Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos is on the cover of the latest issue of The Hockey News. I was tasked with getting 'Stammer' on the phone for the article, which also included interviews with teammates, family and others who know the captain.
And as it happens, Stamkos has impeccable timing that stretches far beyond his goal-scoring prowess. The day Stamkos was supposed to call me, he was given my office number and my cell phone number, since I would be commuting home at one point. In Toronto, the subway line is almost entirely underground, with only a handful of stops offering daylight – and therefore, cell phone signal. Just as my train pulled into one such stop, my phone rang. I pulled one earbud out and with my iPod still blaring into the other side of my head, answered the phone as I jumped onto the station platform. It was Stamkos.
Knowing how precious his time is, I rolled with it. As I prepped him on the assignment, I walked up to the concourse to find a spot to take notes (I'm old-school like that). I settled on the bridge above the tracks and even though trains rolled below me every couple of minutes, I got what I needed and had a pretty good interview with the Lightning center.
I was pretty happy with how the finished product turned out (Matt Larkin also did interviews and writing for the piece) and it got me thinking about all the other times I've had to MacGyver a phone interview. Sometimes it's banal – Matt Duchene while at my parents' house, Daniel Sedin at my in-laws' place – but in other cases they're kinda funny.
For example, New York Rangers prospect Dylan McIlrath called me while I was pulling my car out of the garage. I dutifully pulled right back in, killed the engine and did the interview right there in the driver's seat.
A much more complex car tale happened during the 2014 playoffs. I had set up a phoner with legendary broadcaster Bob Cole while he was in Pittsburgh covering the opening round series between the Penguins and Columbus. Connor McDavid's Erie Otters were also playing in Guelph that night against the Storm in the OHL playoffs and I was driving down to the game. The master plan was to get down to Guelph (about an hour from Toronto) early and interview Cole from the arena.
Then traffic hit.
A stalled 18-wheeler turned what should have been 15 minutes on Toronto's infamous Don Valley Parkway into an hour. That put me into rush hour traffic on the equally busy 401 highway, which was now just as rammed. With the clock ticking, I hatched a plan that 15 minutes before I was supposed to call Cole, I would pull off the highway wherever I was and do in the interview from my car. As it turned out, that was not very far – my childhood suburb of Mississauga, one town over. I found a big box shopping center, pulled into the parking lot and parked. I called Cole from the passenger seat of my car and got the job done.
Another time, then-Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller called me while I was out running errands. With notepad on the ready, I interviewed the affable netminder between the sliding doors in the entrance to a grocery store, with my dry cleaning hanging over the side of the bench I sat on.
Similarly, I once talked women's hockey with Olympian Jennifer Botterill while I was at IKEA. Fortunately, I was in the shelving department (no lie), so I had a nice writing surface to work with.
And finally, there have been very meta interviews where I have done phoners with hockey players (such as prospect goalie Brendan Jensen, who went on to play in the Western League) while I was at other hockey games. In Jensen's case, I was at a Toronto Maple Leafs game in the press box. In terms of quiet spots, it's not ideal, but I eventually found a cozy corner near the washroom and wrote my notes on the flat top of a garbage can.
It did get a little noisy when the home team scored early, however…