Friday, August 27, 2010

So, you want to be a credentialed blogger?

A QUICK LOOK AT BLOGGING'S IMPACT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

The mainstream media (aka MSM) and blogosphere have been at odds ever since the first bloggers crawled onto the scene. It's not to say it's not justified on some level; after all, there are people out there trying to make a living being journalists and photographers, so anybody posting things for free on the internet takes away from the earning potential of the pros. It's hard not to have some measure of resentment for that.

But the truth is that the mainstream media simply does not have the capacity to cover everything that happens - be it sports or any other newsworthy event. In fact, if it wasn't for the blogosphere and social media, there are plenty of news stories that would not have been covered or even discovered, or gotten covered to the extent that they were. Social media further complicates things because the traditional newspaper, as we know it, has considerably shrunk in readership over the past several years, leading to further cutbacks in staffing for newspapers. 

Even newspapers rely upon reader-submitted news tips and photography, while simultaneously retaining their own staff and a selection of freelance writers. The face of MSM has changed greatly in the past 20 years, and bloggers have provided an important and notable addition to the news front.

The important thing to realize about the blogosphere is that the face of blogging has changed as well. In blogging's earliest forms in the mid- to late-1990s, it started with people who kept regularly updated websites about their personal lives. A surge of easy-to-use, personal diary websites sprung up between 1998-2000 such as Open Diary (1998), LiveJournal (1999), and Blogger (1999), taking on a life of their own and spawning a wide variety of similar DIY, WYSIWYG blog sites. Blogging also led to the advent of other forms of New Media, like Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006), which bills itself as a "microblogging" website.

Today, there are multiple uses for blogging. Sure, there are still plenty of navel-grazing blogs out there. But businesses large and small caught onto the concept of blogging and New Media as well, taking what were originally designed as socialization tools and turning them into a means to promote their business. Blogs have also found a lot of popularity among fandoms, providing the means for dedicated fans to share news, pictures, video and information about the object of their admiration.

SO, WHO IS OUT THERE BLOGGING?

There's blogs for every interest, and there's multiple layers of blogdom. You start with the casual, intermittent blogger who writes trivial stuff on occasion. ("I had sushi for breakfast. Does that make me weird?") You have humorists, artists, anti-fandom blogs (where somebody "hates" something/somebody so much they create an anti-blog), the whole "I CAN HAZ" phenomenon... the list goes on.

At the very top of the heap are two kinds of bloggers, both bloggers with a purpose: 1. those bloggers who're aiming to be more than just a fan sharing opinions on their favorite sport/personna/etc, these are those who aim to make the leap from amateur to professional writer; and 2. those bloggers who are dedicated enough to blog frequently and talk intelligently about whatever they're a fan of, and may even make good money off running their blog, but are not looking to be any part of a "big picture". 

HOCKEY, THE NHL, AND BLOGGERS

Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski wrote an article yesterday about how some teams would like to completely ban blogger access to players and coaches, whether it's across the board in their own arena, or it's just to visiting teams, which touched a nerve and sent a lot of hockey bloggers scrambling to their keyboards to voice their opinions. Some, such as Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild's piece suggesting tips on how to earn your stripes as a hockey writer, were very well-thought out and a sensible look at how to elevate your writing to another level.

But there were also a number of bloggers who took a look in the mirror and asked, "Do I really want to be a credentialed blogger? And if so, why?" And not surprisingly, the answers swung between yes and no.

Across the NHL, teams greatly vary about how they handle bloggers, ranging from zero connectivity between bloggers and the teams they support, to liberal and blogger-friendly like the Washington Capitals and the NY Islanders. Teams who have struggled to expand their market reach, such as the Atlanta Thrashers, also tend to be more blogger-friendly as a way to increase their team's exposure in any way possible. Older, better-established teams may feel they already get enough coverage or publicity.

Can teams - and the NHL in general - find a happy medium?

Being perhaps the most net-savvy of all professional sports, the NHL does include a fan-powered section on the league website, called NHL Fans, very easily found from their front page, where fans can upload pictures and videos, as well as write blogs. Fan contributors there are not paid, but obviously that is a way to gain exposure for your work. In perusing the websites for the NFL, MBA, MLS and NBA, only the NBA comes close to the same, with an area for fans to upload pictures and interact with forums and blogs.


CONSIDERING THINGS FROM THE TEAM'S STANDPOINT

Another primary conflict currently lies between the NHL's own policies on press credentials, versus teams' individual requirements for credentials. There is no league-wide policy; teams are left with the rights to build (or deny) their own relationships with the local press. However, here's where it gets interesting - at certain events, NHL-level credentials can override local team credentials: the Winter Classic, the All-Star Game, the Draft, and the Stanley Cup Final series.

Needless to say, since these are the most high-profile games and events that the NHL runs, the demand for credentials runs high, and suddenly, the local team has to deal with a huge influx of unfamiliar faces, most of whom may not be familiar with their policies and procedures.

As a team, it is natural to be protective of what's going on inside your own building. Hockey, as we have been frequently reminded of this summer, is a business. The ultimate goal of a business is to make money. Athletes are, after all, doing a job, and as a team, you are paying them an average $2.7 million per player (assuming full 22-man roster and a full $59.4M salary cap). At that money, it means that each and every one of your players is a not just a person, but an investment, with the end goal being the glory crowned by Lord Stanley's famed silver chalice, which means of course, more money. What do you do with your investment? You protect it - and not only the players, but everything around them - so that you can reach that goal or at least come as close to it as you possibly can.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press. Then there's Freedom of Information Act. However, the two should never be mistaken for one another. Hockey is a business. Hockey players may be public figures, but they work for privately-held businesses, and their team has the right to control access to those players. 

Jaques Plante famously once said about goaltending: "How would you like it if at your job, every time you made the slightest mistake a little red light went on over your head and 18,000 people stood up and screamed at you?" Being a sports writer means having the right to critique those players. If you think that MSM writers are vanilla or boring about their critiques, they're not - but they're probably using a lot less colorful language than some bloggers.

THE REALITY OF BEING A JOURNALIST

Being a journalist means you get to ask questions about stuff that happens on the ice, but journalists are doing a job too. They have to satisfy the fans, who are hungry for information about their favorite players. They have to satisfy their bosses, by attempting to provide any scoop or angle or edge which will help drive paper sales or online site hits (and thus advertising revenues). Depending on the nature of their job, they may be granted the right to travel for team coverage - which means a lot of days and nights away from home, choosing hotel and meals based on whatever slim budget their publication can afford.

If they're really lucky, and build up enough trust over time, they might get granted to cover more exclusive stories or be granted the right to hold more frequent, singular interviews with the star-power players that other reporters have to share face time with competitors to talk to.

