Behind the Hockey Diaries: Part 2

Bruce Boudreau (photo courtesy of Chris Nelson / Gemma Hooley)

We continue our conversation with Gemma Hooley and Chris Nelson, the creators of "Hockey Diaries" - in this second installment we discuss this year's subjects, Matt Hendricks and Braden Holtby...

Japers' Rink: Matt Hendricks is an interesting case, because it seems like recording gets going in training camp and Hendricks was someone who wasn't even under contract until the end of September. At what point do you actually pick the players you'd like to use?

Chris: It's been different every year. The first year we talked to the Caps well before Development Camp, in July we had Karl and Brooks in mind and diaries deployed shortly thereafter. In our second year, Tyler Sloan didn't take a diary for us until maybe a couple of weeks into the season. Basically it seems like it takes us a little longer to get started each year and that's probably just because we have a few more things to consider to try and keep the story different. We also recognize that if we don't pick the right players it won't be a successful project so we want to try hard to pick people we think are interesting subjects.

Gemma: It's funny because the first year there was less pressure, it was just throwing something out there to see what we get, see if worked. And then when we started to realize what we were getting and what we could get it became much more strategic in a way. Each year that goes by we want to grow this thing and we have plans to expand in all sorts of directions, but with that comes the pressure to do something beyond just recording and seeing what we get, and the consequences of failing seem more important to us because we're putting so much more hope into it.

You mentioned Braden as the first goalie you’ve followed; on top of that, you get someone going through his first NHL experience. It was pretty thrilling for all of us as fans to watch but talk about being right there with him in some form or another, whether through interviews or his diaries, as he's going through his first game, his first win, his first shutout.

CN: It was interesting, I had a nice, long conversation with Braden the morning of what would be his first NHL appearance. I remember that because that conversation was just very honest about how he'd never really experienced a time in his career where he'd been with a team for a couple of weeks and hadn't played a game; I remember he was sort of cautiously optimistic that he was going to get his chance soon but he was feeling a little bit frustrated, didn't want his first appearance to be rusty because he hadn't played in so long, etc.

And then I remember sort of fast-forwarding about 12 hours to after the game, after everything had sort of died down I went over and talked to him and said "can you believe this just happened?" and he was really shocked still. It had all just happened so fast and I don't even think he realized the full weight of how things had unfolded for him.

GH: Listening to his diaries after that game months later, I was surprised by how emotional he was. For being so young he's such a pro in the locker room - he talks on gamedays, not all goalies do, and I've never seen him turn down the opportunity to talk with anyone. He's very patient with the media and very level-headed in the locker room and calm-sounding- 

CN: He has a veteran presence even though he's not yet.

GH: Exactly. So I was really surprised, and I think you can hear it in the little section he recorded after the game - it was just such genuine emotion. I was a little surprised - not that it was there but surprised to hear it from him. They all talk about not having too many ups and downs, trying to keep an even keel and they're all pretty good at that so it was interesting to hear actual emotion come through in the diary. And talking to Dave Prior we learned a lot, about goalies in general, not just about Braden, how you coach a goalie and things like that. That's something we want to build on going forward, actually, talking more to Prior.

Prior and Bruce Boudreau both play a pretty large role in this piece. What was it about this edition that made you want to expand a bit, add those voices in, and what element do you see them adding to the story?

CN: Boudreau's been in all the pieces, he just gets a bigger role every year and I think after spending so much time with the team our relationship with him has gotten better and better. Every year we've asked him questions about the players we're following and we just decided to see if he'd be interested to keep a diary for us this year - not with a lot of expectation that he'd have to do a lot of recording but to use it if he had a comment about one of our two players. And he was great at recording diaries and was very gracious with his time for us. It really added a new angle to things and it makes the piece interesting in new ways.

You talked about Karl being great with the diaries, which of the six would you say has given you the most to work with as far as the diaries go?

CN: In terms of sheer minutes, we'd give that title to Braden Holtby because he spent a lot of time in the car driving between Hershey and Washington, Washington and Hershey, [Hershey] and Lloydminster, and there were some fifteen minute-plus diary entries. One of the things we tell the players early in the season is to imagine you're leaving a voicemail for someone you know and you're just trying to catch them up on what's been going on in your life. Braden was really good about that, and had some long, riveting diary entries which is of course painful for us to cut out because we're so appreciative of the players for doing that but there's only so much time to squeeze it in.

GH: I think one of them actually was because he'd effectively run out of people to call to keep him awake on his long drive home at the end of the season so he decided to talk into his diary instead.

CN: Tyler Sloan was excellent as well in terms of keeping us posted. And you know, with Tyler the news wasn't always good news, but he was still willing to stick with us, which was absolutely amazing.

GH: He helped us with Hendricks, as well. Hendricks will tell you he had a really hard time with the diary - he was so enthusiastic about the project but for some reason he just didn't love talking into the diary. He took that thing with him absolutely everywhere, kept it next to his bed, in his hockey bag, in the hotel when he was roommates with Tyler, and Tyler would try to work with him on his mental block with keeping the diary, encouraging him, that sort of thing.

At the end of the day, though, he just didn't love it - maybe because he feels like he's so vocal anyway that by the time he got home at the end of the night he'd basically said everything he wanted to say. But he kept it and we got some really good entries from him, many of which we didn't use. He did a great job despite having so much trouble.

You mention Hendricks having trouble with the diaries, did you find that you got more from certain players with the interviews, sort of the guided questions, and others with the diaries?

GH: Once we got a better sense later in the season about whether they were using the diaries or not, that sort of helped shape what we asked them about in the locker room. For example, we realized pretty early on that Mike Knuble, not for lack of wanting to or lack of trying, but he just probably wasn't going to have a lot of time to do a lot of recordings. He's got young kids and a pretty busy life so I think when we realized we weren't going to get some of the deeper, more reflective stuff in diary form we tried to talk to him about that stuff in the room. He battled some injuries that year and didn't play for a long time so that was an opportunity for us to actually sit with him in the locker rom after he worked out and have those in-depth conversations to get at the in-between stuff we weren't going to get in diary form.

It really depends from player to player, though. We knew we were getting that from Tyler and we knew based on how frank he was when he talked to us that the diary entries were going to be that way too, so for him we didn't have to talk to him that same way in the locker room and could keep more in the moment and try to get some interesting color.

You always have to think in terms of scenes in radio, as well; no one's going to listen to a whole hour of someone talking. We're constantly challenging ourselves to get interesting sounds that we can stagger throughout the piece so the listener's moving from hearing something really cool to hearing something funny or weird or unexpected in the locker room to hearing a diary piece and it becomes sort of a mix of different types of stuff to keep the listeners interested. We're never happier than when someone says after listening that it didn't feel like an hour. And the way to keep it moving like that is to vary the different types of content.

Coming up tomorrow, the final part of our interview with Gemma and Chris where they talk about favorite moments, surprising moments, and just how much audio they have to sort through every season.

Additional footage from Hockey Diaries is and will continue to be available on their tumblr, and you can also follow them on Twitter @mediachameleon.

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