As a noted procrastinator who utilizes the stress and anxiety of a tight deadline to focus and tighten his writing, and as someone who so often said on this very website that this piece would come at this time only to have it come later or not at all, I don’t think I’ve put off anything as long as this post. It’s the dread of finality, really.
Effective today, I will be going on an extended, possibly permanent hiatus from United States of Hockey after three-plus years of covering the things I am most passionate about in this great game.
I am pleased to say it is with good reason that I step away. On July 1, I assumed a full-time role as an NHL writer for CBSSports.com. I’ll be taking over the Eye on Hockey blog, which I have been contributing to on a part-time basis since October of 2012. It is a terrific opportunity that I am so thankful to have been offered and I can’t wait to continue building an audience for hockey under the CBS Sports masthead.
This blog started as a way for me to fill some voids at first. There was a number of things I felt were under-covered and had hoped that maybe I could shed some light on certain areas of hockey that didn’t get as much notice.
United States of Hockey was born less out of the idea of wanting a blog than it was needing an outlet. In the summer of 2010, with financial strains on a newly-married couple living off of one income, my brilliant engineer wife got a job back in her native Iowa. That meant leaving a career that I had been having a love-hate relationship with. PR got me closer to hockey and helped me work three great years at USA Hockey. Leaving for Iowa meant leaving hockey and starting all over.
I started freelance writing to keep me busy between jobs and found the work enjoyable, if not lucrative. Unsuccessful interviews in which I brought little passion to local jobs that involved writing or communications but involving things I had little interest in led to dead ends. I remember being hesitant about starting a blog in hopes that if our family situation took us elsewhere, I could get a job in hockey PR again. I had no idea if I would have any hockey takes that would end up burning bridges (a particularly #hottake as it were). But then one night I just decided to start to write.
Late at night on December 15, the little white arrow hovered over the “Publish” button for several minutes… maybe more. Finally I hit click and the blog was born, there was no turning back.
I was inspired by the opening of the 2011 World Junior Championship. Having direct knowledge of the process, the players and the tournament from my time at USAH, I felt like I could bring a fresh perspective to covering a tournament that was only just beginning to find an audience in the U.S. In just three years, it’s amazing how much American interest in the WJC has grown. It remains my favorite tournament and I’ll miss the blanket coverage I was able to bring to it through United States of Hockey.
Ever since I started, I have tried to write only about things that I thought were important or something that I thought a reader would think was important. As an independent who didn’t have ads on the blog for a while (and even after they showed up one day), how many views a story got was not really driving my writing. Don’t get me wrong, watching the stats was addicting, but I never once thought of writing something because I thought it would bring in the traffic. As long as I could have a post that shined a light on something that hadn’t been looked at or something the reader could learn from or something that made you think, that was what I built my goals around for anything I put on these pages. I hope that showed up in the quality of the work and what was selected for publication. And then sometimes, I just wrote about something because it was fun to me personally.
As the blog grew in terms of readership, the goals never changed. I never knew if anyone would care what I had to say, but I knew I was going to say it anyway. Luckily, enough of you came back to make me feel like maybe I should just keep going.
As the first two years passed, I wanted to bring the focus back to the Olympics and spent most of this year on that. It was probably the most fun I’ve had on the blog and I am so glad I got to get through one Olympics with this site.
And now it’s CBSSports.com that will be taking all of my attention when it comes to writing. But it is bittersweet as it means this is the end of this writing space where I basically grew up professionally after having to re-imagine a career path. Somehow it panned out and I feel so lucky to be able to make an honest living doing what I love.
I had no idea what I was doing and I’m still not an expert when it comes to running a blog on my own. I think it took me a few months to figure out how to embed video and took me a while to figure out what was OK to quote and not quote from other sources, but I learned on the “job.” Now I’ll get to face a lot of new challenges with CBSSports.com, which is exciting.
While running United States of Hockey, I learned so much about hockey and so much about writing, but the thing I am most pleased with is how many connections I have made as a result of just being involved in hockey. I’ve learned so much from so many. The internet can be a terrible place full of vitriol and weirdness, but at its best, it connects people from all backgrounds and walks of life and allows them to share with each other their similar interests. Through this site and Twitter, I’ve met so many people whose opinions and talents I respect so greatly.
So, if you’ll indulge me… and really, you don’t have to (I even put a marker down below if you want to scroll past), I figured I’d take some time to thank a lot of people who have really made this blog possible and probably better along the way in one way or another.