A journalist bridges the gap between the untouchable game on the ice and the fandom beyond, normally separated by a 5/8" wall of glass. They ask the questions of the players that the fans can't. It puts them in a unique and desired position. There are a lot of people out there who, if presented with the question of what their dream job might be, would answer "writer".

Being a journalist, however, is a far from glamorous job. 

If you're a blogger, you have the luxury of working at your own pace and writing whatever you see fit, in whatever voice suits you. There's no deadlines, and unless you have advertisers who want to see a certain level of return from their ad spend, or you're part of a compilation site, there's no obligation to perform at any given level. If you attend a game as a fan, you can do what you like (within reason). You can paint your face, wear your favorite player's jersey, drink beer, cheer, chat, and have a good time.

Journalists are doing a job and have their responsibilities. (see above). So for sports writers, when they are on-site and covering a game, it is a far different experience for them. There's dress codes, for a start - they're here to do business, so they dress the part. That means a dress code - business casual or a suit, depending on the particular team's regulations. During the game, they're taking notes and writing their articles. They have deadlines. The press box, far above most of the crowd, is a place to focus on the job at hand. You're not going to see journalists and broadcasters wildly leaping around the press box in excitement over a great goal. If their favorite team is on the ice, they can't be screaming in support of them.

When the game is over, or almost over, they put together their gear and they head downstairs to the designated area to wait. Locker rooms are not cavernous to begin with, and you insert some 20-odd players, a few coaches, several staff... the room's crowded before you even get any media in there. The media that are allowed in jockey for position, zeroing in on notable players for the night, or whoever the team decides will do the talking after a given game. Once they get their sound bites, it's a race to complete their stories as quickly as possible to file and meet the deadlines, and hopefully scoop their competitors.

They're not there to buddy up to the players. They're not there to pose for pictures with players, or fawn and gush over them, or ask for autographs, or otherwise behave like a fan. The players have a job; the journalists have a job, and they're held accountable to standards. Forsaking those standards can and will lead to a loss of privileges.

So why would any bloggers want to become credentialed? you might wonder.
 
As stated earlier, there is a certain percentage of bloggers who aim to make the leap from amateur to pro writer. In order to do so, you must build a body of work - and a body of work that stands out from others. Just because you walked out of college with a degree in Journalism clutched in your hand doesn't guarantee you a job. (Actually, since a Journalism degree is mostly a degree in English/writing with a bunch of history and law tossed in, it's the kind of degree that says to employers that you know how to write - a skill which is sadly lacking these days. Also, you don't need a journalism degree to become a writer.)

But you do have to know how to write, and you have to show that you can do so consistently - day in, day out.

Journalists are also by their very nature and job description competitive. Who can get the scoop? Who can get the photo that gets tagged and sent to everybody - "You gotta see this!"? Who can find and write about a unique perspective, a different story, a new angle than the rest of the pack? Who can ask the right question to get an interviewee to open up?

Make no mistake: there are plenty of bloggers out there who are doing just as good a job as the professional journalists out there when it comes to writing - sometimes even better - even when they can't get interviews in order to answer all their questions.

SO, WHERE'S THE MIDDLE GROUND FOR TEAMS TO REACH OUT TO BLOGGERS?

There are some teams who will make the answer very cut and dry: if we give you a press pass, then we have to give one to every blogger who comes asking for one.

That's not true at all. It should be a given that any team (or any kind of organizer) that is in a position to grant something like press passes should have a minimum set of standards. It should be expected that if you're registering for a press pass, you should be providing your legal, given name, for example. They can have age requirements, tenure requirements (say, a minimum of at least 6 months of solid, consistent work), even things like hit count minimums, or a proven minimum number of hits within the blog's existence.

In addition, to help track what a blogger can bring to the table, it is possible to provide personalized coding for links, so that a team's webmaster can see exactly which blogs are driving the most traffic towards their site.  There are easy ways to quantify the results, in other words.

Teams can take lessons from the Capitals and the Islanders' work with bloggers thus far: structuring the amount and ways that bloggers can interact with players or coaches; controlling where they sit in the stadium (press box? concentrated area?). They can cap the number of spaces they allow for bloggers, just as they can for regular journalists.

If it's a concern of "if we give up a seat to a blogger, that's revenue lost", then they could sell that seat to a blogger at the same price as it would cost a season ticket holder, but on the stipulation that the club has the right to revoke the pass/seat if the blogger stops blogging or otherwise abuses the privileges that would go with having that pass. They could even make it be a pro-rated deal: if the blogger successfully holds up of their end of the bargain, then the team could refund the cost or apply it to the next season. If the blogger in any way breaks the agreement, the team could revoke the rights, keep the full price, and re-sell that seat.

In other words, the team needs to set the standards and expectations that a blogger must agree to, and the blogger who qualifies for the pass should sign an agreement that they will uphold those standards.

At the bare minimum, teams could at least allow bloggers to sign up for direct information/press release feeds, where they could receive press releases and the like.
 
WHY TEAMS SHOULD ACTIVELY SEEK TO WORK WITH BLOGGERS

The simplest reason lies in the very fact of what bloggers are: fans who are so dedicated to the sport of hockey and the team(s) they love that they dedicate it a significant portion of their time to create an ongoing work about that team. As stated earlier, most of them lose money on what they do. A fraction of them might produce enough advertising or other revenue to cover the costs of webhosting or that would barely qualify as a stipend.

In return, the teams and the league are basically getting a load of free publicity. The secret to continued consumption of a product and growth in the market is marketing; bloggers help keep the product - the game, its players - in front of more eyes. A passing interest can be nurtured into a season ticket holder.

Blogs with faithful followers are also a good way to reach out to the dedicated core of fans, because fans with a greater interest in the game are more likely to seek out increased interaction with other fans and more knowledge about the team they love.

In short, it is to teams' benefit to evaluate and choose which local bloggers are an asset to their team, and find ways to maximize the potential there.

If teams aren't willing to create some kind of in-between press-pass level - a position where the more serious, dedicated bloggers can get a little more access than the average fan, but not so much access as the paid professional journalists - then teams could at least find other ways to reward/acknowledge those fans for the contributions they make to the local hockey community.

One of the most obvious solutions is that every team generally has a "Fan Appreciation" night. Having a few prominent bloggers chosen to participate in those would be a clear token of appreciation for what bloggers bring to the table.

Another suggestion would be doing a "writers' night" with a combination of bloggers, perhaps some local journalism students, some of the team's media staff, and maybe a local sports writer where they could do a "behind the scenes" tour of the arena, locker room and press box, and then have a discussion about what it takes to make it as a professional sports journalist.

