Hockey team and newspaper at war

January 6, 2011


Vancouver Sun article dated 4 January 2011

I think I’m still in shock at witnessing the most staggering collapse and disintegration in World Junior Hockey history as Canada went into the 3rd period of the gold medal game last night with a 3-0 lead only to lose 5-3 to Russia.

In the aftermath, postmorten according to some commentators, questions are being raised about coaching tactics, the non-selection of truly offensive players, goaltending and overall lack of talent.

Which is all fine and good at the moment as the country is reeling in self-doubt and an exaggerated state of mourning over the loss of a game.  At least Roy Macgregor of The Globe and Mail has it right with a thoughtful piece entitled, ‘Get a grip, Canada.

This brings us to the tragicomedy currently playing out in Kamloops, British Columbia where I live and work.  Here’s the short story:

  • The Kamloops Blazers are a major junior hockey team in the Western Hockey League for players aged 16-20.
  • The Blazers have won five WHL Championship banners and three national Memorial Cups but have been languishing near the bottom of the standings for several years.
  • The team was purchased from a local non-profit society in 2007 for approximately $7 million by a group of private investors led by Tom Gagliardi and four former Blazers who star in the National Hockey League: Jarome Iginla, Mark Recchi, Darryl Sydor, and Shane Doan.
  • The Kamloops Daily News was initially opposed to the sale but in the end was in favour of it.
  • The Blazers informed the Daily News in a three-page letter on 22 December that sports editor Gregg Drinnan would no longer have access to players, coaches or other team officials because of negative reporting.
  • Ownership and management of the Kamloops Blazers are behaving like petulant children  and this draconian approach is sure to backfire.  This is a battle they just can’t win.

    It is not Greg Drinnan’s job to be the marketer or mouthpiece for the Blazers. Nor is it the role of the Daily News to publish Goebbels-styled propaganda on behalf of the hockey team.

    Win and the paper reports it. Lose and the paper prints it. Lose repeatedly and the paper is obliged to say something about it.

    Is Drinnan’s reporting perfect and absolutely unbiased? Probably not but I’m sure the same can be said of most every sports reporter anywhere and especially in Toronto which is the world’s biggest hockey market and media fishbowl. In the whole, his reporting is reasonable and fair.

    The newspaper’s editor Mel Rothenburger wrote a balanced piece entitled, ‘Blazers can’t bench Daily News sports editor’ (read article here).

    Rothenburger charitably characterises Blazers’ ownership and management as reasonable people. If they are they will come to their senses soon, suspend this nonsense and allow team access to Drinnan. That way he can properly do his job and the Blazers can get back to business and focus on doing their’s.

    So, back to the 2011 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Without fear of insulting Hockey Canada and excommunicating myself from them, congratulations Russia! You are worthy champions.

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