TORONTO – After almost three decades chronicling hockey around the globe, the spotlight has been turned on longtime Canadian Press sports reporter Neil Stevens.
He will be honoured at the Hockey Hall of Fame later this year with the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, which recognizes print reporters who have brought honour to journalism and the game of hockey.
Mike (Doc) Emrick, widely recognized as the voice of the NHL in the United States, will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster.
Stevens, a native of St. Catharines, Ont., recently retired after more than 30 years at The Canadian Press but continues to work as a freelancer and is currently covering the Stanley Cup final.
“As a wire service journalist, Neil Stevens’ name didn’t always appear in the newspaper, but he might have been the most widely read hockey writer in Canada for the past 30 years,” said Kevin Allen, president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. “He’s an old-school reporter who can craft a game story in 30 minutes and make readers feel like they were there.
“His longevity as a Canadian Press hockey writer says volumes about how well he mastered his craft.”
Stevens, 61, was “flabbergasted” after learning of Thursday’s announcement.
He began covering hockey in the early ’80’s and worked the first of his many Stanley Cups in 1982 when the New York Islanders beat the Vancouver Canucks. Stevens also worked the final in 1986 and 1989 and has been part of every one since 1991.
Jim Coleman and Frank Orr are among the writers he has idolized and will now follow in winning this award.
“There are so many worthy candidates for this award out there that I never for a moment thought I’d even be considered, especially since I have a lower profile than the big-name writers who cover hockey,” said Stevens. “To receive this award means a great deal to me.”
His resume also includes international hockey assignments.
He covered four Canada Cup tournaments, two World Cups, four IIHF World Hockey Championships, the 2001 world junior championship in Moscow and the 1999 world women’s championship in Espoo, Finland. He also covered numerous NHL drafts, award ceremonies and all-star games.
There was no assignment he couldn’t handle.
“Neil is a rare combination of a beautiful writer and an inquisitive reporter,” said Scott White, editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press. “But ultimately, what sets Neil apart from many sportswriters is his passion for the story behind the game. He always looks beyond the scores.”
Emrick began his hockey broadcasting career in 1973, calling games for the IHL Port Huron Flags. Over the past two decades, he has served as the voice of the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.
Since 2005 Mike Emrick has been the lead play-by-play announcer for the NHL on Versus and the NHL on NBC.
“Mike has been the pre-eminent hockey play-by-play broadcaster in the United States for many years,” said Chuck Kaiton president of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association. “His dedication to hockey and his enthusiasm for broadcasting make him worthy of this honour.”
The Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend will be held Nov. 7-9. Stevens and Emrick will receive the awards at a luncheon on Nov. 10. The Hall’s 2008 inductees will be announced June 17.
Stevens was nominated for the Elmer Ferguson Award, named for the late Montreal newspaper reporter, by fellow journalists from both the U.S. and Canada. He’s long had the respect of his peers.
“I’ll never stay up later than him, or beat him to the rink in the morning,” said Cam Cole, sports columnist for the Vancouver Sun. “He’s an extraordinarily dedicated reporter, has a lovely writing touch, and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him.
“There’s not many people I’ve run across in the business that I could say all that about.”
Added Globe and Mail hockey columnist David Shoalts: “Two generations of Canadians grew up reading Neil’s stories about hockey and many of them probably don’t even realize it. He deserves to be recognized now.”
Since his retirement in February, Stevens has also been honoured by the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame and inducted into the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame.
Stevens doesn’t feel like the recognition will be his alone.
“When I accept the award, it won’t be just for me,” he said. “I’ll merely be a representative of current and former Canadian Press writers who have worked NHL games and events over the years – Ian MacLaine, Alan Adams, Bill Beacon and Grant Kerr in particular, and more recently Pierre LeBrun.”