Tom and Justin Do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you’ve certainly heard about the ice bucket challenge. Basically, pour some ice water on yourself and nominate other people to do the same to raise awareness for ALS.

The rules state if you are nominated and do not complete the challenge within 24 hours, you must donate $100. I plan on donating anyway despite doing the challenge, but I encourage everyone to do the same.

My good friend Justin Tiemeyer did the challenge with me, and we relived the 2014 Winter Classic by donning the jerseys of both teams and experiencing the cold we felt on that day.

If you’d like to donate, you can visit the ALS Association website.

Anthony Mantha and the Project Karamazov Missed Opportunity

Like fellow The Longest Wind contributor Stephan Mathos, I too had an opportunity to help Justin Tiemeyer in his #ProjectKarmazov quest. While Stephan’s story ended up being a bit of bad luck, mine was more of a missed opportunity and an unfortunate circumstance.

On July 4, I had been tasked with covering the Detroit Red Wings development camp in Traverse City for Michigan Hockey Magazine. At the development camp, Red Wings’ recent draft picks and young prospects come to Traverse City for a week of drills, workouts and scrimmages, as they prepare for the next step in their hockey careers.

About half of the participants were Red Wings draft picks and signees, and the other half were junior players who were not eligible to be drafted yet, but the Red Wings had their eye on them. So, guys like Dylan Larkin, Dominic Turgeon, Tomas Nosek and coach Mike Babcock’s son Michael Babcock would all be attending the camp.

Credit: NHL.com

My future BFF. Credit: NHL.com

However, the player I was most looking forward to meeting was Anthony Mantha. Anthony absolutely tore it up in one of the Canadian junior leagues this year scoring around a goal-per-game pace. He’s the most highly touted prospect the Red Wings have had in a long time, mostly due to the fact the Red Wings have made the playoffs for the past 23 years and don’t usually get the luxury of high draft picks. The sick thing was Anthony fell all the way to 20th when the Red Wings snagged him in 2013.

But enough of me gushing over the next great Red Wing. After a two-and-a-half hour drive, I arrived in Traverse City early on the Fourth of July excited for the opportunity to speak with future Red Wings. When I told Justin I was covering the development camp and who would be there, he told me this would be a perfect #ProjectKarmazov opportunity. Most die-hard and even some casual fans know who Anthony is, and for those who don’t, they certainly will once he makes it to the NHL.

I told Justin I couldn’t make any promises. I was there, after all, to do an assignment. I wasn’t going to Traverse City on my own accord. I was there representing Michigan Hockey Magazine and needed to act accordingly. I didn’t know what the itinerary of the camp would be — if there was going to be one-on-one time with the players, how many other media members would be there or if Red Wings PR would be watching my every move making sure these kids don’t say anything they aren’t supposed to. I wanted to help Justin, but to make a personal request when I was there to do another job was the unfortunate circumstance I spoke of earlier.

Anthony was in the group of prospects that took to the ice first for drills, so his group would be the first the other media members would talk to afterward. As the players started to file off the ice, we made our way down to the locker room area. Once I entered the locker room, that familiar stench of sweaty pads filled my nostrils, the same it did when I covered my first professional hockey game just two months earlier.

I quickly found Anthony. I knew what he looked like from pictures, but it wasn’t hard to find him on this day. All of the members of the media quickly formed a half circle around Anthony and his locker room spot. He was, of course, the most highly touted Red Wings draft pick in some time, and it was a no-brainer all members of the media would want to speak with him first.

I knew this was not my time to fulfill Justin’s request. Surrounded by other members of the media who also have jobs to do, it was not my place to waste their time asking Anthony to read lines from a book. I finished my interview with Anthony and went on to the next prospect. I promised myself I would make my way back to Anthony under two circumstances 1) He was no longer talking to any other member of the media and 2) I had finished talking to everyone else I wanted to interview.

I remember speaking with Tomas, a recent signee from the Czech Republic. Like many foreign players, his English wasn’t the best, but it was a lot better than my Czech. I remember looking over to where Anthony’s locker was and saw him undressing by himself. No media members, no PR members, nobody.

This was my chance.

I told myself as soon as I was done interviewing Tomas, I would head over to Anthony’s locker and ask him to help my friend. Unfortunately, it was a struggle because Tomas didn’t understand half of what I was asking him.

I finished up my interview with Tomas, and quickly headed over to Anthony’s locker, but he was no longer there. He had either started to shower or had already gone upstairs to begin the off-ice workouts the team had planned for his group. But either way, my opportunity was gone. I would have felt weird asking a PR member to get him for me as I no longer needed him for hockey-related reasons. I had an opportunity, and I missed it.

