Six degrees to me

In the last five years, I’ve conducted more interviews than I ever imagined I would. Somehow, while I do (kind of) like people, and am (kind of) curious to learn about new things, and get (kind of) excited (kind of) easily, I’ve never really seen myself as an interviewer – because somewhere deep down, I still (kind of) know that I’m (kind of) shy.

And when you think about it, the interview person is holding all the cards, really, unless you happen to know something that he doesn’t know you know, but that’s never happened to me.

Straightforward postgame interviews can be frustrating and exciting at the same time.

It's a jungle out there.

Frustrating, because the players don’t often open up and say anything exciting, but instead, they go through the motions and give you the boiler plate answer about the game: “We tried hard, we think we really pushed them on their heels, but we have to move the puck more, and improve our powerplay…”

Exciting, because you can never be really sure that it’s going to turn out that way. You’re there to get the pieces to your puzzle, add color to your picture, connect the dots. Sounds like a job for a seven-year-old. And sometimes I’m just as excited as a seven-year-old.

Last May, I covered the World Championships for the International Ice Hockey Federation, and their website at IIHF.com. The great thing about that is that because that was the official tournament website, we covered every game played in the tournament. For us, there was no home team, we covered the games without cheering for any particular team.

It may sound boring, but it’s actually a very liberating feeling, making all games interesting.

There is one challenge, though. Even if many of the players play in the NHL, and therefore work and live in North America, not all do, and not everybody is comfortable giving interviews in English. On the other hand, while I can get by in a few languages, I don’t speak Czech, Russian, Latvian, or French (and this is why).

So, I end up with a few favorites that I know give me good quotes in a language that I understand.

Sometimes it’s easy.

In Quebec in 2008, I ended up interviewing Team Switzerland’s Paul DiPietro at least six times. In Berne in 2009, I spoke with Kārlis Skrastiņš a half dozen times as well. The one time NHL “Ironman” – 495 consecutive NHL games – was not only fluent in English, but also a colorful and funny guy.

The first time I interviewed him in Berne, I came to the mixed zone a little late, and spotted him talking to a reporter. I walked a little closer and heard the Team Latvia captain say something about “starting well” so I put my Olympus dictaphone under his nose to get them quotes.

Skrastiņš kept on talking, but glanced at me standing there with my arm straight, holding the gadget. At the same time as he looked at me, laughed a little, and winked, I realized he was speaking Latvian. I smiled, took my gadget and moved two meters to the left. Five minutes later, all I had to say was, “and now the same in English, please.”

He laughed and gave me the quotes.

Over the years, I’ve also been sitting in the other chair a few times. I gave my first hockey interview in 1977 when a Finnish weekly wrote about junior hockey, promoting a TV documentary that was going to air the same week. My quote made the headline, “Body checking is fun.”

A few years later, the local hockey club produced a “newspaper”, an advertising vehicle with the TV schedule, and a few stories in it. One of the stories was the Player of the Week, usually one of the guys on the men’s team, but on one week in the fall of 1981, that player was me.

I was sitting in my father’s office, with the star defenseman of the men’s team slash editor-in-chief of the paper across the table, in the boss’s chair. The format of the story was simple: a photo of the player with ten questions and answers, including name and age.

“Favorite music”?

I said everything, and he wouldn’t buy it. “What? You listen to classical music?” he said.

“Well, no…”

“OK, let’s make it, ‘all pop and rock’”

“Favorite food?”

“Meat balls and mashed potatoes…”

“… and drink?”

“.. Coke”.

“Most difficult opponent?”

“… hard to say, but I’ll say Jokerit, junior C.”

And so on. The interview took about ten minutes, and I was mostly relieved when it was over. Proud to make the paper, of course, on my way to stardom. (In my case, stardom peaked about two months later when a girl I knew showed me that she had clipped the interview out of the paper, and was carrying it in her wallet).

Yesterday, I was at a hockey rink in Stockholm, watching the Swedish and Finnish women’s national teams play in a friendly tournament. Scanning the roster, I recognized the name of the assistant coach of the Team Finland head coach. It was the star defenseman of the Jokerit Junior C team.

I looked across the rink to the Finnish bench, and saw another familiar face. The head coach’s.

It was the editor-in-chief of the paper where I was Player of the Week.

My turn.

3 thoughts on “Six degrees to me

  1. Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.
    Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
    Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."
    Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
    Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.

  2. "…the interview person is holding all the cards…"
    It’s often a two-way thing. Although they know more about what you will talk about, they need you to get their message out in a good way, and sometimes I’m sure you ask questions that make them think about things in a different way.
    It’s thrilling to think that anyone (well, almost) could go up to the players, put a tape recorder under their nose and ask anything (well, almost.)

How does that make you feel?