It all started in October 2007. I was a sophomore in college, at a small, private liberal arts school in Columbus studying Communication with a focus in radio, television, and film studies.
I had interviewed for an internship and pretty much got an offer on the spot – I was soon to start as a marketing intern with a new local cable channel that was dedicated to sports programming. I would be doing general intern stuff – more like a street team member than anything – but what did I know?
Then, she quit. My boss, and advisor for the internship which included two other students in the program, that is. Just like that. No email or explanation. I never heard from her again. So I did the only logical thing a 19-year-old would do in that situation – I quit, too. No one knew what they were doing, and they had no idea what to do with the abandoned interns.
Quitting was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
I had no plans on what was next, but I wasn't too concerned. I had 5 semesters left to get that internship thing figured out. Suddenly, an email popped up in my inbox of the terrible Windows Outlook system forced upon me by my college.
It went something like this: "The Blue Jackets are looking for a video intern. Are you interested?"
Well... it actually started before October 2007. In the early years of the newly minted Columbus Blue Jackets, I would go to a game or two a year. I would usually go to a game around my birthday, either with my mom or my girlfriend (now wife, and we've kept the streak alive). We'd see the big games – Toronto, Detroit, Chicago... but by every definition, I was a casual fan. This changed in 2006, when I watched the Winter Olympics and fell in love with hockey. I remember, in particular, enjoying the way Team Sweden played. I remember liking not just the skill guys, but also Freddy Modin and Sammy Pahlsson. This is also why, to this day, Henrik Lundqvist remains one of my favorite players.
So, the hockey bug bit me in 2006. I started following the Blue Jackets a lot more closely from that point forward, and made some friends in the community. In June 2007, the NHL Draft was coming to town. A friend I had connected with happened to be good friends with Jeff Rimer, the Blue Jackets television play-by-play commentator. Since he knew I was into broadcasting, he asked Rimer to call me. We chatted for maybe 10 minutes. I could not tell you what we talked about, I was simply beyond excited that he would take the time to talk to me. He told me to introduce myself in person if I would be at the Draft. These are the stories you don't hear about in the news, but are the truth to what makes sports so special.
I was at the Draft, and I met Jeff Rimer, and the Blue Jackets drafted my favorite player (Jake Voracek – to this day, I still follow Mike's prospect recommendations, and his favorites tend to be my favorites). From this point forward, I was a die-hard Jackets fan.
So in October, when Director of Broadcasting Russ Mollohan asked me why I was interested, my answer was the honest to God truth: I had followed hockey passionately for almost two years, and loved the Blue Jackets. I got the position, and was quickly put to work.
The National Hockey League was, I believe, the first major sports league to get serious about online video. Every team was tasked with putting good content up, and the Jackets didn't waste any time. Together, with our team of interns that started at three people, we worked with the Blue Jackets Multimedia Manager (during my years with the team) Ryan Mulcrone, to create video content every day. We launched Jackets TV with a little bit of a plan (at least that I was ever provided) and a lot of hard work.
Rather than recount my day-by-day experience that I barely remember, I'll touch on a few moments and stories that stick out in my mind. Although I started as an intern in the fall of 2007, I actually stayed on for three seasons, which yes, is completely unheard of as an intern. But it allowed me to meet a lot of people, experience a lot of cool moments, and I worked a part-time job elsewhere so they didn't need to pay me (they probably didn't want to pay me, had it been an option). Yes, I was also a full-time student, and I did graduate in four years.
These stories being sparked by the news that George Matthews is stepping down from his post as the voice of Blue Jackets radio, I'll start there.
On a college radio station in Columbus. On a good night, we had probably 20 listeners. I, along with fellow Blue Jackets interns and communication students Mike Ferko and Cody Leist, hosted a sports talk radio show on our (*ahem* award-winning) college radio station. Sometime in 2009 or so, Mike or Cody asked George if he'd join us on our radio show. And he did. He showed up to the basement of our communication building and, for some amount of time that I can't remember, chatted with us about hockey and the Blue Jackets. We may have even been talking playoff hockey, that being the year and all. He didn't owe us anything. But he joined us with the same enthusiasm and energy that he brought to the Blue Jackets radio booth every single night. And for that evening, I was right alongside him.
Getting recognized. By far, the coolest memory I have from my time with the team was the day Rick Nash recognized me in public, approached me, and chatted with me for a moment. Sorry if that sounds braggy, but, well, it happened. It sucks when any player gets traded, even worse when they ask for a trade. Part of me is glad Nasher didn't get to hoist the Stanley Cup in his first season after leaving Columbus, but most of me will remember him for the down to earth, nice guy that he is, $62,400,000 contract and all.
The people you meet. Hockey is the greatest sport on earth, and I believe a lot of it has to do with the great people that make up the sport. Cody and I had the opportunity to interview Chris Chelios on the night he was called up by the Atlanta Thrashers at age 48 and played against the Jackets. Our feature made it on the front page of NHL.com.
Blackhawks radio broadcaster John Wiedeman sat down and had a conversation with a couple of us after practice one day, providing encouraging words and just all around making us feel like we belonged there.
I stood near Wayne Gretzky.
The places you go. My least favorite place, by far, was in the rafters of Nationwide Arena. I'm not sure if I had a choice or not, but if I did, I should have given a little more push back. We were doing a video about the Pepsi Power Patrol... somehow my name got the call when it was time to film the dropping of the "Chipotle chutes." I was never scared of heights until that day. Just hope the team doesn't score a goal and the cannon goes off while you're up there.