The team could also find ways to provide a unique experience for bloggers, which would provide them with fresh content that is different than just watching games. There are many teams that do not hold open practices, but credentialed media are allowed.

Invitations to bloggers to attend special event nights, perhaps at a slightly discounted ticket price from full face value but more than STH costs, would be very welcome, giving bloggers a chance to cover things like Opening Night, Alumni Night, or any other kind of special event nights that are sure to be a little more of interest than the average game night.

Teams might also let bloggers get a chance to interview AHL players affiliated with their team, which would also help build publicity for their AHL teams; or even have a little more leniency in granting press passes at the AHL level. In return, the exposure the bloggers would give the AHL players would mean more familiar faces if/when those teams make it up to the NHL, and a chance for both the blogger and the younger players to build more experience in press relations.


Ultimately, the percentage of bloggers who would genuinely be interested in working with a team's media staff - following the rules and standards to earn the right for whatever level of access a team might grant - is going to be a very small percentage. But that number is an untapped resource for today's teams. Some of the teams already recognize the value and have begun capitalizing on it; it's up to the rest to follow.




Thursday, August 26, 2010

Score: A Hockey Musical Official Trailer



I have to admit that when I first heard about this film, I was all, "A hockey musical? bwahaha..."

But this trailer for Score: A Hockey Musical actually makes me want to see the film. Plus, it seems to have sort of a "What if Joss Whedon wrote a hockey film, and then applied his musical touch to it, a la Buffy's Once More With Feeling episode?" feeling to it.

It might actually be awesome.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where in the world is the Stanley Cup? Well, so far...

The Stanley Cup has been very, very busy on its summer vacation. The tradition is only 15 years old, but it's one of the reasons the Cup is so magnetic and so beloved: the winning team gets 100 days with the Cup, with each winning player, the coaches, team owners, GMs, and other selected personnel get to take it home and spend their day with the Cup, however they see fit.

The Cup has been all over the world in those 15 years - up mountains, on lakes, on concert stages. You can guarantee there's always a party, be it private or public, to celebrate. Usually players take it to local hospitals or nursing homes, or share it with nonprofit groups and youth sports organizations. The Cup gets filled with champagne, beer, food, and other things.

Here is a look at how the Cup has spent its summer in the company of the Chicago Blackhawks. A few interesting facts based on coverage culled from reports on NHL.com, the Chicago Blackhawks website, fan reports, and newspapers/websites around the globe:

Minimum estimated mileage on the Cup since it was presented on the ice in Philadelphia: at least 30,600 miles (so far!). It's 668 miles between the United Center in Chicago and the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia; so the Stanley Cup has made the equivalent of at least 46 trips between the two Final playoff arenas.

Number of international border crossings: At least 7

Vehicles¹ that have carried the Cup include but are not limited to: double decker tour buses (Chicago victory parade), Lake Michigan tour boat, parade floats, pontoon boat (Hendry, Keith), antique fire truck (Bickell, Bolland), farm machinery (Boynton), Corvette (Toews, Byfuglien), Zamboni (Brouwer, Niemi), fire truck (Seabrook), school bus (Keith), helicopter (Ladd, Niemi), vintage ambulance (Campbell), antique tractor (Sopel), Porsche (Hossa), cable car (Huet), hay truck (Hjalmarsson), vintage Thunderbird (Niemi), firetruck crane (Kane), Masserati (Byfuglien), and of course, various limousines/tour buses.

Items consumed¹ out of the Cup, other than alcohol, included: traditional Slovakian soup (Kopecky), pierogies (Hossa), brinza cheese (Hossa), Buffalo wings and bleu cheese (Kane), cereal (Sopel, Madden), ice cream (Madden)

Those who drank/ate out of the Cup, other than people¹: Patrick Sharp and Dustin Byfuglien's dogs

Unusual items¹ placed in Cup included: freshly caught fish (Bickell)

¹ Documented by the HHOF writers, newspapers, pictures, videotape or other witnesses


map created using Google Earth

Highlighted below are all the events chronicled by the HHOF and NHL.com blogs as well as other news sources. Since there were not equal amounts of media coverage for all players, not all players Day With The Cup are fully documented, so this was the best compilation of existing references I could put together.

I also provided links to as many of the nonprofit organizations and hospitals listed that I could find. (Note: It was more challenging to find overseas foundations so if anybody knows the links to those, please let me know and I will update this entry.)

