Covering the WJC from a media perspective
by Andrew Kulyk (@akulykUSRT) - posted 4:42 pm, January 7, 2011
I remember the first time I ever attended a sporting event wearing a credential. It was spring of 2000, and Buffalo Gladiators QB John Augustine asked us to accompany him to a game of the Arena Football Buffalo Destroyers, to film video and gather quotes for a small public access sports how which he co hosted. We arrive at the arena, and had to deal with an arrogant and smarmy media relations man I think his name was Josh Gregory. Once we finally got in, and down on the field, I thought to myself, “wow, how cool is this.”
Since those heady days, our engagement as media representatives has grown and expanded, as an adjunct to our Ultimate Sports Road Trip travel adventures. In 2004, we signed on with Artvoice to cover the Buffalo Bisons, and a year later, following the NHL lockout, our editor added the Buffalo Sabres to our duties as columnists. But the “wow, how cool is this” feeling really took hold again these past two weeks, as we were afforded the extraordinary opportunity to take part in the World Juniors Championships in a media capacity.
Attending this event, and being given access to the bowels of the building and to all the behind the scenes activity, gave us a glimpse to a sports extravaganza that few get to experience. First the physical layout – HSBC Arena is transformed from a staid an ordinary venue to accommodate a typical one on one sports event, into a small city, allowing player facilities from ten different teams, and a vast media and operations center to handle the hundreds of media representatives coming from around the world, two major sports networks from the U.S. and Canada and pool television feeds to Europe. Then there is a veritable who’s who of hockey officials, legendary players and coaches, media superstars and others that one gets to meet, hob nob and network with, or share conversations with over dinner in the media catering center. Chat with Scotty
Bowman? No problem. Say hi to former Sabres Geoff Sanderson? Yep he was there. Reconnect with old friend Michael Peca? Mike is a TSN guy now and looks like he has mended fences with the Sabres front office to boot.
A lot of our friends and associates watch in awe and envy, saying, “Great you guys get to watch games for free.” Yeah tis true. But this is also work. Lots of work. We literally covered every single one of the 21 games at HSBC Arena, 2 games at Dwyer Arena, not to mention countless visits at restaurants, bistros, at the Hockeytowne event, down in the Labatt’s Hockey Lodge, on the Chip Strip, at Avant, just talking to people and getting a feel for what our visitors were expereincing and what the pulse and buzz on the street was like. We tried to report it as passionately and as conscientiously as possible on our web portals here at Artvoice and at WNYMedia.net, and give our friends and readers a feel of what this entire tournament was like. We hope you found our daily dish interesting reading and fun to follow along.
We’re certain there were a good number of superfans who bought all session passes and actually went to all of the games. We would like to acknowledge two of them, who not only attended the WJC from wire to wire, but also served as our eyes and ears in the stands and helped to funnel us news and stories as it happened around them.
Our good bud Chris Mach took two weeks off of work, and perched himself at center ice in sec 306, where he passionately rooted for Team USA and put the more mouthy Canadians in their places when need be. Then there’s Suzanne K. Taylor, who preceded us as the hockey columnist at Artvoice. Suzanne is a tried and true Canadian who lives in downtown Buffalo and whose unbridled love for the sport of hockey is without peer. High fives to the both of you!
So as we wrap up these amazing and exciting two weeks in our lives, I look back on my best personal experiences from these games, and am happy to share some of the stories and anecdotes that will stay with me forever.
-My Soviet mail order journalist
I think her name was Anna. She was one of four young Russians, three female and one male, who were omnipresent whenever anything involving Russia was going on. Who could miss her, with the leopard boots, the tight red dress, the fur collared jacket, the peroxide blond hair with sparkles and even a plastic red flower in the hair. Hot, in a slutty sort of way. These four Russians refused to chat or mingle with others in the media corps, always keeping to themselves. On one ride down the press elevator, they were chirping away in Russian, making fun of people’s haircuts from among the other elevator passengers. Knowing Ukrainian and understanding a bit of what they were saying, I wanted to call them out on this, but held my tongue. Nonetheless, Anna, the template for the stereotypical Russian mail order bride, absolutely drove me crazy… she will forever be remembered as my mail order Sovyetskaya Journalista.
-Chris Mach gets swamped on his own soil
By day one we already got a personal taste of what this event was going to be like. We have a great posse of friends from Buffalo and Toronto who we organize into a group party whenever the NCAA’s come to town. Three of our Canadian friends from that group were here on December 26, Day 1 of the tournament. So prior to the 4PM Canada/Russia game, seven of us head over to Washington Square Lounge for food and libations. The place was absolutely jam packed, but manager Bob Mecca got us a table as soon as we hit the place. The fun started when Chris got up to hit the washroom. Removing his jacket, he was wearing a navy blue USA sweatshirt. An entire table of Canadians started booing and jeering him, and it quickly grew to the point that the entire restaurant, at least 80 people, joined in the chorus of good spirited cat calling. It was at that point that we realized we were probably the only Americans in the place. Chris took it all in stride.