*********************Gratuitous Thank You Section**************************
First off, my wife Ashlie, whose patience and understanding (and good job) let me continue this blog and invest the time and energy required to make it what it was. Working from home did allow me to keep my son at home for the first eight months of his life, too… But let me tell you this… being a full-time freelancer and blogger and stay-at-home dad is not advisable, but it can be a lot of fun, too. I am so lucky to have this wonderful family that has been so supportive.
Also, “hockey” was one of the first 10 words out of my son’s mouth, which is pretty much the best. No, wait… this is the best…
My parents are big influences as well. My dad introduced me to the game right from birth and my mom instilled in me a love for writing at a really young age. They read the blog all the time and always give the nicest feedback. They do not like angry commenters.
Professionally, there have been a lot of people who have influenced me. There are quite a few folks over at USA Hockey that played a big, big role in my life. It’s where I got my first full-time job, first as the Brian Fishman Intern (maybe one of the most educational and useful internships in all of sports, so look into it if you want to get that) and later a real employee.
They all know who they are, but a special thanks to my buddy Norman Hayward for designing the banner for the site the day after I published my first post… There are few people as caring and giving as Norm and he’s also a great photographer (bigmanwithacamera.com).
Also a big thanks to Harry Thompson at USA Hockey Magazine, an editor who lets me write for the publication I grew up devouring as a kid (and will continue to contribute to) and a great friend. Cameron Eickmeyer, who does a fantastic job with the content at USAHockey.com also helped me find my way as a freelancer early on and remains a good friend.
As big thank you to USA Hockey’s PR staff, particularly Dave Fischer (who taught me a lot and gave me my “break”), Matt Trevor and Jake Wesolek, who are all great at what they do and very helpful to a fellow who used to work for them and now covers their organization.
Also a special thanks to those in the hockey department from Jim Johannson on down, who were always gracious with their time and in their disagreements. Also to my last stop at USAH, the NTDP where Scott Monaghan, Ryan Rezmierski and the gang helped me understand the inner workings of junior hockey and player evaluation. A lot that I learned there in the two years I spent built the foundation for this blog.
There was no greater teacher in my hockey education than Tim Taylor, who we lost last year after a long battle with cancer. I wrote about him here and that sums up just how important he was to me on a personal level as well. He is so sorely missed, but he definitely lives on in the literally thousands of people he reached as a coach, teacher and friend.
When I first started this blog, there were two guys in the media realm who gave it a boost right away by passing the word. The first was Craig Custance, then of Sporting News, now of ESPN, who is my favorite hockey writer and that’s not because he helped plug the site. Just a simple tweet of a link, like a seal of approval, helped give me that first boost out of the gate. On top of that, Craig was just generally kind to me when I first got started and has always felt like a sincere supporter of what I tried to do here.
The second was Sean Leahy of Puck Daddy. We had never met, maybe shared a few tweets prior, but that first link on Puck Daddy welcoming the United States of Hockey to the hockey blogging world was sure nice. Sean is a great person and I’m happy to have met and worked alongside him at a few events a few times since and it’s always a blast whenever we do get the chance to meet up.
He may not know this, but I think I learned a lot about what I wanted this site to be from Chris Dilks, who ran the late great Western College Hockey Blog. He’s now doing great work for SBNation’s comprehensive college hockey blog and remains an excellent writer and critical thinker with a no-holds-barred approach on all issues as they pertain to the college game and junior hockey. WCHB was the best blog about college hockey and it helped give me an education on how to do this at all. I read that a lot prior to firing this thing up.
There have been a lot of bloggers I’ve learned from along the way, too.
Ryan Clark now of the Sun Sentinel and formerly of the best USHL blog Slightly Chilled, who has become a dear friend. Andy Johnson now of Bucky’s 5th Quarter, went from an pseudonymous blogger to a truly gifted college hockey reporter and junior hockey scout. Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald who is both a great reporter and sounding board on all things college hockey. The murders row of CHL blogger/reporters over at Buzzing the net: Sunaya Sapurji and Neate Sager. Kirk Leudeke, now of Red Line Report and New England Hockey Journal (and soon to be deployed to Afghanistan) is always great to talk prospects with. Steve Lepore is a fellow former indie blogger who is now doing great work at Awful Announcing, showing that if you perfect your niche, you’ll show there’s a lot more you can do and he has. Sean Gentille of Sporting News and Ryan Lambert of many web writings including Puck Daddy have made me laugh a lot over the last few years and they also make you think, too. Cam Charron better get back on Twitter soon because I hate having to go find stuff he writes because pretty much all of it is very good and I learn a lot from that young fella. Guy Flaming and Dean Millard over at The Pipeline Show in Edmonton have been good pals since my PR days and they have always been so kind to invite me on their show or link the blog.
