As I joked during the day with my wife about the opportunity to handle game day coverage of the Kelowna Rockets game against the Saskatoon Blades, I wondered how the experience would really feel.
"I've been called in from the bullpen," I chimed a couple of times when asked about my plans for Friday night at Prospera Place.
As a rule, the Blades visit Kelowna every couple of years. The WHL has used kind of an unbalanced schedule for many years and this season, the East Division teams travel through the BC Division. Growing up in Saskatoon (what seems like a million years ago), the Blades were "the show", even if much of the activity during my early days took place in the dreary confines of the historic (aka ancient) Saskatoon Arena.
And so it is with many fans of the Blades...we wait patiently for the organization to win a WHL title. To date, we're about 0-for-50, or somewhere in that vicinity. That's right, my beloved Blades have never won a WHL championship. Sure, the city has played host to the Memorial Cup on two occasions, and the host team has won the spoils the odd time, but I kinda see that as arriving through the back door.
I hope someday for the Blades to experience what I call a "pure win". Stampede through the WHL Playoffs then run the table at the national championship event. That's my Utopian deal. Total exhilaration!
But back to the Rockets and Blades in Kelowna.
I got the call from the Daily Courier on my way back into town from a business trip to Vancouver. I was offered the opportunity to cover the game and submit a game piece. A 500-word article...pretty simple stuff in many ways, I thought.
But, there's is certainly more to it than listing the goals scorers and how the teams score their goals. It's about identifying "the story". In some games, the story is actually written ahead of time...I mean, there is so much going on with personnel or history between certain teams that the main topic is just obvious. Or, if a game is a blowout, with the issue never in doubt, a writer has plenty of time to be creative. Alas, the match up between the visiting Blades and the Rockets produced none of this.
The majority of my writing experience in recent years has been based on soft deadlines. There has really not been any rush in my mind, and no immediate expectations from editors. I am certainly kind of a planner, so soft deadlines are right up my alley. But dealing with a daily newspaper, a deadline is a real factor.
In Kelowna, that means deliver the goods to the folks manning the desk by 10:20pm...not 10:30pm, not 11:00pm. It's 10:20. Give 'em what you've got!
Well, the teams didn't really cooperate until about midway through the final period. To that point, the verdict was up in the air with Saskatoon holding a surprising 3-1 lead. I have seen enough of the Rockets over the years to have fully expected them to make the Blades pay for insulting the local favorites and the legion of supporters by taking that two-goal lead.
But the comeback didn't materialize. Kelowna scored a late goal to make it close, but the Blades sealed the deal with an empty-netter in the final minute. Game over. 4-2 Blades! (And by the way, the clock now says 9:35pm.)
The Blades scored twice on the power play, which has been an early season Achilles heel for the Rockets. They lead the league in penalty minutes and have the dubious distinction of giving up the most power play goals in the league so far. So, that's one aspect of the story, but I knew I'd need a quote from Jason Smith, the Rockets new head coach. And Logan Flodell, the Blades goaltender, was outstanding, shutting down a Rockets team that truly dominated the game in terms of territorial play. I'd like to speak with him, but I could also get Smith's take on facing a hot goaltender. Ultimately, my story would need some support in form of quotes.
The run from the press box down to the dressing room area is not for the faint of heart. That's where we wait for a player or two and the coaches.
Smith was not enthused, but was certainly cooperative. He gave me what I needed. Unfortunately, Flodell was unavailable, as is often the case with road teams that tend to bust their asses to either get upstairs for a post-game meal, or to simply get outa dodge after a road game.
The run back up the press box is next, and the final 30 minutes before deadline is certainly all uphill.
I managed the piece and fired it off to the desk at 10:05pm. This is where a great editor is vital, and the Daily Courier has Larry Fisher to handle the duties these days. Doyle Potenteau was the guy for many years, so this aspects of the gig comes with a tremendous level of comfort for a freelancer.
As I looked over the piece after sending it along, I identified four small errors. I wondered about calling Larry to look these over, but I knew from experience that each of these would be the kind of mistakes a keen editor would identify and rectify quickly. I also provided a bit more copy than required, which enables an editor to trim the piece (I've always called it "butchering"...lol) where he or she feels it's appropriate.
There is pressure during the game and throughout the process, but it's certainly fun. It was a great experience and I'm told there will be future opportunities. My hope is that I'm providing good copy for the paper, while ensuring that a pretty lean sports department in Kelowna is being provided the support it feels it needs. A byline is kind of a cool thing to see in print, but it's not all glam...it's work first!
And I dig the job!