by Patrick Hoffman on 11/12/11 at 10:00 AM ET
When it comes to the National Hockey League, there have been a lot of great players, colorful personalities and hard-working guys.
Andrew was kind enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to tell us about how he got into hockey, how he became a hockey writer, what he is doing for the NHL Alumni web site and more.
PH: How did you get into hockey?
AR: I grew up in a town called Lachute, which is about 40 minutes north of Montreal, so hockey was everywhere when I was growing up. I was born in 1974 and the Canadiens were about to win the Stanley Cup four years in a row, but I was a little too young, so I don’t remember those victories. My first hockey memories are of the New York Islanders. Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith and those guys on their incredible run of four in a row. I would watch Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday night with my older brother Michael, listen to games on the radio, collect hockey cards and fill up those sticker books - I was hooked on hockey right away!
PH: Growing up, who was your favorite team/player?
AR: In a way, my brother had an influence on who my favourite team would be when I was growing up. We had those table hockey games with the little plastic guys. We wore out a few of those games! One team would always be the Canadiens and of course, being older, he had first pick. I had to settle for the Leafs or Canucks, whoever the plastic opponents were, so I started to follow the other teams in the league so I would know who was on my team when we did the play-by-play during our games.
My favorite team and player though was Kevin Lowe and the Edmonton Oilers. Kevin was born in Lachute too and his family had a dairy, which made awesome ice cream. I was raised on a farm and our milk would be sent to Lowe’s Dairy. I was never into farming, so on days when I wasn’t very motivated to work, my dad would always say, ‘Kevin Lowe grew up drinking our milk and he made it to the NHL’. That got me working and it sort of forged a connection for me with the Oilers. It’s kind of funny, my dad would build a rink each winter and I would skate around for about 10 minutes helping the Oilers win the Stanley Cup and then I would sit in a snow bank pretending to interview them. I never thought I would actually be interviewing some of the Oilers for real as an adult.
I speak with Kevin a couple of times a year now and his Oilers teammate Mark Napier is the Executive Director of the NHL Alumni Association, so I have had the chance to tell them about my childhood ‘interviews’ - they thought that was pretty funny. The best reaction though was when I told Marty McSorley about it and he said, ‘Oh, it was you that helped us win in ‘85, thanks!’
PH: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be involved in hockey as a writer?
AR: Becoming a hockey writer was not my original plan. It’s kind of a long story, so I’ll give you the medium-length version. I was a musician for 12 years and living in Vancouver when I had to deal with a life-altering illness. It’s something I am still trying to overcome but things are much better now health-wise. My wife and I moved to Ottawa to be closer to family, I was dealing with the end of my music career and was battling depression. I was pretty much trapped at home for a couple of years, with a healthy mind, but unhealthy body. During those years, I would always talk hockey with my best friend Robbie and one day he emailed me to say he had created The Voice of Sport.com for me. It was a wonderful gesture and it certainly changed my life! All of a sudden, I had something to be passionate about again.
I think what really helped me to decide that I wanted to be a hockey columnist full time was interviewing and becoming friends with AHL veteran Bryan Helmer. He was the first hockey player I interviewed and it was fascinating to hear his take on the game. I had watched hockey my entire life, but here I was talking with someone that was a professional hockey player - it was awesome! Bryan is such a nice guy and he has been really supportive of my career too. That first conversation with him really inspired me to keep going.
Of course, none of this would have been possible if not for my wife Dianne! She has supported me through it all and encouraged me to follow this career path. I am very, very lucky to have her in my life.
PH: What outlets have you covered hockey for?
AR: With my site, The Voice of Sport, I try to cover stories from all over the sports world, with hockey being the main focus. It has been a little neglected lately though as I do more and more work with the NHL Alumni Association. It has sort of become a place to provide links for any of my work that appears at other sites, but I hope to get articles posted there on a more regular basis in the new year. I covered the Ottawa Senators for about a year and a half for The Hockey Writers and I was a regular guest and part time co-host on The Hockey Writers radio show last season. I really enjoyed the radio work and that is something I would like to do more often. I also write a monthly column for Main Street, my hometown newspaper, which is usually focused on the Montreal Canadiens or hockey in general.
In February of 2011, I started doing some television work as well, becoming a contributor on CBC News Now to discuss hockey stories that have moved beyond the sports pages to the national news. Like the issue of fighting in hockey, the new arena in Quebec City and Sidney Crosby’s concussion issues for example. It’s an interesting challenge to go from writing about hockey to being on live television, but I love it!
