by Patrick Hoffman on 12/11/08 at 12:00 PM ET
As we all know, hockey is a fledgling sport in the U.S. It doesn’t get the coverage it deserves and when it does press, it’s usually for something negative (ahem, Sean Avery).
However, one radio channel/network that steps up when it comes to hockey coverage is XM’s NHL Home Ice Channel. Day in and day out, the channel provides great hockey content to fans all over the world and always has them coming back for more.
Recently, I had the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with one of the channel’s hosts and producers, Mike Ross. “Rossy” tells us about how he fell in love with the game, how he got involved in hockey radio, the channel’s future, this season’s surprises/disappointments and of course, his Stanley Cup predicition.
Goal Line Report: How did you first get into hockey?
Mike Ross: I have 2 specific memories about my first exposure to playing hockey:
I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada back in the day when outdoor rinks went up in December and stayed up until the end of March. As such, I will always remember my Dad taking me to the outdoor rink which was a five block walk from our house. My Dad was not a great skater but he would lace ‘em up and we’d pass the puck around until I was old enough to play with the older kids.
True story…when I was 16, I was escorted off that same outdoor rink by the police….It was New Year’s Eve and shortly after the clock struck 12, not wanting to hang out with a bunch of old aunts and uncles, I walked over the the rink started shooting pucks around. About 2 hours later, the cops showed up and said someone called complaing about the noise of the pucks hitting the boards. I kept playing until ther cops finally came out onto the ice and took the pucks away, turned the net around and led me off the rink. Ah, what a way to kick off the 90’s.
The other memory I have was playing hockey with my Grandfather in his laneway. It was about 50 feet long and covered so we could play there regardless of the weather. When I was 8, my parents and maternal grandparents got together and bought me a real size net and the 4 foam targets along with a new stick. My Grandfather, who had played goal for the Canadian Army (and faced Rocket Richard - who never scored on him) would play net with a hockey glove on as a blocker and a baseball mitt as a trapper. We played in that laneway for years. We also broke at least one of the 6 windows at the back of the house each year. In fact, one window has never been replaced and since my Grandpa died in 2006, we decided to leave it like that. Kind of a tribute to him.
GLR: Growing up, who was your favorite team? How about your favorite player?
MR: Ottawa didn’t get a team until I was in my last year of high school so, growing up, most people were either Maple Leafs fans or Canadiens fans.
But I was more eclectic…I cheered for Toronto most of the time and was a Rick Vaive fan and a Vincent Damphousse fan.
In the mid to late 80’s, I watched plenty of Montreal games because I really liked Mats Naslund. I used Torspo sticks cause he did; I tried to squeeze my giant melon into a Jofa helmet cause he wore one early on; I bought red, white and blue Rawlings gloves because he wore them.
Last but not least, throughtout the 80’s, I also liked Edmonton because of Wayne Gretzky.
In my young days, those were the 3 jerseys I owned: Leafs-Damphousse, Habs-Naslund, Oilers-Gretzky
GLR: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be involved in hockey?
MR: I wanted to be many things when I was growing up: fireman, teacher, reporter and at one point, I even considered the priesthood (which will shock most people who know me now). But hockey never really entered my mind as a career choice because I simply was not good enough. I mean, I played house league most of my life before finally making my high school team. But I was never going to be a player.
But once I got to university and began working in sports as an announcer, chance led me to opportunities in hockey and, for the past 10 years, I’ve had some kind of working connection to hockey.
GLR: How did you first get involved with the hockey media? What are some of the outlets you worked for?
MR: My first exposure to the hockey media was at Carleton University and I hosted a weekly sports show (“Breakaway”) on the campus station CKCU. This allowed me to attend Ottawa Senators and 67’s games from time to time and do stories on the teams and their players.
After my time at Carleton, I caught on at Energy 1200, a Top-40 station and worked as a DJ for a while until they flipped the format and re-launched as Ottawa’s first sports radio station, OSR 1200.
I knew the program director and convinced him to keep my throught the format change as his morning show producer and co-host. Shortly thereafter, I was at Senators training camp and working as the locker room and intermission reporter for the Senators games on the radio, working alongside Dean Brown, Gord Wilson, Brian Duff and Steve Lloyd, all of whom are still on the Senators broadcasts (except Duff who is now at the NHL Network).
I stayed at OSR 1200 (which became Team 1200) until 2001 when I moved to Toronto as part of a national sports radio network and covered all sports including the Maple Leafs.