June 9Blackhawks win Stanley Cup in game 6, 4-3, Philadelphia
June 10Various locations around Chicago
June 11Stanley Cup Parade in the Loop, Chicago
June 13Lake Michigan cruise
Appearance at Wrigley Field – Cubs vs White Sox
June 14The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (not to be mistaken for the Blackhawks' previous visit to The Tonight Show)
Cup parties at Industry in L.A.
Rooftops at Wrigleyville
June 15School appearance
Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital with Coach Q
Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired
June 16Ellen’s Somewhat Special Special taping at Chicago Theater with Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Colin Fraser and Kris Versteeg
June 19John McDonough's Day w/the Cup
Visited parents, mother’s gravesite, childhood home
John McDonough Day in Edison Park, IL
Lunch at The Curragh Irish Pub
Rehabilitation center in Elk Grove Village
Reception w/the Mayor of Elk Grove Village
Elk Grove Village Hometown Parade
Cach’s Corner, Elk Grove Village
June 23NHL Awards, Las Vegas
June 25-26NHL Draft, Los Angeles
June 27Chicago Gay Pride Parade, Chicago – accompanied by Brent Sopel
Time at Casey Moran’s, Wrigleyville, Chicago
July 1Coach Joel Quenneville, Windsor, Ontario
Championship/Canada Day parade with Quenneville and Adam Henrique of the two-time Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires.
Quenneville presented with the Key to the City of Windsor
July 2Jordan Hendry’s Day w/the Cup, Nokomis, Saskatchewan
Party at the Nokomis Recreation Centre
Visit to the Nokomis Health Centre, a retirement home
Visit to Hendry's Western Service Station, owned by Jordan's dad
Took a pontoon boat out on Lost Mountain Lake with the Cup
July  3-4Kris Versteeg’s Day w/the Cup, Lethbridge, Alberta
Showcased the Cup at Murray Chevrolet Cadillac with donations going to Lethbridge Minor Hockey Association and KidSport, which provides support to children in order to remove financial barriers that prevent them from playing organized sports
Street hockey in front of Versteeg’s childhood home on Larkspur Rd N.
Party at Boss Hogg's Country Saloon
Visit at Orion Sports and Training Centre, where Versteeg works out in the summer
Visit to Henderson Ice Centre and ENMAX Centre, where Versteeg played growing up
A stop at Winston Churchill High School, his old school
July  8Bryan Bickell’s Day w/the Cup, Orono, Ontario
Went fishing on the Otonabee River near Peterborough; put a fish in the Cup
Party at the family home in Orono
Parade in an antique fire truck, a Bickle Pumper (mfg 1933)
Appearance at Orono Fairgrounds and Orono Arena
Clarington mayor Jim Abernethy declared July 8, 2010 'Bryan Bickell Day' in the municipality, and presented Bryan with framed letters from Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty.
Bickell was also made an honorary firefighter
Donations given to Orono Athletic Association and the local food bank
Party at The Trasheteria in Peterborough; portion of admission donated to Peterborough Humane Society
July 9Nick Boynton’s Day w/the Cup, Nobleton, Ontario
Family pictures at Boynton Brothers Sod Farms in Nobleton; had pictures taken on various pieces of farm machinery
Event to honor Boynton at Dr. William Laceby Nobleton Arena and Community Centre
Pig roast at the family farm; pictures taken with Pigman, the farm’s mascot
July 10Patrick Sharp’s Day w/the Cup, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Visit to George Jeffrey Children's Centre, a place that nurtures the lives of children by meeting their physical, developmental and social needs in a caring, family-oriented environment
Visit to Boys and Girls Club of Thunder Bay
A stop at George Burke Park, where Sharp played baseball as a kid
Visit to the statue of Terry Fox in town
Time at his parents’ home on Lake Superior
Visit to the Thunder Bay Blues Festival; went onstage with Blues Traveller
Visit to Thunder Bay's oldest tavern, the On Deck Bar
Visit at Tony and Adam's bistro
July 11-12Jonathan Toews’s Day w/the Cup, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Visit to City Hall, where he met the Grand Chief of the First Nations, who gifted Jonathan  with a pair of handmade moccasins, decorated in Chicago Blackhawk colors, symbolizing godspeed on his continued journey
Toews was awarded the Key to the City by Mayor Katz
Manitoba premier Greg Selinger announced that a lake approximately 435 miles (700 kms) northwest of Winnipeg near Filn Flon had been named for him
A parade took him from Ecole Christine-Lesperance to the Dakota Community Center, which was where Toews played hockey as a kid, was renamed the Jonathan Toews Community Centre
Private party at Earl’s
Toews hosted the Boston Pizza Jonathan Toews FORE Kids Golf Classic at the Pine Ridge Golf Course. Thirty-six teams teed off, helping to raise $100,000 for the Rehabilitation Centre for Children.
Visited the Children's Hospital Foundation of Winnipeg, the only hospital between Calgary and Toronto expressly devoted to the health care of children.
Time at his parents’ home and his own condominium in Winnipeg
Partied that evening at Alive in the District, a  nightclub
July 13Vancouver - Troy Brouwer (North Delta), Andrew Ladd (Maple Ridge) and
Brent Seabrook (Tsawwassen) took the Stanley Cup to Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, a rehabilitation centre for children faced with health challenges. They played ball hockey with the kids there.
Troy Brouwer took the Cup wakeboarding on a private lake in the area
Party at Colin Fraser’s parents’ home with Brouwer, Ladd and Seabrook families
July 14Colin Fraser’s Day w/the Cup, Surrey, B.C.
Road hockey outside his childhood home
Civic reception at Central City Pizza; was escorted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Visit to North Surrey Recreation Centre, where he played as a kid
July 15Troy Brouwer’s Day w/the Cup, North Delta, B.C.
Time at his parents’ home
Parade to the Sungod Arena – Brouwer rode a Zamboni
July 16Brent Seabrook’s Day w/the Cup, Tsawwassen, B.C.
Visit to Tsawwassen neighbour, Ron Toigo, the majority owner of the Vancouver Giants, a junior franchise in the Western Hockey League.
A stop South Delta Secondary School for a peek in at his alma mater's summer program.
Visit at the Delta Police Station with Chief Jim Cessford
Visit to Chief Dan Copeland at the Delta Fire Hall
Visit at Delta Hospital 
Visit to the Delta Recreation Centre where he had played hockey and lacrosse as a kid, where he met youth league kids, and played roller hockey with his buddies for the Cup
A party for 250 at the Delta Golf Club – proceeds from the sale of the photos with Seabrook and the Cup were given to Delta Hospital and the Delta Life Skills Society, which "provides children with a wide range of challenges with a summertime program to help them develop life skills".
July 17Duncan Keith’s Day w/the Cup, Penticton, B.C.
Keith rode a school bus around town with the Cup
Visit to his parents’ home
Re-created the famous Bobby Orr pic
Took the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold and the Norris Trophy to Penticton Regional Hospital; Duncan donated $10,000 to the hospital.
Four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and the Penticton Pipe Band escorted Keith through the length of the South Okanagan Event Centre, where Keith played hockey as a kid.
Mayor Ashton proclaimed July 17, 2010 "Duncan Keith Day" in Penticton and presented him with a Key to the City.
Rode a pontoon boat from his home on the lake to a local hotel for a private party
Afterparty at The Best Damn Sports Bar
July 18Andrew Ladd’s Day w/the Cup, Maple Ridge, B.C.
Visit to Cam Neely Arena at Planet Ice
Visited around town for pictures at Port Haney Wharf on the Fraser River and other locations
Visit with his grandparents
Unforgettable early morning helicopter ride for pictures at sunrise atop Crown Mountain, B.C.
Breakfast with his grandfather and the “Maple Ridge Senate”
Visit to Kruger Products, where his father works
July 22Ben Eager’s Day w/the Cup, Ottawa
Visit to Kemptville, where Eager spent part of his youth
A stop at Eager Road, named to honor the family, where they were raised
Rally at Brantwood Park, where locals could get their picture with the Cup
Visit to his Dad’s farm in Kemptville
Visit Kemptville's Bayfield Manor, a retirement home
BBQ at his uncle’s home
Evening party at Bank Street in downtown Ottawa
July 23Brian Campbell’s Day w/the Cup, Strathroy, Ontario
Party at the family home
Parade riding in a vintage ambulance owned by a friend of the family
Stopped at local fire department and ambulance depot
Stopped at the ScotiaBank where his mother works
Rally at Gemini Sportsplex for Campbell
Photos with Brian and the Cup, with donations channelled to the Strathroy District Minor Hockey Associationand and to the Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital
A private party was held for the Stanley Cup at the Oaks Golf and Country Club in nearby Delaware
Mini-golf tournament for the Cup
Took the Cup onstage at London, Ontario’s Rock The Park with Alice Cooper
July 30-31Blackhawks Convention, Chicago
Brought onstage at Soldier Field during Bon Jovi/Kid Rock concert w/Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith
August 1-2Brent Sopel's Day w/the Cup, Hinsdale, IL
Ate cereal out of the Cup - the Sopels had had custom-made spoons made for their four kids, each spoon featuring the child's name and the Stanley Cup
The Sopels renewed their wedding vows (10 years) with the Cup
Sopel rode his vintage family tractor around Hinsdale with the Cup
Had lunch with family and friends at  New Yolk, New Yolk
Stopped in at Fuller’s Hardware, Browning and Sons Fine Jewellers and a local Starbucks
Private party at home
Visited the local police and fire stations
Visited the Adventist Hinsdale Hospital
Attended the Denis Savard Celebrity Golf Tournament – with other current and alumni Blackhawks Brian Campbell, Tony Amonte, Eric Daze, Bobby Hull, Martin Lapointe, Steve Larmer and Darren Pang, assistant coach Mike Haviland and other NHL greats, including Bernie Federko.
August 2Coach Joel Quenneville’s Day w/the Cup, Windsor, Ontario
Visit to Windsor Regional Hospital's pediatric unit
August 6Marian Hossa’s Day w/the Cup - Trencin, Bratislava
Hotel Carlton in Bratislava, Slovakia – press conference*
Party at Hossa’s parents’ home
Hossa ate brinza, a white, grainy cheese, out of the Cup; and pierogies (Hossa apparently owns a pierogi factory)
Street hockey with friends on childhood street
Retro Restaurant in Trencin - meal with his friends
Panorama Club in Trencin
Alfa Hotel in Trencin
*Note: Hossa and Kopecky are both from Trencin so they shared many of their activities
August 7Tomas Kopecky’s Day w/the Cup - Trencin, Bratislava
Nova Dubnica City Hall for Kopecky and Hossa to meet the Mayor  
Alfa Hotel in Trencin (part-owned by Kopecky); Kopecky ate his favorite soup from the Cup
HK Dukla stadium – ice rink where Hossa and Kopecky started
Trencin’s children's hospital  
Trencin town square – rally
Trencin Castle -  Hossa and Kopecky are both knighted.
August 8-9Cristobal Huet’s Day w/the Cup
University Hospital (children’s hospital) in Grenoble
Pole Sud Ice Rink – Huet honored with banner in rink
Donated money to the sports community in Grenoble
Journeyed up the Eiffel Tower in Paris
August 10Niklas Hjalmarsson’s Day w/the Cup
Jonkoping – visit at  Ryhov Hospital's children's ward
Cup party at Nassjo
Parade in Eksjo including rink , the Storegardshallen
Town will create the Niklas Hjalmarsson Hockey School in 2011
Visit to hometown of Russnas including the sawmill where his father works
August 11Antti Niemi’s Day w/the Cup  – Lahti and Vantaa, Finland
Visited Pohjois-Haaga High School, where he had gone to school
Lunch with Vantaa's mayor, Juhani Paajanen, at Heureka, Finland
Appeared at Isku-Areena Lahti rink where he had played with the Lahti Penguins
Helicopter ride between Lahti and Vantaa
Appeared at rink where he had played in Vantaa
Private party for friends and family
Sauna with the Cup
August 12-13Patrick Kane’s Day w/the Cup – Buffalo, NY and Chicago, IL
Photos at Niagra Falls – Hurricane Deck temporarily renamed HurriKane Deck
Visit to the Roswell Park Cancer Institute
Visit with the ironworkers from Local 6
Visited a fire station; was taken up in the ladder and got stuck for half an hour
Floor hockey with friends at  DJ Spinners
Creekside Banquet Facility in Cheektowaga for his private party
Back to Chicago for the Jimmy Buffett concert at Toyota
August 15Dustin Byfuglien’s Day w/the Cup, Roseau, MN
August 17Adam Burish’s Day w/the Cup, Madison, WI
Visit to UW football practice and Memorial Union
Public viewing at Eagle's Nest Ice Arena in Verona
August 20Illinois State Fair, Springfield, IL
August 22Jay Blunt's Day w/the Cup, Danvers, IL
August 23John Torchetti’s Day w/the Cup, Jamaica Plain, MA (near Boston)
August 27Blackhawks Day at the White Sox - U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
August  27-28 John Madden’s Day w/the Cup, New Jersey
Took Cup to St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ
Visited youth hockey league
Visited Morristown Memorial Hospital
September 3Dave Bolland’ s Day w/the Cup – Mimico, Ontario
SeptemberBergevin, Waite, Haviland's days with the Cup
SeptemberStan and Scotty Bowman Day with the Cup
SeptemberThe Wirtzes Day with the Cup
September 18Blackhawks Training Camp – United Center, Chicago, IL
October 9Blackhawks 2010-2011 season home opener vs. the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago, IL

