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THN.com Blog: The perk of player access

Florida's Michael Frolik was surprisingly a great interview.  (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Florida's Michael Frolik was surprisingly a great interview. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are a lot of neat perks that come with working at The Hockey News, but my favorite is the opportunity to talk to players.

It’s been nearly two years since I was hired here, but it seems like just yesterday I was an inexperienced, yet-to-graduate journalist toiling at a school newspaper. In my final year of college, I was one of three students in my class given the task of covering the finale of Making the Cut, a reality show that concluded with all six Canadian NHL teams taking a turn selecting one of the remaining players. The chances these guys would ever make it were slim, but it was an event – and at least part of the hockey world was at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

That night was my first chance to watch and interact with the hockey world from the other side of the ledger. Seeing Scotty Bowman wander around the bowels of the arena, CBC’s Scott Oake interviewing the players and Mike Keenan fielding questions from a gathering of reporters made for a surreal evening.

To tackle my duties, I hopped on the bandwagon and began getting my quotes. Calgary GM Darryl Sutter was the first NHL “insider” I ever interviewed and we discussed the chances these kids had of ever making the big show. After a few questions, I finished up with Sutter and extended my arm for a “thanks for your time” and a handshake; Sutter responded by looking me right in the eye, shaking my hand and patting me on the back. He could probably tell I was a rookie, so that’s a moment I’ll never forget.

I’ve long since lost that sense of awe around NHL players and management, but it’s still a lot of fun and something I feel privileged to be able to do whenever I’m at the rink. It’s neat to see how the players interact with each other in the dressing room after a game and how their demeanor changes when a reporter drops by their stall.

My favorite player that I’ve interviewed so far has been Mike Commodore of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You never know quite what to expect from a player until you start talking to them, but somehow Commodore came across exactly how I thought he might. Obviously a character with his big, red playoff afro and his money picture, Commodore was very inviting, speaking with a well articulated, loud and friendly voice. I spoke with him 1-on-1 on two separate occasions (he recognized me the second time in Columbus, even though it was about two months later) and both times it was just as though I was talking to a good friend.

One interviewee who really surprised me was Michael Frolik of the Florida Panthers. A Czech Republic native, I expected some sort of a language barrier (even though he played junior hockey in Quebec), but Frolik spoke English well and had a huge smile on his face through the entire process. I hope he doesn’t become jaded with the media as his career plays on, because Frolik seemed genuinely happy and was great to have a conversation with.

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In April, I was lucky enough to travel to Columbus for the first-ever playoff game in that city. Adam Proteau, Ted Cooper and myself were at the arena in the morning for each team’s skate. When the Red Wings were done we chased down a few players for on-camera interviews, but to get a change of scenery I was hoping to get one of the guys on the bench, to use the ice as a backdrop. Kris Draper, Chris Chelios and Derek Meech were the last three off the ice – and they had been working through some pretty demanding skating drills. Pouring with sweat and struggling to catch his breath, I didn’t know how open Draper would be to an interview as he was coming off the ice.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. Of course, we weren’t sure if he was blowing us off or not, but sure enough, Draper was very accommodating and came right back out to do a friendly interview.

After the Red Wings had landed a knockout punch in Game 3, I was in the Detroit dressing room trying to track down a few guys I couldn’t get in the morning. The last one of the evening was Kirk Maltby, who had just done a number of interviews – and turned down one or two others – but I wanted to get him 1-on-1.

Given the long, demanding haul of the playoffs, I wasn’t sure if Maltby would be open for one more line of questioning, but when I introduced myself and told him I worked at The Hockey News, he shook my hand and said: “Anything for you guys.”

After I was done, I again shook his hand, wished him luck and Maltby walked off to the showers with a friendly “take care.” Maybe the 3-0 playoff series lead had something to do with his openness, but after that trip I thought to myself, “That is why this team and organization is the cream of the crop.”

You can’t expect every player to be ready and willing to open up and have a direct and friendly conversation with you all the time – especially after a loss or during a dry spell.

But I greatly appreciate every instance one of these guys takes the time to think about your line of questioning, answer with a personal tone and not some company-line cliché, before parting with a friendly “thank you” or “good talking to you.”

Those are the good guys and they are what make hockey the best sport off the ice, as well as on it.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season.

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