Kukla's Korner

Goal Line Report

An Interview with Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters

Good evening folks. For your reading pleasure, please check out the interview I did with Seth Rorabaugh, the Post-Gazette’s Pittsburgh Penguins blogger.

Seth was kind of enough to take time out of his hectic schedule to tell us about how he got into hockey, how he got his start as a hockey journalist, his thoughts of the future of hockey blogs and his prediction on who this year’s Stanley Cup Finals representatives will be.


Goal Line Report: How did you first get into hockey?
SR: When I was in third or fourth grade, I started to get a little interested in hockey because there was this Mario Lemieux guy everyone was talking about. My family then moved to Charlotte when I was in fourth grade any interest I hockey was put on hold because the Carolinas aren’t exactly a hockey hot bed. Hurricane Hugo pretty much chased my family back to Pittsburgh just in time for sixth grade when the Penguins won their first Cup title. I pretty much have been hooked on hockey ever since.

GLR: Growing up, who was your favorite team? How about your favorite player?
SR: Obviously I had some loyalties to the Penguins given where I’m from. I can still remember sitting in my living room watching Frank Pieterangelo backstop them to a win in Detroit that clinched their first Patrick Division title. Ironically enough, Detroit was my “second team.” The first jersey my mom ever bought was a Red Wings jersey. Something about that logo that just appealed to me. Plus everyone else had Penguins jerseys. I wanted to be a little different. It was a little weird for me last spring when my two favorite teams as a kid played in the Stanley Cup final.

I always kind of dug Kevin Stevens as a kid. There was something about the way he played that really appealed to me and really a lot of Pittsburgh. Regardless of the sport, Pittsburghers really love tough guys. And if you can score, even better. I still have an Upperdeck All-Star card with his autograph. My mom took my brother and I to a JC Penney’s at Greengate Mall in Hempfield for waited for two hours with us to get it.

Larry Murphy, Mario Lemieux, Ulf Samuelsson, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, Patrick Roy and Tim Cheveldae were some of my other favorites. I liked Cheveldae because he had a cool name and a Corvette logo on his mask.

GLR: At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to be a sports/hockey writer?
SR: I think around ninth grade I became interesting in writing. I seemed to have some ability to write and I pursued that a little further in 10th grade when I joined my high school’s newspaper. It was pretty evident my hopes to be a professional athlete would be put on hold (where they remain today) so writing or journalism seemed to be a nice alternative.
GLR: Name some of the outlets that you have written/blogged for and tell us how you think it led you to where you are today.
SR: The only other newspaper/organization I’ve written for on a professional basis was the Norwin Star just outside of Pittsburgh. I’ve pretty much have been with the Post-Gazette in some capacity for 10 years. I started answering phones for high school football here when I was 19 and have been here every since.

GLR: How did you become the Post-Gazette’s Pittsburgh Penguins Blogger?
SR: About four or five years ago the PG started dabbling in some blogs. And about three years ago we started a Steelers blog. After that seemed to go well, a need for a Penguins blog arose after the Penguins went on a 16-game streak with at least a point. Myself and online sports editor Dan Gigler had been planning a Penguins blog since the summer prior to the 06-07 season. We just needed permission to get it going. That point streak pretty much created the need for one in the eyes of the editors and we’ve been here ever since.

Since the 05-06 season, I have been doing a page for the print version Post-Gazette called The5Hole which is a weekly notes and numbers collection that my editors seemed to be happy with. That apparently gave them enough faith in me to take on Empty Netters.

GLR: What are you trying to bring Penguins/hockey fans who visit the site?
SR: I think above all else, I try to make this a place hockey fans will visit regardless of allegiances. I’m a hockey fan and I try to offer something that will appeal to all hockey fans in general Obviously it does concentrate on the Penguins since I work for a Pittsburgh news organization, but I like to think a regular hockey fan would be interested in what I have to offer. During the Cup final, we had a lot of hits directed our way from the Detroit News and quite a few Red Wings fans expressed praise for EN so I think my hopes are valid.

During the first round of the playoffs last year, I predicted the Red Wings would sweep the Predators in the first round. When the Predators tied the series at two games, I had a Predators fans e-mail me talking smack. I probably never felt more validated about my efforts.