Corey Pronman, who is probably the colleague I speak with most regularly and feel I’ve come out of each of our conversations with new thoughts on things. I don’t even remember how we started our Gchat back-and-forths, but we continually challenge each other on our opinions about players and player development and I treasure that. He has done some exceptional work over at ESPN.com and makes paying for their Insider subscription well worth it (along with Custance).
A few years ago I timidly reached out to one of my favorite writers on the planet in hopes she might be able to give me some guidance on what the heck it is I’m supposed to do with this blog. Katie Baker didn’t disappoint. She told me a few things I needed to hear and it changed the way I wrote certain things and also helped me approach each topic with a different perspective. She is also one of the nicest people around. I’ll never be able to write like her, but at least I can learn from everything I read of hers at Grantland and I do.
Bob McKenzie may be single-handedly responsible for this blog’s initial growth after the first year I ran it. He has given me encouragement and such kind words and a single retweet from Bob led to this blog’s highest single-day traffic ever (he is a powerful man). There is a reason he’s the premier hockey insider and I am so honored he thought my work was worth sharing and endorsing over the years. Some of his words were most motivating in times where I wondered if what I was doing was worth it.
The two guys I got to learn on the job with at CBS in Adam Gretz and Brian Stubits were amazing. Adam is easily one of my favorite hockey writers and probably one of the most effective in the business at presenting stats to every single person that reads his story, not just the diehards. Brian has been a continual presence and I’m glad to know he’s still going to be at CBS even if it’s less involved with hockey. We’ve become good friends and I felt like we made a really good team. I’m lucky to have had those guys illuminate the path. And I also have to thank Andrew DeWitt for giving me a shot based on what he read on this blog and bringing me on as a contributor. It has since snowballed and I am honored to be able to write under the CBSSports.com banner.
In the early days, I relied a lot on links from other blogs to help bring people in. The folks over at Puck Daddy led by Greg Wyshynski were always willing to share stuff they thought would interest their readers and the results were always exciting for me. There isn’t another site out there that is as supportive of independent blogs than PD and their support makes a huge impact.
A big thanks to Dave Arnold who let me use some of his excellent sports action photos on various posts over the years. Nathan Fournier at The World of Junior Hockey blog that has a link bar that probably brought the steadiest stream of readers looking for the nichey content. The now retired Kevin Pates also brought a lot of college hockey readers to USofH thanks to his links on Rink and Run. Same goes for Rick Sacks at Terrier Hockey Blog. There are a lot of folks at SBNation blogs as well that helped bring USofH content to their dedicated audiences and I am really thankful for the continual support of Colin at Pension Plan Puppets, Travis Hughes at Broad Street Hockey and the greater SBN family, Sarah Connors at Stanley Cup of Chowder and Becca at Japer’s Rink in particular. It was pretty exciting when a USofH link would pop up at Grantland and/or SI.com, so thanks again to Bakes, Allan Muir and Sarah Kwak.
I also have to thank the editors at my freelance outlets that basically supplemented my income like Todd Milewski at USCHO, Harry Thompson at USA Hockey Magazine, Chros McDougall at Red Line Editorial and Cameron Eickmeyer at USAHockey.com.
Then there’s just the people I enjoy reading or who have helped me learn this side of things: Ryan Kennedy at The Hockey News, Patrick King at Sportsnet.ca, Vic Carniero and Kyle Dubas from the Soo Greyhounds, Brian Weger at the USHL, many college SIDs, the sources who shall remain nameless for keeping me in the know, Elliotte Friedman of HNIC, Jeff Marek of Sportsnet, Nate Ewell at College Hockey, Inc., Mike McMahon, Scott McLaughlin, Adam Wodon and Joe Meloni of College Hockey News, Nate Wells and Dan Shrader of First Round Bust, Patrick Burke, Ashley Chase, Ted Starkey, Jesse Spector, Chemmy,Stephen Whyno, Darren Pang and plenty of others whom I feel awful for not mentioning by name.
Also, my best friend since I was four, Rob Schmit also was such a huge help over the years. If there was anything moderately goofy on this site, and there have been several things… he has been a part of making it goofier. We are best friends because we probably are the only people who would laugh at what we laugh at and sometimes we put that on all of you.
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The people I most have to thank, however, is all of you who have read this blog. Without people coming back, I’d probably have quit a long time ago and found a job doing something I didn’t much care for. You folks have kept me involved in hockey by making me feel that I had an audience that was counting on me to fill the voids that I did. Without that motivation, I don’t know if I would have ever made much of this blog. That drove me a lot.