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to interview another professional athlete in former World Series champion Steve Edlefsen. I didn’t tell Justin about this one until after it happened, and didn’t even think about it when I was interviewing Steve. This one would have worked perfectly, because there were no other members of the media there. I had one-on-one time with Steve, but it completely slipped my mind. I had another opportunity and missed it.

One of these days, I will help Justin. One of these days.

A Dream Achieved, Cover A Professional Sports Team

An empty Van Andel arena.

An empty Van Andel Arena.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. It may have come as a bit of a shock to my parents when I switched from a computer science major to a writing major, but to me, it seemed like a fitting change.

When I was a kid, I wrote in a journal like the Nickelodeon character Doug did in the self-titled cartoon. I often wrote reviews for my favorite video games mimicking those I would read about in Nintendo Power or Electronic Gaming Monthly.

My love of sports led me to an easy career choice: sports journalism. However, making it as a sports journalist is anything but easy. Think about how many people like sports. Tens of thousands of people fill football stadiums every Sunday and millions more are watching from the comfort of their home, and that’s just one sport and not even the most popular sport in the world.

Now think about how many of those people are die-hard fans who want to share their love of the sport with other people through writing. That’s why I say it’s not an easy profession to make it big in. The majority of guys (and a good portion of females as well) watch sports or at least have a vested interest in sports, and a good chunk of those enjoy writing about it. It’s a highly competitive field.

And now, with blogs such as SB Nation, Rant Sports, Yahoo Contributor Network, FanSided, etc., it gives people the opportunity to write who may not even want to pursue a career in sports journalism. My sports journalism career is still fairly new. I work at MLive Media Group covering high school sports. Obviously, not my ideal career path. However, everyone has to start somewhere.

The Journey

In addition to working at MLive, I’ve worked the gambit of freelance opportunities. I started out with Suite101.com, where I did reviews for South Park and The Office. It was a paid opportunity, but I was making pennies every couple months, as I wasn’t getting very many page views and people will normally go to the bigger outlets for TV show reviews.

Despite the lack of pay, I still enjoyed writing the articles, and it was good practice. I also wrote the occasional sports article, usually opinion articles on various topics. A former ESPN writer noticed my writing and offered me a job writing for a fantasy sports site he was starting, The World Cup of Fantasy Sports. This position was not paid, but there was the promise of compensation down the road if the site flourished.

A former ESPN writer wants me to write for his site? Is this real life? That was a huge confidence boost. I had never written about fantasy sports. I had played them quite a bit, but wasn’t an all-star by any means. I’ve won one hockey title and finished last a number of times, but I figured if the site took off, it could be a foot in the door toward bigger and better opportunities.

My assignment was to write a weekly article highlighting the hot and cold players of the past week in the Western Conference. It worked well for me because that meant I got to do research on my favorite team, the Detroit Red Wings.

I had a lot of fun writing those articles, and I learned a lot about studying trends and new players in different systems. However, the site folded a few months after it started, so I was back to square one. The site owner promised the writers he would keep us in mind if other opportunities came up, but I haven’t heard from him in years. For all I know, he isn’t even writing anymore.

Eventually, I decided to follow in the footsteps of my friend Justin Tiemeyer and start my own blog. It wasn’t going to get the page hits the fantasy site could have received, but it gave me the freedom to write whatever I wanted, and it could wind up on the computer screen of a sports editor looking for writing help.

In November 2012, I found a paid writing position with Yahoo for the Yahoo Contributor Network. It was still freelance work, so I wasn’t an employee of Yahoo, but it was a perfect opportunity to put my work on the top sports site in the world. Millions of people come to Yahoo for their sports news, and thousands of people would find their way to my articles. It was a big step toward finding a permanent position.

Of course, like every other writing opportunity, this one fell through as well, and I was left searching for a new home to write for. I had quite a few conversations over Twitter with John Evans, a writer for FanSided’s Octopus Thrower during my time with Yahoo. I asked if Octopus Thrower was taking new writers, and sure enough, I had found my new (and current) home a month after leaving Yahoo.

FanSided isn’t paid, but it offers what many blogs cannot offer: media credentials. I simply had to fill out a form, send it to my NHL editor, and if it was approved, I could contact the appropriate organization and cover a game in-person. Live coverage was the one thing that was missing from my resume. I had done live coverage of high school sports, even state title games, but it isn’t the same as covering a professional sports team.