 


Friday, August 20, 2010

The new faces of NHL marketing efforts might look like ... women and Justin Bieber?

Although it hasn't stirred much attention outside of Twitter and PuckDaddy (Yahoo's NHL blog), a grass-roots campaign by blogs such as Chicks Who Give a Puck has led to the NHL opening discussions this summer directly with female fans, who feel that the NHL just don't understand their main female demographic. (Females make up at least 35% of the NHL's demographic and that number is expected to continue growing.) Although the NHL has been producing female-aimed products for several years, hardcore female hockey fans have had enough, and asked, "Why does female hockey gear need to be pink, glittery, or shiny?"

The NHL has actually responded fairly quickly to the outcry over some of their most recent product releases - a very smart marketing move on their part. After all, women make 85% of all brand purchases. Newsweek recently carried an article titled "The Richer Sex: Companies had better cater to women".

In short, women have money and they're willing - and eager - to spend it, but they want to know that they're spending it on quality products that match their taste. They dislike the assumption that because they're women that they're going to automatically snap up anything that's pink or sparkly. They want to know that the T-shirt or jersey they buy for themselves is going to last just as long as the one they buy for their boyfriend. And most of all, they want equal amounts of variety - and they want to have it in sizes that fit and are flattering to their bodies, be it extra-petite or plus-sized.

Women are also seeking to increase the respect given to them when it comes to sports, particularly as fans of a male-dominated sport like hockey. Serious female fans are against being marketed to primarily though trying to sell the players as hunks of beefcake; and they find the idea of the skimpily dressed "Ice Girls", which many teams now sport, as demeaning or belittling towards women, reducing the image of women in a rink to cheerleaders on ice.

While these passionate female fans have two thing correct - the NHL could do more to provide a wider variety of quality products aimed at women, and they should also improve their marketing relationships with women - those same hardcore, die-hard fans should also remember that the NHL will not - and should not - entirely eliminate the "pink, sparkly" part of their catalog.

