Puck the Media Interview: Bob McKenzie on a Career in Hockey and… yeah, Eklund

Our dad, if he’s reading this right now, is likely very, very confused at the picture above this text.  Because he, like many Americans, doesn’t get TSN in Canada, he doesn’t know about the greatness of Bob McKenzie.  Always with a good, level-headed take on everything going on in hockey.  He’s done it all in his field, and he was nice enough to talk about it with us in this E-mail interview.

Puck The Media: You ran THN and were a writer for the Toronto Star before joining TSN.  What made you want to transition into broadcasting?

Bob McKenzie: Money? Just kidding. Actually, I never “wanted” to get into broadcasting. All I ever wanted to do was to be a hockey writer and when I didn’t end up getting my “dream job” of being a hockey writer at one of the three Toronto dailies, I got the job as Editor in Chief of The Hockey News. Six or seven years into that job, THN purchased some time on TSN for a half-hour magazine show called The Hockey News Television Edition and part of the deal was that I got a minute or two segment. I started doing that and one thing led to another and I started doing more and more television. By the time the early 1990s rolled around, I had the equivalent of two fulltime jobs – working in print at THN or later the Toronto Star and in TV at TSN. It wasn’t until 2001 that I felt comfortable enough doing the broadcasting to give up my day job in print.

PTM: A lot of people see you as one of, if not the most, connected man in hockey.  How have you developed so many relationships within the sport to the point where TSN states your contacts in the hockey world as “unparalleled”?

BM: If you hang around long enough, you get to meet and know a lot of people. I have hung around for a long time. I’ve been in the business almost 30 years so you just develop a lot of relationships. It was obviously harder at first when you’re an unknown quantity but when you’re new in the business you gravitate towards the other young guys starting out in the agent business or hockey management. A lot of the guys who broke into the business at the same time as me are NHL GMs or coaches or big-time agents now. We all grow old together. It’s obviously a lot easier to “cold call” someone I don’t know now than it was when I broke into the business but I used to do it as much then as I do now. So the answer to the question is that you basically grind it out, get to know people, prove to them you are trustworthy and get to know as much about what’s going on as is humanly possible.

PTM: TSN is seen by most hockey fans as the undisputed champion of hockey coverage in North America.  You’ve seen the network grow since the late 80’s, what has been the most important component to the network’s success?

BM: TSN is a spectacular place to work and the strength of the operation is the people. The people at the top hire good people to do their jobs and let them do it and surround them with other good people who help execute. For those of us who have been doing it a long time – on both sides of the camera – it’s a real family atmosphere. I don’t even want to guess how much time I’ve spent with Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire over the years. There are a lot of us who bleed TSN red. It’s a special place. At some point, though, a decision was made that we were going to make hockey the No. 1 priority and we’ve done that, even in the days when we didn’t have national NHL rights. Our approach is that we try to be the source for all things hockey and we do it 24/7 all year long, not just one night a week or at certain times of the year.

PTM: TSN added Darren Dreger from Sportsnet a couple of years ago, seen by many as your main competitor.  How did his addition to the network help you?

BM: Darren is a hard worker whose contacts in the game are as good, if not better, than anyone’s, including mine. We knew we needed to expand our roster because we have so much (hockey) product, so why not go out and get someone who is perfectly suited to do what we do. It’s been a great fit. I would much rather work alongside Darren than against him. We used to knock heads a lot, in a good way, because it’s a competitive business but when the opportunity came up for another Hockey Insider to be added, I was leading the charge to get Darren. Having a second Insider allows me to catch a breath now and again, which wasn’t possible there for a number of years, and we’re both enjoying it immensely. I think he would be the first to tell you the move has been great for him and it’s been great for me and the network too.

PTM: TSN’s panel is considered the best of it’s kind as far as the NHL on TV goes.  What do you think makes it so successful?

BM: Well, we try not to take things too seriously and have a few laughs. At the end of the day, it’s hockey and it’s supposed to be fun. I think any success we enjoy starts with Steve Dryden, our managing editor of information or some big title like that. He keeps us focused on issues and broader topics of interest than just what happened in the game. Our play-by-play and color guys are so good at what they do, they don’t need us to break down the game because they’ve done it on the game broadcast, so it allows us some freedom to talk about what’s going on in hockey that day or week. The next biggest plus is our host, James Duthie. I think he’s the most talented broadcaster in sports. He’s smart and he’s funny and he’s quick. He just gets it. After that, it’s just a matter of getting the right personalities and trying to strike a balance between information, entertainment, opinion and the odd bit of rage.

