It’s hard to believe that 25 years ago today, I walked into the newsroom of the Timmins Daily Press for the first time to begin my newspaper career.
Haven’t worked a day in my life since then.
(Actually, that’s not entirely true. The Daily Press was a sweatshop, but I learned more about journalism in my first two weeks there than I did in four years of university and I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the world.)
Without further ado, here are some reflections on a quarter of a century in the newspaper business, almost all of it spent having the privilege of covering the best game in the world:
Favorite player: I saw Steve Sullivan for the first time when he played for the Timmins AAA peewee team in 1986 and was absolutely gobsmacked by his speed and sublime talent level. Like all small players, Sullivan was told time and again how his size would keep him from playing in the NHL. At the Memorial Cup many years later, Sullivan and his father, Kenn, were looking for representation and when I tried to introduce him to a prominent agent, I was quietly rebuffed. When I later suggested to an NHL executive that I thought Sullivan could score 30 goals in the NHL, he laughed at me.
Sullivan survived back problems and being completely mishandled by the Toronto Maple Leafs to become a terrific NHL player. Good for him.
Best line: When I was covering an abysmal Sudbury Wolves team, goalie Dan Gatenby was one of a mind-boggling 58 players who suited up for the Wolves in 1986-87. For his first game, he wore No. 13, a rather odd one for a goaltender. When I asked him why he picked that number, he looked at me with a straight face and said, “Because that’s how old my girlfriend is.”
Favorite junior player: Mario ‘Tiger’ Chitaroni scored 54 goals for that Wolves team, many of them while playing with a broken wrist. He went to the draft and was passed over and never played in the NHL, but he scored 49 goals in the International League and went on to have a wonderful career in Italy and Germany. He retired after last season, just before his 42nd birthday.
Best game ever seen in person: A tie. The final round-robin game at the 1990 Memorial Cup between the Oshawa Generals and Kitchener Rangers, which was won by Eric Lindros’ Generals 5-4 in double overtime; and the semifinal of the 2000 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in which Team Ontario defeated USA in a shootout.
Best hockey-playing memory: Another tie. One was scoring on Tom Barrasso in a charity game in Sudbury in 1987. The other was skating in Gorky Park in Moscow with David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail while we were covering the 2001 World Junior Championship. We skated past a shinny game and noticed a couple of sticks in the snow and joined the action. We couldn’t speak to them and they couldn’t speak to us, but it was one of those wonderful, magical moments I’ll always cherish.
Best mentor: Former THN editor in chief Steve Dryden. No question.
Most humiliating moment: Being put in a headlock by Bobby Orr in the bowels of Maple Leaf Gardens and being called a “little s—” for suggesting that him coaching in the Canadian Hockey League prospects game while acting as a player agent represented a conflict of interest.
Most depressing moment: Sitting in a Barrie, Ont., courtroom watching uber lawyer Brian Greenspan legally challenge Hockey Canada’s residency rules on the basis that they represented restraint of trade and unfair labor practices. The two kids he was representing, 13-year-olds Mitch Lebar and Christopher Beauchamp, wanted to move from the Ontario Minor Hockey Association to the Greater Toronto Hockey League for a higher level of hockey, but lost the case. Both are now fringe major junior players.
Best playoff series ever covered: The 2006 Eastern Conference final between the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres.
Worst playoff series ever covered: The 2002 first round series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders, which was won by the Leafs in seven games. In reality, both teams deserved to lose.
Scariest moment: Being told to leave the Laurentian Voyageurs’ dressing room by trainer Gary Costello because of something I had written, then being picked up and pinned against the wall by Costello for refusing to do so. I still stayed.
Most confusing moment: Going to a North American Hockey League game in Verdun and not seeing a single fight.
Best Jr. B moments: Watching a 15-year-old Joe Thornton dominate the playoffs with the St. Thomas Stars and watching a 15-year-old Chris Pronger play in a Jr. B all-star game in Kitchener.
Dumbest confrontation: Going nose-to-nose with Darcy Tucker in the visitors’ dressing room at the Nassau County Coliseum, then shaking hands with him and laughing about it five minutes later.
Biggest waste of time: The countless hours spent with hundreds of other hockey writers and broadcasters in hotel lobbies during the 2004-05 lockout, only to have the principles emerge with nothing to say the majority of the time.
Most satisfying thing: Actually getting paid to go to hockey games and to cover this sport and having the privilege of sharing it with readers who are as passionate about it as I am.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.