn’t wait to begin his NHL career. Turns out he is enjoying the weather down in Tampa. Our Draft Preview cover boy was fabulous and I hope the next time we meet, his NHL stardom hasn’t tarnished his great attitude and willingness to help me out.
Stamkos’ good friend Luke Schenn got his chance to appear on a THN cover recently. But he was shy and quiet, as this was his first shot at the big time. He seemed honestly shocked and excited when, halfway through the shoot, I told him he will be famous in more places than Saskatoon, because this is for the cover of The Hockey News.
His resulting, beaming expression was the image we used for the cover. It was a great job by Luke, who I also got to sit with on the Leafs bench and watch practice afterwards that day.
There have been countless other experiences, photo shoots, and celebrity encounters I’ve been fortunate to have in my time here. But this past Sunday morning at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m., I dragged myself down to the lobby of our hotel to meet THN colleague Ryan Dixon and head over to the Bell Centre on a freezing cold morning.
Yep, we had our hockey equipment and we were going out onto the ice to play in the annual media matchup. How cool is that – the morning of the actual All-Star Game and only hours after the parties had ended from the NHL’s Skills Competition, here we were lacing up our skates.
I’m used to playing in rinks that are only a few degrees warmer than the outside temperature, with ice that’s often soft and broken. I’m also a rare Canadian kid who never played organized hockey; I was a baseball guy and recently devoted all my athletic energies to rugby.
I just started really skating a few years ago with the THN crew on Friday lunch shinny matches and my skills leave a lot to be desired. So this was extra special. But just because I never played in an organized league game doesn’t mean I didn’t feel the rush when I stepped out onto the fresh sheet of ice behind Ryan, who was wearing his retro Vinny Damphousse Canadiens jersey.
At that point in the morning, the Bell Centre was empty and half-dark with just the sounds of pucks ricocheting off posts, boards and glass.
Ryan and I immediately skated to the bench and took a few pictures. The bench was still filled with Gatorade from the night before. Perfect. We needed some already.
The game lasted more than an hour-and-a-half, as the two-referee system only called one penalty and two offsides. Yours truly came away two beauty goals. How amazing – I scored two goals on the same nets as my NHL heroes.
Having lost track of the score somewhere along the way, the media crew decided a shootout was in order as we all went one-on-one in an empty Bell Centre. In my mind I could hear the Montreal faithful chanting and cheering, “Hodgeee! Hodgeee! Hodgeee!”
The confident skaters of the group all went first, then the lesser-talented among us had a go.
Everyone watched as I skated slowly towards the goalie at the other end, thinking, “I wish this was THN Designer (and amazing Canadian Women’s League goalie) Erika Vanderveer – I think I could beat her!”
I don’t posses too many moves in my repertoire, so I went for the shoulder-shimmy-head-fake-o-rama, and the goalie went for it, falling to the ice and stacking his pads. I flicked the puck up in water-bottle-popping style and turned in the corner to celebrate. It was a great moment, especially because Ryan got stoned by the very goalie moments before me.
Scoring at the Bell Centre was a thrill of a lifetime I will never forget – and another reason why working for The Hockey News rocks.