Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie receives hockey writing’s career achievement award some 36 years into a career that has earned the respect of peers.
By Steve Dryden
There are more than a million reasons Bob McKenzie is headed for Hockey Hall of Fame recognition.
One for each of his followers on Twitter – although those who know McKenzie best could never imagine him asserting such command of a medium that parcels out information 140 characters at a time.
Because while it’s true the former editor in chief of The Hockey News is a character, he has never been a man of few characters. His greatest talent for writing – recognized with the 2015 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award – is most definitely not brevity. It is, rather, an ability to gather, distill and disseminate massive amounts of information that has propelled him to the pinnacle of hockey journalism with his writing in print and electronic media.
In the interests of full disclosure, you need to know McKenzie hired me at THN in 1985. I watched him transform “The Bible of Hockey,” chapter and verse, from a soft-focused journal into a hard-hitting, smart, irreverent publication. While of course there were others who contributed mightily to THN’s success during his nine years as editor in chief from 1982 to 1991, he was the undeniable head and heart. He assembled an all-star cast of contributors, demonstrated a skill for imaginative storytelling and brought a modern feel to the brand with the Old English logo.
Three things – a natural hat trick if you will – stand out from his time at THN. He pioneered an independent and authoritative draft-ranking package that was so far ahead of its time it has yet to be equalled, let alone surpassed, three decades later. He tackled a breadth of ideas and stories that set him apart from virtually all others. And he hired Dave Elston, a Calgary cartoonist whose weekly skewering of the hockey world was indescribably brilliant.
McKenzie left THN to become the hockey columnist at The Toronto Star in 1991, where he did more than provide opinion and analysis, he broke stories – perhaps most notably, news of short-term NHL president Gil Stein working behind the scenes to arrange his own election to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993. Stein’s election was eventually overturned.
McKenzie returned to THN for a three-year stint in the late 1990s before leaving for good in 2001 to become TV’s first full-time Hockey Insider for TSN.
McKenzie may have left THN, but THN has never forgotten him. He has been listed among THN’s Top 100 People of Power & Influence every season since 2001 – with the exception of 2005 when only 10 people were listed because of the lockout. It was, by the way, during that ill-fated season McKenzie broke the story of the NHL rejecting a key NHLPA offer; the union said it learned of the league’s rejection from his story on TSN.ca.
McKenzie receives hockey writing’s career achievement award from the Professional Hockey Writers Association some 36 years into a career that has earned the respect of peers. “It’s hard to imagine a more deserving winner of the Elmer Ferguson Award than Bob McKenzie,” said PHWA president Scott Burnside.
While plaques honoring winners of the Elmer Ferguson are hung in the Great Hall, the winners do not become Hockey Hall of Fame members. Instead, they are recognized by the HHOF, an important distinction.
That being said, there is no denying Bob McKenzie has had a hall of fame career in journalism, and the history of The Hockey News is the better for it.
Steve Dryden was THN’s Editor in Chief from 1991 through 2001 and is now TSN’s Sr. Managing Editor, Hockey Content