Obviously, the NHL must be selling enough of these styles of clothing that it encourages them to keep selling more; otherwise, they would've already been trying to figure this out long before this summer. These girly designs are probably most popular with the next demographic that the NHL should look to bring strongly into the fold: teenage/young adult fans.

Hockey fans know who Kevin Weekes is: a journeyman goalie who spent 11 seasons with the NHL before retiring in 2009, and who has since become a very popular color commentor on Hockey Night in Canada, and a studio analyst for NHL on the Fly. Weekes is also very active on Twitter (@KevinWeekes, sharing not only commentary and analysis about the sport he loves, but the kind of random observations, Twitpics, and just conversation that fans are responding to in droves.

En route to his vacation, Weekes ended up delayed in Toronto and ran into Canadian teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber. In case you've been living under a rock, the 16-year-old Bieber has had two platinum albums in the past year and a half. His Twitter account (@justinbieber) has over 4.6 million followers, making him the sixth-most-followed Tweeter on the social media site after Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Ashton Kutcher, Ellen, and Barack Obama.

So, Weekes being the media-savvy guy that he is, naturally sent out a Tweet about the chance encounter: "Flight delayed to Barbados but chilling with @justinbieber-love this young guy-very funny and mature !!"

Like many Canadian boys, Bieber played hockey; so doubtless he thought it was cool to meet Weekes. He even sent out a Tweet with his opinion: "Yo chillin with @kevinweekes NHL goalie.. Hes tight! follow him."

If you've ever doubted the power of 1) the internet or 2) teenage fandom, consider this: after Bieber's tweet about Weekes, Weekes followers nearly doubled from around 8,300 to over 16,000 in a matter of hours. (PuckDaddy noted that at one point, Weekes was gaining over 1,000 new followers per hour.)

To put this in perspective, the NHL's own Twitter account (@NHL) has just shy of 416,000 followers. With just 64 characters, a pop star gave a hockey broadcaster nearly 8,000 new followers. The NHL demographic fits comfortably into a range from the mid-20s through the late 40s. One would not say that the same demographic is Justin Bieber's target audience.

But Justin Bieber's target demographics - the teenage/young adult audience - is definitely one that the NHL should set their sights on next.

True fans of any sport will tell you that "every fandom has to start somewhere". Most long-term fans of sports learned their favorite sports via family osmosis - being brought to games as a kid and being raised in a given sport's atmosphere. Maybe their friends or their spouse is into the sport, and it gets new people into the sport. (Yes, even those who first get attracted because they notice a player is "hot" but then they get hooked into the excitement of the sport.)

Hockey is traditionally a "northern sport"; so you obviously aren't going to be driving around Miami in the middle of winter and see kids playing pond hockey. However, there are many variants of hockey - broom hockey, street hockey, roller hockey - that can feed and lead directly into an interest in ice hockey. The NHL's expansion into the non-traditonal, Southern markets such as Phoenix, Miami, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Dallas has had varying degrees of success over the years.

Some of those newer teams were created by moving teams such as the Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets out of small but struggling markets - markets which, despite not having local NHL teams for a over a dozen years, are now once again clammoring for the opportunity to show that they can and will support an NHL franchise. Minnesota lost its franchise to Dallas in 1993, but demand for the sport remained high enough that a new team, the Wild, was created in 2000.

This year, the NHL Draft was held in Los Angeles - a first for the NHL - and one of the top 30 players picked was a native Californian. These are both excellent signs for the continued rise of popularity of hockey, especially in "non-traditional" markets.

A new, younger generation of fans is waiting to be wooed by the NHL. They live in both these growing Southern markets as well as the more traditional ones. But it makes just as much sense to ensure the NHL is going after the youth segment as it does the female portion of the market. Today's youth have more economic buying muscle than any other previous generation at the same age had. Additionally, as we've seen demonstrated by the power of Bieber, today's teenagers fit perfectly into the NHL's incredibly tech-savvy demographic.

And since some of today's brightest NHL stars are in the 18-24 age range - Toews, Kane, Crosby, Tyler, Hall - it's a very easy connection to make to the youth market. The Blackhawks was the youngest team in the league last year with an average age of just shy of 26; most teams average between 26-30 years old. It's also the kind of sport that fosters teamwork, hard work and dedication; a sport that rewards performance instead of wooing talent based on potential future payoffs; and has little room for giant egos as often displayed in the NFL, NBA or MLB. The guy who is going to mark - correction, has already marked - his generation of hockey players is Jonathan Toews, who at just 22 years of age is a Stanley Cup-winning, Gold medal Olympian and team Captain, not to mention who comes across as a nice, humble guy whose primary focus is his team and success.

Toews isn't alone, however. Every team has a "face of its franchise", and it would benefit the NHL as a whole to show as much diversity as possible among its players, instead of simply focusing on less than a handful.

Without a doubt, the NHL has recognized its internet-savvy fan base and they have done quite a lot to improve relationships with fans, and to bring the image of hockey into the 21st century, especially after the damage created by the 2004-05 lockout. While the "old school" fan base certainly needs to also be connected with, the NHL should continue to find new and creative ways to help bring both more women and youth into the fandom.




Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hartford Whalers alumni reunited for Fan Fest in East Hartford




How can a franchise that hasn't existed under their name or logo in over a dozen years and was never really deemed "successful" in their years of existance, still be within the top 30% of sales for the NHL?

The Whalers can answer that question for you. Started in the World Hockey Association as the New England Whalers, the team became the Hartford Whalers as part of the NHL in 1979.

In the early 1990s, following the trade of team star Ron Francis to the Pittsburg Penguins, the Whalers struggled to survive through a few tumultuous seasons. Turnovers in the front office, coaching and issues with the players led to a couple of bleak years. The Whalers had only rarely glimpsed the promised land of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and a series of good drafts in the early 90s gave hope to the fans that the team could finally shake off its underdog mantle and become a contender.

Compuware CEO Peter Karmanos purchased the team with partners Thomas Thewes and Jim Rutherford in 1994, pledging to keep the team in Hartford for four years later; but the 1996-97 season was the last played at the Hartford Civic Center. The team was moved to North Carolina that year and renamed the Carolina Hurricanes, playing their first two years in Greensboro while a new stadium was built for them in Raleigh.

The Whalers peak years were immediately after their founding, when they were highly successful in the WHA. Their NHL era years reads with an awful lot of "did not qualifys" for the playoffs, and losing in the seminfinals most years between 1986-1992. Their one "successful" season in the NHL was 1986-87, when they won the Adams division.

