The big league experience
It's been a dream of mine for well over a decade, and on Feb. 21, I finally made my NHL debut as the sports reporter for the St. Paul Journal.
On the drive into Edmonton for the morning skates, I couldn't help but reflect being a kid and waking up in the morning to go through the sports pages of the Toronto Star with my grandmother before heading out to school, and coming home to watch the game with her, idolizing not just the players, but the commentators and analysts as well.
If there's one thing that hasn't changed since those early days of my life, it's that I still can't shut up about hockey, and entering Rexall Place on Thursday, I felt like a kid again.
I stepped into the building, got the breakdown from the media relations staff and headed to the rink to watch the Oilers' morning skate. When I stepped out into the stands, seeing the pristine ice before me, and the overpowering bright lights shining down on me, I knew I had made it.
Entering the Oilers locker room after the morning skate was an experience I will never forget. My knees were shaking, ready to buckle as I approached Taylor Hall and jumped in on the media scrum, a TSN camera over my left shoulder and a Sportsnet camera over my right.
One thing I learned was that the NHL moves very fast, on and off the ice. I managed to get two more interviews with Sam Gagner and Captain Canada himself, Ryan Smyth, on his birthday no less, but before I knew it, I got a tap on the shoulder from a media representative saying, “last question,” and my Oilers locker room experience came to an end, for now.
Next up, the Wild. I took a seat, and while it was hard to stop my eyes from shifting to the sticks of players like Zach Parise or Dany Heatley when they got hold of a puck, I did my best to intently watch the habits of St. Paul native Kyle Brodziak during the Minnesota morning skate.
Oilers leading scorer Sam Gagner pointed to lack of consistency on the ice as an area that needs immediate improvement if the Oilers hope to make a push in the standings, as the team has had a hard time stringing together wins in this shortened season.
“We’re just trying to build some consistency in our game. We know what works for us, and what makes us successful and I think it’s just a matter of continuing to do that and being patient with it. These games are important for us coming up here,” Gagner said, adding that the Oilers will need to fight hard for the bounces on this road trip.
I finished up with Brodziak, getting every last second out of the experience that I could, and then left to explore Edmonton while I waited for the puck to drop.
When I returned to the arena about 90 minutes before the game started, I walked through the security entrance and no less than 10 feet from me were the Minnesota Wild playing keep-up with a soccer ball.
I kept reminding myself, “you're not here as a fan Ryan,” yet, I couldn't help but stand there in awe of my situation.
I managed to gain my composure and made my way up to the press box in the rafters, took my seat, and watched what I hope will be the next chapter of my career unfold on the ice.
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