In 2002, I moved to Rogers Sportsnet and for 3 years, would be away from a daily involvement in covering hockey, though Rogers was a regional broadcaster and I worked on the assigment desk so I did have a bit of a thumb in the hockey pie.
GLR: How did you get involved with XM’s Home Ice Hockey Channel? Tell us about your various responsibilities and the shows you work for.
MR: In 2005, I caught wind that some of the guys with whom I had worked in the past were getting involved in launching satellite radio in Canada and that there was going to be some kind of sports channel involved and they asked if I would be interested in joining them.
This lead to a meeting with Joe Thistel (now the PD of NHL Home Ice) who I also new from a past sports radio life.
We met for breakfast, and discussed what had now become an opportunity with Home Ice, thanks to a 10-year deal with the NHL. All-sports was out, all-hockey was in and I was being asked to be one of the channel’s first producers, but was also told I would get a chance to do some reporting, features and maybe even some hosting someday.
Three years later, I am hosting and producing the channel’s primetime drive show with Phil Esposito and hosting a mid-afternoon (ET) show with one of the top analysts I’ve ever met in Gary Green.
And as of Dec. 5, I became the host of the very first ever “The Hockey News Radio Show” along with my co-host Adam Proteau.
My job as a producer requires me to book guests for the show, as well as work with our technical producer, Mike Trigiani, on the sound of the show.
My position as host requires lots of reading and research as well as watching as many games as possible (thank God for Center Ice).
GLR: What are you trying to bring hockey fans that listen to your channel/various shows?
MR: I think this channel will continue to thrive because there really is nothing like it. For years, I was part of an industry that drove home the message that radio was a local medium, and for some things, that remains true. But I think we quench a thirst for hockey fans that no one else can, especially in markets where there is no big league team, be it in Canada or the U.S. If you’re a hockey fan in Charlottetown, El Paso or Wawota for example, where are you going to hear people talking about the NHL 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year? XM, that’s where.
GLR: Now for some actual hockey talk: In your opinion, what has been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season? Why? How about the most disappointing?
MR: Biggest surprise:
East: two way tie
Boston Bruins…I expected the Bruins to be in the playoff mix and maybe fighting for a spot as high as 6th in the East….it is early, but I am very impressed with the team’s overall play especially in goal with both Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez doing an exceptional job between the pipes. I also love the way Phil Kessel is playing this season. And Milan Lucic…man, what an absolute force. He alone is worth the price of admission.
Tampa Bay spinning our of control. Somewhere, I think Barry Melrose is sitting in a dark corner of ESPN’s studios and poking a Len Barrie or Oren Koules voo doo doll and hoping they someday admit, the Lightning’s problems ran deeper than just his performance as head coach. This team lacks focus, lacks defence and lacks strong scoring punch.
West: San Jose Sharks
I have long thought of the Sharks as a strong team, I had no idea they could be so dominant. I almost want to hand out the Jack Adams coach-of-the-year trophy to Todd McLellan. I am also thrilled to see Patrick Marleau regaining his scoring touch and am loving Dan Boyle on this team (and not just because we grew up in the same neighbourhood, attended the same high school and played ball hockey at the local rec center).
GLR: Look into your crystal ball: If you had to pick the 2009 Stanley Cup winner right now, who would you pick?
MR: I picked San Jose when Espo and I did our predictions at the start of the season and I am sticking with the Sharks.
GLR: Any words of wisdom for our readers here at Kukla’s Korner?
MR: Bring a friend to a game. There is only one way we can truly grow the game of hockey in North America and that is by having hockey fans bring people who have not yet discovered this wonderful sport to a live game.
TV and radio convey the passion to a large degree, but there is no substitute for actually being in the arena with 18,000 other fans feeling the chill in the air, seeing the speed of the game and hearing the cracking of the ice, the pounding on the boards and the stick slapping the puck into the net.
Whether it’s a junior game, a college game, a minor pro game or the NHL, nothing beats being at a live game.
So please, bring a friend and help spread the word about hockey.
Thanks to Mike for taking time out of his hectic schedule to provide us with great content!
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Tags: adam+proteau, barry+melrose, boston+bruins, brian+duff, canadiens, dean+brown, gord+wilson, len+barrier, manny+fernandez, maple+leafs, mats+naslund, mike+ross, milan+lucic, oren+koules, patrick+marleau, phil+esposito, phil+kessel, rick+vaive, rocket+richard, san+jose+sharks, sean+avery, steve+lloyd, tampa+bay+lightning, the+hockey+news, tim+thomas, todd+mclellan, vincent+damphousse, wayne+gretzky, xm+nhl+home+ice
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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 email@example.com.