By the time I found out I was allowed to cover live games, the Red Wings had already been eliminated from the playoffs. The next best thing was to cover their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins won the Calder Cup last year, and had just reached the second round of the playoffs this year. As luck would have it, Game 4 against the Texas Stars was a home game, and I had the night off from MLive. The stars had aligned, no pun intended.

I had covered the Griffins once for MLive last year, but it wasn’t covering the game so much as covering the atmosphere of the arena. I went to Game 4 of the Calder Cup final, the first game the Griffins had the opportunity to win the Calder Cup, and my assignment was to talk to fans and get their reaction of the atmosphere in the building, as the Griffins attempted to win their first championship.

It was fun. I talked to a guy who was a season-ticket holder since the Griffins’ very first season in 1996, and I found some casual fans who were just excited to have the opportunity to witness history. However, my assignment didn’t allow me to talk to the players and coaches after the game, so I felt a bit cheated. I understand the game story/column is the beat writer’s job, but I felt so close to my ultimate goal, yet so far away.

A Dream Comes True

A year later, my dream finally came true. I walked into Van Andel Arena on May 14, 2014, full of excitement. However, I had to curb that enthusiasm, as I was there to do a job and I couldn’t act like a kid in a candy store, which is exactly what I felt like. I made my way up to the top floor of the arena to the press box. I arrived a half hour early, but I was perfectly content watching the pregame warmup. Plus, I wanted to get set up on Twitter and give people time to figure out I would be covering the game live.

Within 10 minutes of sitting down, who should walk by but Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and former Red Wings grinder Kris Draper. On the inside, I was awe struck. I wanted to talk to Ken and Kris. I wanted to ask Ken what his plans for the offseason were, I wanted to ask Kris what he thinks of Grand Rapids, I wanted to ask them if they like early Beatles music or late Beatles music, anything to start a conversation with two people vital to the Red Wings’ success. On the outside, I acted as if they were just beer vendors. The 13-year-old inside of me sees Kris and remembers the Grind Line and the Stanley Cups he helped bring to Detroit. The 27-year-old reporter has to act professionally and do the job he was sent there to do.

It was tough. It sucked, but I wasn’t there to gab with Ken and Kris, I was there to cover a game. Plus, being apart of the media, I doubt either Ken or Kris would want to open up very much. I’m sure they get bombarded on a daily basis, and the last thing I want to do is make a bad first impression.

The game ends, and the Griffins are victorious. The part I was looking forward to the most was coming: talking to the players. It’s a crucial part of being a sports journalist. You have to ask the right questions to get the right answers, and the right answers can be the difference between a boring story and an eye-catching story.

I made my way down to the locker room area, and the stench of sweaty pads filled my nostrils. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it brought me back to my playing days. It was calming, and it brought me back to a place that felt comfortable.

I enter the locker room, and that excited feeling I got when I saw Ken and Kris before the game, it fills me up again, as I see Mitch Callahan sitting at his stall after a hard-fought game, Luke Glendening, who is back in his hometown after his season with the Red Wings had finished, standing next to him in a suit and tie, goalie Petr Mrazek walks to the back area of the locker room, a section that appears to be off-limits to members of the media.

These were the guys I saw play on TV throughout the season, and they were standing mere feet away from me. This is what I have been working for. This is why I jumped from freelance opportunity to freelance opportunity to get to this very spot where I stood. That night reaffirmed my decision to become a sports journalist.

I’ve had my fair share of doubt. I’ve had a part-time job for the past five years with MLive. I thought about quitting and getting a more stable job with higher pay so I could go on long vacations, buy expensive toys and enjoy my nights and weekends with my friends and family. But that moment right there, that moment of being surrounded by players I watch and cheer for as a fan, that was the moment that confirmed why I wanted to be a sports journalist in the first place.

I didn’t ask any questions, the other reporters took care of any questions I would have had, but it was an experience I will never forget. I listened as Andrej Nestrasil talk about coming back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the series at 2-2 against the top-ranked team in the Western Conference. I listened to coach Jeff Blashill — who I’m convinced is a clone of Mike Babcock’s that was named Jeff Blashill, seriously, listen to the two of them speak, it’s eerie how identical it is — talk about his team’s resiliency and repeatedly tell a reporter he knew nothing of the status of injured forward Tomas Jurco.

Below is a video I took of the interview with Andrej.

I left the locker room to make my way back up to the press box to write my story, and I saw more former Red Wings as Kris, Chris Chelios and Kirk Maltby were talking outside the locker room. Again, the urge to stop and discuss 1990s Red Wings hockey was overwhelming, but it wasn’t the time or the place.