One of the best places is being on the bench during practice. You can't beat it. But, when you're filming an interview and have your back turned to the ice, you just have to trust a puck won't come zooming at your head. Occasionally they'll be flipped near you by the funny guys on the team.
Another place that sticks out is... Pittsburgh. Mike and I had the chance to travel to the Steel City to cover an away game. Well, more like we begged, stayed at Mike's place on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and drove an hour each way on game day just for the chance to work. This was in the Igloo, and I'm glad I got to see a game there before it was torn down. I do believe we had to walk across a wooden plank to get to our area in the press box, though. I stood close enough to Sidney Crosby to touch him without stretching my arm.
And, of course, "At Home." We did a video series our first year that involved going to players' homes, filming a quick tour and chatting with them about life away from hockey. I personally got to cover Jared Boll and Kris Russell's shared apartment and Dan Fritsche's Clintonville condo. I got to play NHL 08 with Boll and Russell, and some prospect who had just been called up from Syracuse brought them both lunch. (Derick Brassard)
It's not all good. It would be a disservice to only talk about the highlights. Being an intern is hard work. While I was relatively fortunate in that, as an intern, I had a hands-on role in creating daily video content for the team, the fact remains that I worked for free for three years. (There were some great perks, many mentioned above, others that I won't.) I gained a ton of great experience, but it didn't exactly play out how I had hoped in the end.
The team that runs the website, digital, and social content are worked harder than anyone but the players on the ice. Our video content included a few mainstays: practice coverage, game day previews, and post-game coverage including the coach's press conference and player interviews. Morning coverage, for quite awhile, included a segment with a member of the coaching staff breaking down the previous night's game. This meant being there and prepared by 7 or 8am (I'm not a morning person, so it was all a blur), so we could film before the coaches got to work on that day's tasks. Post-game coverage meant filming and editing videos of at least 2-3 player interviews (fewer if they lose, more if they win), and having that published before we left for the night. Games end at 9:30pm. It takes, at minimum, two hours to complete all the necessary work. You do the math. Add another 30 minutes if the game goes to a shootout.
Thankfully, we always had at least three interns, so usually the person who stayed late wasn't the same one who was in first thing in the morning. But it happened. As for the full-time employees who were our supervisors? They were there, every day without fail, even when the players got a day off.
Working in sports seems glamorous until you work in sports. Yeah, I got to meet Rick Nash, but I had no personal time for the better part of three years. At least I got to work with the players, coaches, and higher up staff on a daily basis. Imagine working in sales.
And how I mentioned it didn't end the way I wanted? Yeah, that one took awhile to get over. Being an intern for three years in a role that so many teams were beginning to hire for, I figured I was a shoo-in to get a job in that capacity. That's all I wanted.
After the final year of my internship in 2010, college graduation, and getting married, I started calling, emailing, and applying. I talked to someone with the Anaheim Ducks and tried to work a potential connection to the Washington Capitals from someone I knew well enough in the Jackets organization. I did everything I could think of to get a job with the Chicago Blackhawks – me and thousands of people over the last five years. (Team loyalty is a weird thing when you're trying to get a job.) Of course, I wouldn't be here right now if any of that proved to be successful.
The hardest blow was later that summer. Another email, almost perfectly timed, much like the one I received three years prior.
Paraphrased from someone with the Jackets: "We have approval for one full-time position. Let me know if you're interested and we'll schedule an interview."
It had to be between me and one other intern, who had continued volunteering his time over the summer, even though he had graduated as well. It had to, right?
Don't be silly. This is pro sports. The job went to someone whose relative works with the team. Looking back on some old emails, I'm not sure I actually even got my interview.
The good people. More than anything else, you tend to remember the really great people and singular moments with those people. I already mentioned Mike and Cody, with whom I have many more great memories and times forgotten. There was also Brittany Gerena, who became a close friend outside of the Blue Jackets. She went from "The CW Star" to "Britt" in an instant, because she's never met a stranger. Ryan Mulcrone, who still feels like the older brother I never had. Oddly enough, we ran into each other in Detroit in Joe Louis Arena, completely by chance, in October 2011. My wife and I made a pit stop to catch a Jackets game on our way to Windsor.
Other staff that were always supportive and friendly were Russ Mollohan and former Manager of Communications Ryan Holtmann. I've already mentioned what great guys Rick Nash, George Matthews, and Jeff Rimer are. Some others that come to mind, who deserve all your praise for being genuinely good people on and off the ice: Ken Hitchcock, Gary Agnew, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Manny Malhotra, Jason Chimera, Antoine and Karen Vermette, Jody Shelley, Larry Larson, and Mike Todd. I'm sure I'm forgetting many.
There was also one more chance connection that relates to this very blog. Donnie Clark, who was an intern, had an older brother. Clint Clark wrote for The Cannon right when or shortly after Mike started the blog. I started writing for it in July 2008. We were hosted on Blogger at the time, but the only evidence we existed before is on the Way Back Machine.
I always talked to Mike about sharing my experiences, since I had such a unique perspective. But, being involved with the team, I was always conscious to limit my involvement with the blog during the season. I usually stuck to things like covering the prospect camp during the off-season and the free agency period that starts on July 1st. Maybe that's part of why I like the start of free agency so much – it was the one thing I was always free to talk about, because I never had any connection with the team during the summer.
I'm far enough removed now that most of the people I knew are long gone. But with the news that Matthews is leaving, a lot of memories flooded back. I had to write some of them down before I forgot them.