by SENShobo on 09/18/08 at 02:38 PM ET
I’ve been to a lot of games over the years as a fan. Ok, that’s probably a false statement, since it’s not easy to catch the Sens from the Leafs’ backyard, but I get out, turn on, or tune in whenever I can. As a fan, I can just sit back and relax, and enjoy the show, maybe with a beer while decked out in every piece of Sens branded glory I can find.
This past weekend was a whole different ballgame for me though, as I took off my Ottawa Senators slippers, and put on my writer’s hat to try my hand at covering the Rookie Tournament in Kitchener.
To cover the games going on at the Aud, I had to get into a different mindset. Instead of going to the game hoping to scream my lungs out, I thought it might be an interesting change of pace to try watching and analyzing every bit of the Sens’ three games.
I sat down to my first game, BlackBerry in hand, and watched the Sens take on the Panthers. Every time something of interest happened, I tried to etch it into my notoriously flaky short term memory, while working on my thumb typing skills by taking it down in my ridiculous shorthand. The first trick was actually figuring out what was worth taking note of. You see a great goal as a fan, and you know it’ll be in the papers and on the highlight reels. But at a prospect tournament, where each team takes the time to evaluate their players to help keep their depth chart in order, there’s a lot more to watch for that isn’t likely to elicit any cheers from the stands.
My shorthanded notes were much too descriptive at first, having nearly comprehensible and logical words, and typing them out probably meant I’d miss a good poke check by Waugh, or seeing Zubov show that he knows when to slow up the rush to wait for some assistance and opportunities to arise. You’d peer up into the corner during a break, and you could see a pair of Murrys, Hartsburg, Hunt, goaltending coach Eli Wilson, and plenty of other staff decked out in some form of Ottawa Senators jacket. They’d be watching the game with an intense focus, or scribbling something down on a notepad, almost like it was their job or something.
As the games wore on, I felt as though I was starting to pick up on players’ tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses, though I’m a long way from feeling like a scout. My shorthand grew small enough that I could jot it down and probably not miss anything, and at home I’d be able to decode that a gem such as ‘ell off blobri’ meant that goalie Brian Elliot was heading to the bench as the Sens’ top line of Nikulin, Zubov, and Winchester brought the attack to the Pens, with Nikulin being replaced on the top line at this particular point by Jim O’Brien. Decoding everything I wrote down, sometimes I’d wonder if I wasn’t thinking too much like a play-by-play announcer, taking note of every little detail. Other times, I’d get into a more colour commentator mindset and jot down something I must have thought was clever, witty, or insightful at one point. Then, of course, you realize that you’re here to rate the players, and neither one of those attitudes is going to do that quite as well as you want.
I would get out for an intermission to warm my hands, and try to remember players, moves, situations, responses, and every little detail I could. Still, I’d get distracted, and be reminded of how at ease the real professionals are, seeing the Sens staff out there chatting in a circle, Brian Murray signing the occasional autograph (including my roster sheet), and Craig Hartsburg looking so at ease, shooting the shit with his colleagues or strolling out to get a burger, fries, and a Pepsi, seeming every bit a casual man’s man that you’d go have a beer with. Then you’d remember that they are still professionals who know who they like, know what Corey Clouston should be saying down in the dressing room, and would never write such a run-on sentence as that. They’d probably also balk at the run-on amateur reviews I made of the Sens’ three games against the rookies from Florida, Toronto, and Pittsburgh, which would explain why I never got a call when I submitted my resume to the Senators with interest in a posted writing position a while back.
It was a great experience though, for what little self-improvement I could find. Every game, you’d live not only with the cheers of the fans, but with the excitement and tension of every shift for the players. Every little flash of their years of training and hard work, every tiny misstep they made, and you could live or die by it. It’s a shame when you walk into a game, and one or both of the teams don’t quite buy into it, and you wind up with a dud. When you go to one of these events though, and wrap your head around the importance of it (not to mention the months you have gone deprived of hockey), you can enjoy the passion in every minute of the game, and you understand then how it is that this game can fill up entire lives, and be loved every minute of them.
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