PTM: What’s it like to be in the TSN studio for a gameday?

BM: It’s fun. We’ve got all the other games up, we’re watching this or that, plus our game, plus we’re working on whatever other issues or topics that may be of interest. There’s good energy and the best part is we all get along so well. It doesn’t seem to matter who comes or goes, our group is very tight and we enjoy each other’s company. Put it this way, it’s not work. And even on the nights when it seems like work, I always say: “It’s all indoors and there’s no heavy lifting.”

PTM: Now, many times in the past couple of years, you’ve ventured on HFBoards.  A few times (but certainly not all) they’ve been to diffuse a rumor by a certain “anonymous” hockey blogger.  Why do you think, after all the times he’s been disproven and taken down by members of the mainstream media and other bloggers, that Dwayne continues to have an audience?

BM: I don’t have any problem with Eklund or anyone else for that matter. It’s a big world and there’s lot of room for everyone and ultimately the fans decide who has staying power and who is worthy of the fans’ time and effort. The Hockeybuzz site is a decent place to go to see a sampling of what’s going on around various spots in the NHL. I originally started going there because Tim Panaccio did a great job of covering the Flyers on a daily basis and I get a kick out of Panotch, he’s an old friend. There are others there who do good work, too. As for Eklund, he seems like a nice enough guy. I think he was most relevant during the lockout when both sides – the NHL and NHLPA – decided he had a forum that was talking to players and media and they decided to use him as a middle man. Since then, though, two things have happened. One, there are hardly any trades in the NHL any more so that can’t be good for a site that is founded on the premise of hockey rumors. Two, many of the rumors I’ve seen there, and they get picked up elsewhere (even by some mainstream outlets), are so incredibly unfounded and baseless. I’ll see a rumor there, make two calls to the supposed principals involved and I find out very quickly there’s absolutely nothing to it. I mean, the two teams mentioned haven’t even spoken to each other on that player. But that isn’t to say there aren’t occasions when a rumor there becomes reality or some bit of news is broken there. I’m a live and let live kind of guy, for the most part, so I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make their way in the business. The public ultimately decides who stays or goes and that’s fine by me.

PTM: Are blogs that don’t throw out baseless rumors helpful in your line of work?  Do you ready any blogs regularly?

BM: I probably don’t read as many of the blogs as I should, but that’s just a function of how busy I am. By the time I read all the mainstream clips from the various newspapers in North America, make some calls etc., there’s not a lot of time left for discretionary reading of more opinion-oriented material that you get from some blogs.

PTM: You’ve covered Stanley Cups, World Juniors, every big hockey event you can name.  Can you tell me the most surreal moment in your hockey career?

BM: Going to the Stanley Cup final or the World Junior Championship each year is probably as good as it gets. When they play the anthem at the beginning of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final and I’m in the rink and just looking around and taking it all in, I think back to the first Cup I covered (1983) and think how cool it is that I get to do this for a living. It’s really quite an honor. That’s usually when I briefly take stock of where I am, what I’ve done and what I will continue to do. As the anthem ends and the fans are going crazy and the energy in the building is off the scale, I usually say to myself: “This is special; I don’t get tired of this.” And I usually feel similar to that when the Cup is presented. I always make sure I’m in the bowl watching the Cup presentation, not viewing it from the media room or wherever, although my excitement then is always tinged a little with, “Good, now let’s get the draft and free agency over and I can go on summer vacation.” It’s a fun job but it’s a long year, too, and it’s nice to shut it down for awhile in July and August and come back all refreshed in September to do it all over again.

PTM: After all your years on TV, are you still only the 2nd most famous Bob McKenzie in Canada?

BM: Take off, eh.

2 Responses to Puck the Media Interview: Bob McKenzie on a Career in Hockey and… yeah, Eklund

  1. PTM: After all your years on TV, are you still only the 2nd most famous Bob McKenzie in Canada?

    BM: Take off, eh.

    What a perfectly Canadian reply 🙂

    Nice interview.

  2. Pingback: We Have An Interesting Weekend of Transcribing Folks « Puck The Media

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