My dream had been achieved, and I want that feeling again. I will do anything to get that feeling again.

‘How Do You Know Until You Try?’ Life Lessons Hockey Taught Me

It’s no secret sports can teach you some big life lessons. From leadership to working as a team, coaches from the high school level to the professional ranks use sports to teach athletes about basic fundamentals of life.

One of my biggest life lessons came from my dad when I first started playing hockey. It wasn’t my dad who got me into hockey — he wasn’t even a fan when I first started playing — but it was a friend of my dad’s who had three boys whom all played hockey.

I remember the first time I watched my dad’s friend’s kids play hockey for the first time. I was hooked. I don’t know what it was about the sport, maybe the thrill of scoring a goal and everyone cheering for something you did, or maybe it was because I tried every other popular sport and none of them clicked with me like hockey did.

I did tee ball, baseball, basketball, soccer and they were all fun to play, but I got bored with them or had no desire to get any better.

Then I found hockey. Hockey is a very expensive sport. Not only do you need to buy all of the equipment just to play, but you need to pay for lessons to learn how to skate. Then once you do that, you have to pay fees to be on a team, which include ice time for practices and games. Then you need to pay gas money to play in different cities. I was never on a travel team, but my house teams would still travel to Holland, Muskegon, Traverse City and other places across the state to play other house teams.

This is me as a Pee Wee at 12 years old.

This is me as a Pee Wee at 12 years old.

One of the biggest challenges I faced whilst learning how to skate was learning how to stop. Because I was afraid of falling down and being made fun of by my peers, my three strategies for stopping myself were to crash into the boards, slide into a slow stop or turn sharply. None of these strategies are ideal for a game-type situation, but who wants to be made fun of for constantly falling down? I was getting into the game late as it was — most kids start skating when they are around 3 years old, I didn’t start until I was 7 — and I needed to catch up to the other kids without being the laughingstock of the team.

I remember telling my dad “I can’t stop, I’m never going to be able to do it.” For whatever reason, I thought being able to stop was something you were able to do or you weren’t. There was no ability to learn it — you either had it, or you didn’t.

My dad’s response to this was one of the greatest life lessons I still value today: “How do you know until you try?” Of course, like every kid that age, I brushed it off thinking I knew better than my parents, and mostly because knowing that isn’t going to make it any easier when my teammates are laughing at me because I can’t do a simple thing like stop. I continued to struggle with stopping, while all of my peers could stop on a dime.

It was frustrating. But I slowly started to realize that not everything is going to come naturally to me. The only way I could improve my game was to continue to work on my weaknesses. I practiced and practiced, and I don’t remember specifically falling a lot, but I’m sure I did. And I’m sure a few guys snickered at me, but everyone had weaknesses.

The first time I stopped without falling was a monumental achievement. I remember the snow spraying up on the boards as my skate blade dug into the ice surface. I stopped, and I didn’t need the boards or friction to slow me down.

Of course, my dad was the first one to say “See, you don’t know until you try.” He was right. How would I ever know I couldn’t do something unless I tried it? Simply saying I can’t without trying is already admitting defeat.

This lesson has served me in other areas of my life, most notably, in my relationships.

Last year, I met a girl at a party who I became instantly attracted to (side note: That usually isn’t hard for me, but this girl was captivating). She was way out of my league, and I figured she probably wasn’t interested in me, anyway. With a face and body like that, she could get any guy she wanted.

But then the words of my dad echoed in my head: “How do you know until you try?” He’s right. Maybe she doesn’t like pretty boys, maybe she’s not into jocks. Maybe she goes for quasi-nerdy, awkward guys like me. How will I know unless I try?

So I gulped down some liquid courage and started talking to her. We probably talked for a good two to three hours at the party. Even when I left her to go talk to my friends, she continued to follow me around all night. I never had a girl follow me anywhere — I was always the one doing the following.

We hung out a few times and stopped talking to each other after about a month (translation: I started getting feelings, and she probably recognized that so she bailed), but I don’t regret spending time with her at all. Sure, there were a lot of red flags from the start, and I could have avoided some heart break by never speaking to her again after the party, but I had a good time with her and it gave me confidence knowing that not all girls are unattainable, even if their looks dictate otherwise.

It’s also served me well in applying for jobs, discussing work issues with my bosses and just about every other facet of life. Assuming doesn’t get you anywhere in life. And you know what they say about people who assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

Yeah, I ended my post with a lame saying. Deal with it.