This blog has grown thanks to folks like you who have read the blog, shared it with others and continued to come back. I hope that you were able to read about something you didn’t know before or maybe something made you think. Most of all, I hope you enjoyed whatever it was you read here. You have no idea how much it means to me that you would take out a few minutes of your day to stop by this site and poke around for a while. I am so, so grateful.
And it is also because of you that leaving this space is so difficult. I am so thankful that there was an audience for what I had to write and I only wish there were enough hours in the day to continue writing about these off-the-beaten path topics. Hopefully I can bring a little bit of the USofH flavor to CBSSports.com, but I know it won’t be as much as I’d like.
I have grown so attached to this “beat” and, by extension, to all of you. That it is definitely hard to leave. Anytime I write here, it feels like home. And that’s why I don’t want to say I’m shutting this thing down for good. I suspect I’ll come back every once in a great while to cover a topic that goes beyond the scope of what I cover at CBS, but needs some attention. It just won’t be very often. And while the WJC coverage won’t be quite as comprehensive over at CBS, I do plan to cover the tournament and Team USA more than we had done in the past there.
Before I go, I’ll leave you with this…
Hockey has never been healthier in this country. There are more people playing, more people watching and more exciting things happening at the grassroots level to make the game better. American-born players are increasingly more competitive for NHL spots and in international tournaments. And it feels like this is only the beginning of something bigger.
I am so excited to see what the future holds for hockey in the United States, where American players will take us and how the NHL can grow as a result. I hope that in some ways this blog provided you the same sense of optimism I feel for the game in this country.
Also, before I head out, I wanted to share with you the few posts that were my favorites to write. These are the ones that were either incredibly fun or the ones that stuck with me well after I hit publish and in a lot of ways, they’re the posts I’m most proud of, too. Thank you for letting me share these with you…
Two Years Later, Remembering Brendan Burke – Of everything I ever wrote on this site, this was one of the most personal. It’s not really about hockey, but humanity and I am so happy to see how Brendan’s memory has lived on through his brother Patrick and the You Can Play Project. This is the one post I hope people will read and remember.
Charlie Coyle makes one kid’s day, reminds rest of us there’s still magic in sports — The video of Charlie Coyle waving to a little kid and freaking out took me back to the days when I was just learning to love hockey myself. Meeting Keith Brown and Eddie Olczyk at a Blackhawks game as a kid is a vivid memory. These athletes hold such power over the imagination and it was so cool to see it materialize and remind us that in this cynical and overly-analytical world, there’s still magic in sports.
High school hockey star Ryan Fischer honored by teammates, opponents after tragic passing — For whatever reason, this one hit me right between the eyes. Ryan Fischer, a high school hockey star in Michigan died suddenly in his sleep in early-morning hours. That same day, his teammates had a state semifinal game and ended up playing. They lost, but as they gathered for prayer, their opponents joined them to show support. The act of sportsmanship was a light in a very dark day.
Team USA Olympic Hockey Jersey History 1920-2010 — This was the most read post in the blog’s history and it was really fun for me to write. Looking back and finding all those old pictures was so fun.
United States of Hockey’s Great American Olympic Preview — Perhaps one of the goofier things I’ve done on the site. I spent way too much time photoshopping American players into great images from American history and I don’t even know if it was worth it in the end. But at least I had fun.
Raw Numbers: Hockey’s Growth in the United States 1990-2010 — I did a lot of these growth posts and I can say without a shred of doubt that they were always my favorite to write. The spread from 1990-2010 showed just how much hockey exploded over the 20-year span, while also detailing the importance of the arrival of the NHL in non-traditional markets. Seeing what happened in Texas over that 20-year period is just a marvel.
USA Hockey goalie masks through history — Goalie masks are awesome, patriotic ones are better.
United States of Hockey’s All-American Photoshop contest — Seeing the creativity of the readers here just made my day in the middle of the Olympics.
Tim Taylor: Coach, Teacher, Friend… USA Hockey Legend — The luckiest thing that ever happened to me in hockey is that I got to work alongside Tim Taylor for two years in Ann Arbor. He was a mentor and friend and I learned so much from him. When he passed away last April, I did my best to memorialize one of American hockey’s most beloved figures. I think about Coach T all the time and will never forget his passion for the game and most of all, his kindness.
It’s been so fun to track the growth, the triumphs and defeats, the players, the coaches, the business and everything else that I’ve had the chance to cover. It’s been an incredibly fulfilling run and I will be forever thankful for having had this blog and all of you as part of my life for the last few years. Hopefully you’ll stop by CBSSports.com to see what we’re doing, too.
Thank you again for coming to this little slice of the internet and for the incredible memories. This was so much fun.
Yours in hockey and AMERICA,