PH: How did you get started writing for the NHL Alumni?
AR: When I started writing for Main Street, I told my editor that I would try to get an interview with our hometown hockey hero, Kevin Lowe. I sent an email off to the Oilers with an interview request and much to my surprise, Kevin replied saying that he would love to chat. Having the connection to Kevin led to several interviews with Mark Napier about his work as the Executive Director of the Alumni Association. It was really inspiring to speak with Mark and learn about all of the great work the NHL Alumni guys do in so many communities. In my opinion, today’s sports pages have too many stories that focus on the negative, the Tiger Woods divorce stories for example. I know that scandals help sell newspapers, but where are the stories about the good people that are helping to make a difference in the world?
Having done a few interviews with Mark, I think I had earned his trust and demonstrated my abilities as a writer, so when I offered to start writing for the NHL Alumni, he accepted my offer and connected me with Dylan Wade, their media and marketing manager. The more I discovered about the NHL Alumni Association, the more passionate I became about helping them and it has progressed from being a part time role, to becoming their resident writer. While having that previous connection to Kevin Lowe helped open the door so to speak, I think that Mark, Dylan and everyone at the NHL Alumni office could see that I was genuine in my offer to help them in any way that I could. I’m proud to say that we are not only colleagues, but friends too. As a life long hockey fan, I really felt that this was my opportunity to give something back to the hockey world, a sport that has provided me with so many wonderful memories.
PH: What are you looking to provide readers at the NHL Alumni site?
AR: Well, I truly believe that when a player leaves the NHL, he doesn’t leave the hearts and minds of his fans. I would really like to help bridge that gap between fans and former players, so my main goal is to help shine the spotlight on the businesses and the charitable work of the NHL Alumni Association and its members. Unlike many other professions, a hockey career is finite. Players that have been passionate about the game for their entire lives, suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in. That’s something I can relate to in a way because of my music career ending. In my articles, we reminisce about their careers and discuss the transition from a life in the NHL to their current work.
It is truly amazing too, to learn about how much charitable work they do. Whether they are working together as part of the NHL Alumni or as individuals in their own hometowns, a tremendous amount of money is raised for many, many charities. It is really inspiring!
So far, there has been some great feedback from hockey fans and the Alumni guys too, so hopefully, I am bridging that gap between the fans and their favourite players.
PH: As part of your gig, you have gotten to interview a lot of hockey greats. Tell us about who was your favorite interview and why.
AR: The motto of the Alumni Association is Hockey’s Greatest Family and it is a tremendous honour to be considered an honorary member of the family by some of the guys. It’s pretty unbelievable to be sitting on a bus going to an event with 30 or 40 former NHL players and no one says who’s that guy? One of my favourite moments happened at an event last year when Mike Krushelnyski called me ‘rookie’ - that was awesome!
All of the guys I have met or interviewed have had a really unique journey to the NHL and in their life after hockey, so it’s pretty tough to say one guy or one interview is my favorite. Having said that though, if I had to pick one, it’s hard to beat my conversations with Lanny McDonald. I have had the opportunity to interview him several times, as well as hang out at a few events and he may be the nicest, most inspiring guy I have ever met at any point in my life.
Colin Patterson, Lanny’s teammate in Calgary, called him the ‘Jean Beliveau of his era’ and that really says it all. The first time we spoke, it was to discuss Movember and I asked him if there were any other charities he wanted me to mention in the article. He named about 15 other organizations he is actively involved with - and that’s 20 years after he retired from the NHL! He has the ability to make anyone he is speaking with feel special, he has so many great stories and he is the definition of the phrase ‘role model’.
PH: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Kukla’s Korner readers?
AR: One thing I would really like to mention is an aspect of the NHL Alumni Association that is not reported on enough. Whether you played in one NHL game or more than a thousand, you are considered part of the family, and it truly is a family. They help some of the pioneers of the game if they are having difficulties making ends meet financially and they have numerous programs available to help in that transition to life after hockey. Their BreakAway Program offers counseling, educational opportunities, workshops and seminars to help players during what can be a very challenging time in their lives.
The organization is also about more than just promoting hockey at the NHL level. They put in a tremendous amount of work to help grow the game at all levels, teaching boys and girls of all ages important hockey skills and how to have fun out on the ice. They love the game and want to share that love with others, they truly are the guardians of the game.
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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.