The owners might not have wanted to keep the team in Hartford - seeking greener pastures down South - but the fanbase was there, and even if it was smaller than many markets, it was hardcore. It was the only professional sports team that Connecticut called its own, sandwiched between the lucrative, sports-mad markets of Boston and New York. Around the same time that Karmanos was pondering whether to keep the Whalers in Hartford, there was also negotiations to attempt to bring the New England Patriots to the city as well, which never quite worked out.

In their heyday, the team never really had the money to attract big-name talent like New York or Boston could, but its diehard fan base loved the players.

On April 13, 1997, the Whalers played their last game in blue, green and white, winning against Tampa Bay, 2-1. Team Captain Kevin Dineen scored the last goal in Whalers history; and went on to score the first goal in Hurricanes history as well, as he continued as team Captain for the first two years in Carolina. The final game was emotional for fans and players alike, with the players handing their gear and sticks over the glass to fans after the game.

Hartford never forgot the team, either; in 2006, the Hartford Civic Center (now renamed the XL Center) honored three players - Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, and Ulf Samuelsson - by hanging their numbers in the rafters next to the few officially retired Whalers numbers. Francis's number 10 was eventually officially retired by the Hurricanes; in total, he spent 10 seasons with the Whalers and 6 with the 'Canes, of his 24 seasons as a player in the NHL. (He spent 8 seasons in Pittsburgh, where he helped win two Stanley Cups.)
 

Ever since the team moved out of Hartford, the fans have hoped that if the team wasn't moved back, then at least a new Whalers team could be developed to replace it. Another hockey team, the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, currently plays at the XL Center; and just up the road in Springfield, MA, the Falcons are their closest AHL rivals.

I grew up as a Whalers fan. Nobody else in my family cared for the sport. I think I first fell in love with hockey by watching the 1980s Olympics. Back in those days, there were less than half a dozen channels to choose from, so when the Olympics rolled around, you watched everything. I don't remember watching any other hockey games, but I remember the US-USSR game - the famous "Miracle on Ice". The closest hockey team was of course the Whalers, so a Whalers fan I became. What probably cemented me as a Whalers/hockey fan for life, and the spark that made him my favorite player ever, was being stopped by rookie Kevin Dineen in Zurich Airport. It's a bit of a goofy story and one that probably took all of five minutes at the time, but in that moment, I discovered what I still believe 25 years later: hockey players are the most awesome athletes out there.

When he retired in 2009, Jeremy Roenick - who eventually grew up to have his own NHL career - recalled his own special fan moment with the Whalers as a little kid, and how it influenced how he chose to interact with fans as a player:
"Gordie Howe picked up a whole bunch of snow on his stick and dumped it on my head," Roenick said. "I thought that was the coolest thing that ever happened in my whole life. Then he skated around and he looked at me again and he winked.  "For those three seconds, it was me and Gordie Howe and nobody else. That's a gift that was given to me that I made sure I did every single day."




Gordie Howe w/a fan at the Fan Fest

Perhaps the greatest thing the Whalers were able to do as a professional league in a small market was to have many of these kind of moments that impacted fans over the years. They may not have been Cup-raisers like their rival Rangers and Bruins, but they touched fans young and old alike.
   

This past weekend, some two dozen past Whalers players and personalities gathered in Hartford to provide a unique experience to the fans of Whaler Nation: the Whalers Reunion and Fan Fest, held at Rentschler Field ("the Rent") in East Hartford.
  

Fans wait in line for the gates to open. I'm hoping the NHL will eventually offer the navy jerseys (used late in the Whalers tenure, starting in 1993) - I think they were the team's best-looking jersey besides the '79-80/'85-86/ '92-93 white jersey variants.

Frankly, they couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day. The temperature was perfect and there was a light breeze to keep things cool. Fans had lined up as early as 8am to get in line for the 11am gate opening; here's just a small sample of the line as it wrapped around the venue. A thousand fans were there by the time the gates opened.

Throughout the day, I met fans from all across New England and New York, but I also met people who had come from California, Colorado, Florida, and Washington, DC., among other locations. (I came from Chicago, of course!)

It's been too many years since I've witnessed so many Whalers jerseys and T-shirts and hats in one place! Other hockey team shirts/jerseys/hats sported in the crowd included: Habs (Roy), Kings (Gretzky), Red Wings (Howe), Flyers (Pronger - who was once a Whaler; and Briere), Blackhawks (Sharp, Bufyglien), and several Chicago Blackhawks championship T-shirts. 

 

Although "Pucky the Whale" was the official emblem of the Whalers, he never game to life as a mascot until this year. Old and new fans took pictures with him all day long. It was really fun watching little kids run up and hug his knees in happiness.

  

There were a lot of merchandise brokers, but there were also displays of some notable pieces of Whaler history. Here is Mike Byers' game-worn uniform from the Whalers' first season, when they were still known as the "New England Whalers".

 

The jerseys worn by Gordie Howe and his two sons, Marty and Mark, when they shared Whaler ice during the 1977-78 season. Of course, Howe played the majority of his illustrious career with the Detroit Red Wings - from 1946 to 1971. He then spent four years with the Houston Aeros (WHA) before coming to Hartford for three years - 2 of those spent under the WHA banner and one as NHL. His last year with Hartford made him the oldest player to play for the NHL - 52 years and 11 days for his last game. Howe was - and is, and likely will ever be the only player to have played in the NHL for 5 different decades, starting in 1946 and ending in 1980. Howe's #9 was of course retired by Detroit, but it was also retired by the Whalers as well. (The Hurricanes have not retired his number, but they have never issued it to a player, either.)


The concourse had plenty to keep fans occupied while they waited for autographs, including the chance to play NHL 11 or NHL2K11 - showing off that people can now play as either the Hurricanes or the Whalers. (The Whalers are really Carolina 3rd jerseys.)
 
 


There were unique souvenirs...



... an unusual hat or two ...



... a fond memory or two ...



... and silly souvenirs ...



... and fans showing off their Whalers pride. Check out this awesome tattoo!



The fans filled the concourse all along one side of the stadium; seen here, waiting for the players to be announced prior to signing autographs.


My favorite player, Kevin Dineen, who now coaches the Portland Pirates (AHL). In orange is Chuck Kaiton, who was the voice of the Whalers in Hartford and is now the play-by-play announcer for the Hurricanes. In the background is Jeff Brubaker.

When I was in the autograph line, and I finally got to Dineen, what I wanted to say to him was to thank him for saying hello to me and my friend AJ, that day 25 years ago in Zurich, which basically forever cemented me a hockey fan. I did remind him about that, which I don't think he remembered; and he admitted he'd been running kind of late through the airport on that trip. (And yet he stopped anyway to talk to a couple of high schoolers because they were from his adopted state! How cool of a player was he!)