-Who was that P.A. Guy over at Dwyer?
None other than Buffalo Bisons PR Director Brad Bisbing, who was afforded the privilege of handling the mic for the games over at Lewiston’s Dwyer Arena. Like the rest of us, Brad was soaking in this entire magical experience. He admitted to me that he was never given a phonetic description of the player rosters, and was concerned that he might have botched a name or two of the Slovak or Norwegian players. “I know they’re running video coverage of these games back to the home countries, then my voice goes on in the background, and I’m wondering if I am getting it all right and if the viewers at home will even notice.” It was at that point that I suggested a way for the viewers in Norway or Russia to really start paying attention. We came up with the best idea – next time one of the goalies in the game makes a big save, Brad could go into total Bandits P.A. Guy mode, and shriek, “WHAT’S HE GOT ?!” Yeah, that would be different. For sure.
-The “Dewey beats Truman” moment of the tournament.
It happened in the Russia v Finland quarterfinal on Day 8 of the tournament. The winner would go on to the semis, while the loser went to the 5 v 6 game. I was posting regular game updates on Facebook, and as Finland was in cruise control to win the game, I typed in this message with about four minutes left to go: “FIN 3, RUS 1, f… Finland moves on to the semi finals against Sweden.” But then I accidentally hit publish. A minute later Pete pipes in and exclaims, “What the hell you doing!”. I quickly went back to Facebook and deleted the post, but the damage was done. Russia would score two late goals to tie it, then go on to win the game in overtime. You know how the rest of the story turned out.
-Kevin Snow, first and foremost a proud dad
Kevin works for the Buffalo Sabres PR staff as media information director, and with the rest of the Sabres staff, was on deck for this entire event. Like all of us, he was certainly exhausted when this tournament ended, and posted this message on Facebook: “17 straight days. 227 hours. And the best professional experience of my life. Now about those 5 goals in the 3rd period…” Kevin is also a proud Canadian citizen, and when it comes to Hockey Canada, he wears his heart on his sleeve. One could see he was as shocked and disconsolate as everyone else after the stunning turnaround in the gold medal game, yet the grieving would have to wait. There were literally hundreds of reporters down in the media Mix Zone and he had important duties to carry out. But now that it’s over, if you asked him his one single memory from the WJC which stands out, it would be this – seeing his young daughter Alex, a heck of a hockey player in her own right, skating out on the ice prior to the gold medal game, having been given the honor of carrying the Canadian flag.
-The mlbroadtrip.com guys are in the building!
Sean MacDonald and Peter Sharp are two of our great roadtrip friends. “Sharpie” lives near downtown Ottawa, while fellow Ottawan Sean now works in Tokyo, but that doesn’t stop him from making one or two extended trips to North America each year to hit ballparks and arenas. So we were glad to meet up with the two guys for Day 9, the semi finals, and of course the two were decked out in Team Canada garb and enjoying every minute of the big win over Team USA. After the game as we hung out and talked about the night that was over beer, wings and beef on weck sandwiches, we again marveled how awesome it is to have this network of sports road trip enthusiasts in places near and far, and that we can renew this fellowship at events like this one. Two nights later, as the boys were in Cleveland for a Cavs game and keeping tabs on the gold medal game from afar, they texted over this note, “Damn Russkies. We should never have rooted for them.”
-Remembering an epic Rachel Phelps quote from the movie “Major League”… “God I hate this f**king song!”
That summed it up exactly when I had to painfully endure the Russian anthem at HSBC Arena… three times! When the Soviet Union fell, the new Russian Federation and Boris Yeltsin ditched the song and commissioned a new anthem. But trying to get rid of the old theme was like trying to replace the “Shout” song at Bills game. Putin brought the old anthem back, albeit with new lyrics. I was down in the clubs with my brother following the gold medal game, watching the presentations, and when it was anthem time, we decided to sit this one out. My dad, God rest his soul, valiantly fought the Communists as a Ukrainian partisan during the war. Somewhere, I know he was smiling at his two boys.
-The final night… we didn’t want it to end!
So we stuck around the media area and the mix zone, to catch every last interview, to say good bye to some visitors who we would be seeing for the last time, to watch the Canadian and Russian coaches address the media at the podium, to snap a few final pictures. So as we finally departed HSBC Arena… at 11:35PM, we took along Sascha Fey, a journalist working for the the Swiss Sports Information agency. Off to the Chip Strip and Bada Bings to tip a couple, watch the rapture on the face as Sascha got to try real Buffalo wings for the very first time, and put on our Buffalo ambassador hats. Sascha gets to travel a lot, and has covered NHL games in numerous locales and also attended the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. We swapped great road trip stories, traded business cards and emails, and as we finally said our farewells in the wee hours, promised we would keep in touch. A USRT to Zurich? Yeah, that definitely sounds like a plan!