by Patrick Hoffman on 02/18/10 at 03:23 PM ET
Good afternoon folks. I am here to bring you an e-mail interview I did with Andrew Gross, Rangers beat writer for The Record and the blog Ranger Rants. Andrew was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to tell us about how he got into the game of hockey, how he became a hockey writer, his current work, and his thoughts on this year’s version of the Blueshirts:
PH: How did you get into hockey?
AG: I loved all sports as a kid, can remember just spreading out the New York Times sports section every night when my Dad got home and just reading everything I could and staring at the standings. I was born in 1967 so I was a small kid in the 1970s. Rangers tickets, then as now, were kind of hard to come by. My dad had one co-worker who had season tickets and sometimes we’d get Rangers tickets that way.
My first hockey game, though, was a WHA game because my dad couldn’t get Rangers tickets. This must have been the 1972-73 season because we saw the New York Raiders the one season they were called the Raiders. It was an afternoon game, if I remember, they’d play a WHA game in the afternoon and then the Rangers would play at night. The Raiders were playing the Quebec Nordiques and I was either 6 or 7. We had center ice seats, pretty close to the ice since I don’t recall there being a large crowd. Just before the opening faceoff, my dad turned to me and told me just to follow the black dot around the ice. The puck drops and immediately all the gloves are dropped and there’s a huge brawl on the ice. I turned to my dad and told him I didn’t see the block dot.
I never really learned to skate that well but in junior high, we had a fairly regular street hockey game in Greenwich Village. I was one of our regular goalies. I slowly acquired all the equipment needed but I remember playing the first game with nothing but a goalie stick and some shin pads. Only tried that once.
PH: Growing up, who was your favorite team/player?
AG: Always very partial to goalies. I really liked Eddie Giacomin and, of course, John Davidson. Obviously, this is heresay, but I always enjoyed watching Billy Smith play nets as well. I was always a bit of a meek kid so watching a guy turn into an absolute animal while still being one of the top money goalies intrigued me.
PH: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be involved in hockey as a writer?
AG: Actually my goal was to be a baseball writer but that proved more and more unrealistic as I moved along in my 20s because I didn’t think it meshed with being a good husband or father.
Was quite content covering college basketball and football but when the Rangers job opened up at my old paper in January, 2003, my boss, who was pushing me to take the job, explained the paper would always have a Rangers’ beat but he couldn’t guarantee a St. John’s beat. Turns out, that paper doesn’t cover any of it anymore. Though I sort of went into it reluctantly because, at that time, my daughters were 7 and 3, respectively, and I really didn’t want to spend so much time away from home, it turned out to be the best thing that’s happened in my career.
PH: Besides The Record, what other outlets have you covered hockey for?
AG: The above anecdote stems from my time with The Journal News. I covered the Rangers for that paper from 2003-2006. When the newspaper decided to eliminate the Rangers’ as a travel beat, I realized I wouldn’t be happy doing it on a part-time basis and switched to the Jets for two seasons before leaving the financially-troubled newspaper all together.
PH: How did you get the Rangers beat writing gig at The Record? As the Rangers writer at The Record, what are your responsibilities?
AG: The Record had covered the Rangers through 2002 and my sports editor and publisher were both interested in re-investing in the beat. I came to The Record in November, 2007 and was covering high school wrestling and baseball but was presented with the opportunity to get back on the Rangers’ beat for the 2008-09 season when the position was re-opened.
My responsibilities include providing fair and accurate coverage of the Rangers for The Record, Herald News and http://www.northjersey.com/sports as we,ll
as providing regular opinions on the team and the NHL for our Page 2 column. Also, I’m responsible for providing up-to-the-minute news and in-game
reports both on the Ranger Rants blog and through my Twitter account.
PH: What do you try to bring readers who read your work?
AG: First, and foremost, a fair assessment of the facts. Since most readers already know the score by the time they read the paper in the morning, I think it’s important to tell why in addition to what. I can use the blog and the twitter account to express some more opinions, break news as quickly as I find out and, hopefully, have a little fun with it too.
PH: What has it been like blogging for “Ranger Rants”? Why do you think the blog has been such a success since joining the blogging world in September 2008?
AG: Doing Ranger Rants has been a very rewarding and educational experience because of the interaction with the readers. Often times, they’ll see things in the game that I may have missed or seen differently. It’s always good to get differing views.
I don’t know if I’m comfortable declaring Ranger Rants “such a success” but I’d like to think I’ve carved out a decent audience. I think the most important thing with blogging is just being honest and conveying as much as your personality as possible. If you don’t know something, don’t try to pretend you do. Say you’ll try to find out. Even though it’s my name on the blog, I’ve never necessarily viewed it as my blog. I think of it as a shared blog by everybody who’s reading it.
PH: Now for some actual talk - why have the Blueshirts been so disappointing this season? What can they do to improve?
AG: I think it’s a complicated question as to why the Rangers haven’t performed. Obviously, they didn’t have adequate secondary scoring after Marian Gaborik.
But I think there’s a basic failure for the team to adapt to the system coach John Tortorella wants to play and then a resulting inability by the
coach to adjust to that failure. Tortorella’s system is reliant on defensemen who can push the attack and the best he has at that, Michael Del Zotto, is a 19-year-old rookie. He had to pull back quickly on efforts to make solid defensive defenseman Marc Staal into more of an offensive threat.
The other issue is it’s going to be March when the Rangers resume playing and many players on the team still don’t have defined roles. Is Chris Drury
a fourth-line center, a third-line center or a second-line right wing? If you have Sean Avery on the team, why not maximize what he brings to a team?
I think Tortorella has stumbled onto something by turning Brandon Dubinsky into a left wing but, remember, he was being counted on to be the team’s No.1 center.
As for improving, I think bringing in Olli Jokinen helps both in the short term, he’s a very good second-line center, and in the long term because it
erases the Ales Kotalik (three years, $9 million) mistake. Getting an offensive-minded defenseman would certainly help.
PH: Where do you see the Rangers finishing come April? How far do you think the team can go in the playoffs if they make it?
AG: I still see this team making the playoffs. But that’s not an indication of my belief in the team. Rather, it’s my belief that there are a lot of spotty, mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference and that, among that group, the Rangers have the best goalie in Henrik Lundqvist.
But if they make the playoffs, it will likely be as the eighth seed, most likely meaning another first-round series with the Capitals. And I don’t see the Capitals needing to rally for a seven-game series win this time around.
PH: Any words of wisdom for readers here at Kukla’s Korner?
AG: Hockey is a game and is supposed to be fun. I know it’s also a high-stakes proposition at the NHL level because of the money involved. But one of the failures with the Rangers this season is the players don’t seem to be having any fun playing under this regime. Are they not having fun because they’re not winning consistently or are they not winning consistently because they’re not having fun? It’s a crucial question.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.