But before I got out my "thank you" part, he asked me about my Blackhawks jersey, and said he was sorry that I'd missed Joel Quenneville (who'd had to leave for his flight) by the time I'd reached that point in the line. He wasn't the only player who apologized that I'd missed Quenneville, either; those who had flanked him at the signature tables were the first to tell me that he'd had to leave to catch a flight.
   
  

Father and son celebrating Dineen
  

Kevin Dineen signing for fans. At this point, the players had been signing since around 12:15-12:30; it was already 3:30 at this point, and they kept signing til 5.
 

Joel Quenneville (maroon) waiting with Dana Murzyn (blue) and Dave Babych (goatee) to be called onstage for introductions

I'm not kidding you - every single player in the signing line made cracks about my Blackhawks jersey (even though I also had a Whalers hat and T-shirt on), but all in a very good-natured way: "Oh, you're obviously here to see Joel, right?" was the most common remark. One asked me, a twinkle in his eye, "You're not one of those bandwagoners, are you?" (I had to keep explaining I'd grown up a Whalers fan but have supported Chicago for about a dozen years.)

Another one joked that "Oh, Joel might've helped out on a little something in Chicago this year, right?" But they all had smiles when they said it, and it was clear they were all very proud of what Quenneville achieved with the Blackhawks this season.

Mike Rogers, who used to play for the Whalers and now does color commentary for Calgary on the Fan 960 radio station, talked with me about the United Center and the crowds in Chicago, calling it "the most amazing place to experience a hockey game". 
  









Dave Babych



Ed Kastelic (black), Paul Lawless (blue), Doug Roberts (yellow), Alan Hangsleben (turquoise) sign for the fan line

A few more pics over on my Flickr stream.

A big thank you to former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin, who organized the event. I give a lot of credit and a shout-out to all the volunteers, who helped run the event pretty smoothly - they expected maybe 500-3,000 if they were lucky, and ended up with nearly 5,000! 

Gordie Howe was asked if he was surprised at the turnout.

"Hell, no," he said. "It's hockey, isn't it?"

It is - and Hartford would definitely like to have a hockey franchise once again.





Monday, August 16, 2010

Video round-up from this weekend's Whalers Fan Fest



 


I'll post some of my own pictures from the event on Monday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Niemi articles from Finnish news sources (English translation)

Antti Niemi had his day with the Stanley Cup on Wednesday in Finland, visiting the ice rinks in Lahti (Pelicans) and Vantaa (his home city), where he had played on his road to the NHL. Niemi was also seen practicing earlier this week at Vantaa's Myyrmäen Arena, along with a number of other top Finnish players such as Teemu Selanne, readying for the upcoming NHL season and some off-season events.

Excellent video here: http://www.iltasanomat.fi/videot/jaakiekko/2235857 on Ilta-Sanomat's site for his appearance at Vantaa. (video in Finnish, of course.) Check out the very awesome classic car he rode in!



Niemi appears with the Cup at Lahti arena.
Filmed by fcfinlandia, as posted on YouTube.


DISCLAIMER: I did not write either of these articles; these are ONLY a rough translation, since their websites are not equipped with an English-page equivalent. The writing is not very smooth since the translation between Finnish and English is a bit rough, as well as Finnish writing being structured a little differently, and therefore my translation should not be quoted as a "source"! (These are not translated by a professional translator, in other words.)

Translated from the online version of Iltalehti.fi:

Headline: Antti Niemi: "I am not a victim."

 Antti Niemi wants to continue his career in the NHL.

Antti Niemi does not shudder, even though  he doesn’t have an agreement at this moment. Niemi will not continue next season in Chicago, although his team won the Stanley Cup with his goaltending. Niemi’s approximately three million dollar salary request was too much for the champion team that is wrestling with a salary cap.

Niemi is not bitter with Chicago, even though the possibility could be there. Among other things, Swedish defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson received a contract guaranteeing a $3.5M/year.

He doesn’t feel like a victim of the salary cap, Niemi commented.

It would have been interesting to see how it would have affected the situation, if the salary cap was not there, Niemi states.

Niemi is not worried about his situation, even though the options/alternatives are starting to run low.

"Of course, one prefers to transfer to a team that’s as good as possible. But also other things are deciding factors, such as goalie coaching."

* * *

The following are translated from the print edition of the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, so I do not have a link to an online copy of the original article. The picture below is a capture of the print edition.  

Again - rough translation from Finnish to English, do not quote as a source!




Antti Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup last spring, is preparing for
the new season in Vantaa, his home territory.


"It was a disappointment. I would have preferred to continue in Chicago."


NHL: last spring's Stanley Cup hero Antti Niemi is not worried about finding a new club.


Generally, there will be enough demand for heroes.

However, Antti Niemi, who won the championship with the Chicago Blackhawks after a 49-year lull, is an exception. The spring’s goalie hero’s contract situation is still unsettled.

"Negotiations with several NHL teams are taking place all the time and situation is changing daily. One day it seems like several teams are interested, and another day fewer are," Niemi said yesterday in Vantaa. NHL training camps will start in a few weeks. Niemi is not at all worried that they won’t find him a playing spot in the professional leagues.

"It isn’t scary, not at all. Now, just to have patience, a contract will come. It doesn’t pay to take just any offer," he stressed. One thing is certain in any case, Niemi is unhappy with his departure from Chicago.

"It was a disappointment. Chicago is a wonderful city and we had a great team. I would have preferred to continue in Chicago."

Niemi's contract extension with Chicago finally broke down in the end of July, when the team refused to take on Niemi with the $2.75 million annual contract dictated by the arbitrator. The amount was too large in proportion to Chicago’s salary cap.

"The salary cap certainly influenced the fact that the team wasn’t able to sign a contract with me. I don’t feel, however, that I was a victim to the salary cap, and I'm not bitter towards anybody," Niemi said.

For him, the NHL is still the only option. He believes a contract will come in the next few weeks, and will not even consent to consider options outside the NHL.

Russian’s KHL league doesn’t interest him at all. "If you played there for one year, you wouldn’t know at all what would come afterwards. Once you get into the NHL, you don’t want to leave immediately."  According to Niemi, a new team will bring challenges in any case.

"It may be that there isn’t available a spot for number one goalie right away. However, I am fully prepared to work to earn the number one goalie position. Also a new city and new people will bring their own challenges."

Niemi was asked how would it feel to play for the coming season in San Jose, where Antero Niittymäki was just acquired as goalie.

"Doesn’t sound so bad at all. What could be nicer than working with another Finn? But I don’t want to comment about contract business in any way," Niemi said.
* * *

Interview in Finnish at the Vantaa appearance, from Ilta-Sanomat's website:



More articles (in Finnish):
- Antti Niemi toi Stanley Cup-kannun Lahteen