As far as the approach I take with it, I try to keep it light-hearted and easy-going. We are talking about sports after all. I would never do this if I was a police beat reporter and covered murders.I try to write it as if I’m still sitting in my friends’ basement watching games like I was in high school or college and I think that a lot of readers have related to it from that standpoint. That’s why I crack jokes about how often it’s mentioned the Staals are brothers, insert a “Super Troopers” quote or include videos of the famous Cotton Candy Guy at Mellon Arena.

At the same time, I have to be responsible with it considering I am still working for the Post-Gazette. I can’t post anything that isn’t backed up by facts. I try to post only information that is established unlike say a blog like Hockeybuzz or a supposedly legit news organization like the Ottawa Sun. Unless a rumor like the absurd “Malkin to the Kings” fiasco becomes an actual news story, I won’t address rumors in EN.

Additionally, I need to be restrained anything that is vulgar. I can’t just say “Josef Melichar expletive, expletive.” Mainly because my editors won’t allow it. But I also feel an obligation to do it. There’s a reason you can read the Post-Gazette’s Web site in a public school, or a library or an office building and there’s a reason Blogspot or YouTube is usually blocked in those places. I want to maintain that trust most institutions have with our material.
GLR: What direction do you think hockey blogs will take over the next couple of years? Do you think that more newspapers will follow suit and hire hockey bloggers to cover their respective teams?
SR: I think more newspapers will hire or keep journalists who are capable of doing more and more in terms of online material. Whether that’s blogging, or shooting and editing online videos or any other online material. I’d be really shocked if any newspaper hired a reporter specifically for blogging purposes though. It’s just not there in the budget for most papers considering the terrible economic state of the industry. I myself have night desk duties in addition to my blogging.

I’m not sure blogs will ever completely traditional news totally. Obviously blogs are a tool you can use to report news, but you still need to do it in a traditional sense with the five “W’s” and “How.” If Michel Therrien is fired tomorrow, we still need to report the circumstances in a legit fashion and then maybe we can supplement it with a YouTube video tribute or his 10 greatest one-liners in a blog post.

Overall though, I think the newspaper industry overall is taking the direction towards online media. I really feel within 10 years you’ll see a major American newspaper quit printing an actual physical paper and go to an online version only. It won’t be Pittsburgh. We still have an older population here and pardon the stereotype, but older folks just aren’t as Web savvy younger readers. The Post-Gazette is kind of in a unique position because we do have so many loyal older readers who do expect that paper on their stoop at 6 a.m. but we also have so many younger displaced Pittsburghers around the country who flock to our site and get their Pittsburgh news that way.

GLR: Now for some actual hockey talk: In your opinion, who has been a nice surprise for the Penguins this season? Why? How about the most disappointing?
SR: I would say Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. A lot of folks had doom and gloom predictions when Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney went down with injuries but those two have filled in aptly. There’s no denying the Penguins are a poorer team without those two (especially on the power play) but the cupboard is hardly bare with Letang and Goligoski.

I would say Mark Eaton has been their biggest disappointment. A lot of eyebrows were raised when they re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $4 million, especially considering the depth the team had at the position before injuries. He was coming off a pretty bad knee injury last season and he looks like he’s still struggling with it. He just looks really slow and has been out of position quite a bit on goals. As a result, he’s been a healthy scratch since Nov. 15.

GLR: Look into your crystal ball: If you had to pick the 2009 Stanley Cup winner right now, who would you pick?
SR: If I had to pick two teams right now, I’d go with Boston and San Jose. No one has looked better in their respective season conference. San Jose looks like Detroit in teal. I know the comparison is obvious with Todd McLellan, but he’s just sparked that team into realizing its true potential. Boston had defense last season and now they have some offense to contribute. Additionally, Tim Thomas is playing out of his mind.

That said, it’s a long season.

GLR: Any words of wisdom for our readers here at Kukla’s Korner?
SR: As I stated before, if you’re hoping to pursue a “print” journalism career, learn a little of everything, Given the state of the industry, diversity is perhaps the most valuable asset in the eyes of any potential employer.

Filed in: | Goal Line Report | Permalink
  Tags: alex+goligoski, empty+netters, frank+pieterangelo, kevin+stevens, kris+letang, larry+murphy, mario+lemieux, mark+eaton, patrick+roy, pittsburgh+penguins, ryan+whitney, sergei+fedorov, sergei+gonchar, seth+rorabaugh, steve+yzerman, tim+cheveldae, tim+thomas, ulf+samuelsson


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About Goal Line Report

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 patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com.

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