Courtesy J.P. and Travis Hughes (of Broad Street Hockey and SBNation NHL fame), I was able to go to last night's loss to New Jersey as a credentialed media member. The experience was pretty interesting.
I haven't gone to any professional sporting events as a media member before, but I've been covering college basketball for a couple of years as student media. Pennsylvania's Palestra and Villanova's Pavilion are probably the two highest-profile venues I've been to. Prudential Center is a pretty big step up.
When I got there, I had to pick up my press pass. I was a little confused as to where I needed to go, exactly—I was told to look for the Mulburry St entrance but there were three different entrances on that street—but once I did, and after some confused looks from event staffers (probably because they were expecting someone older, heh), I got in and went up to press level.
First item: look up my seat number. #81, as it so happens. (Would have preferred #74 if it needed to be in that range, but at least it wasn't #68 or #66.) Scanning the list of names, it was cool seeing so many I recognize: Tom Gulitti from the Devils-centered Fire and Ice, Doc Emrick (who was not present), Dave Lozo (formerly of NHL.com), the Post's Katie Carrera (sadly, one of only two women I spotted), and Steve Lepore (formerly of Puck the Media, now at Awful Announcing), among others.
The view from press level isn't bad. At the Rock, the row is higher than the nosebleeds, but there are no leaners, which I suppose is the most important part. Of course, we had a view of the entire rink. Right above us were some boxes for radio and TV. Toward the end was one labeled "Visiting Team General Manager." (A suggestion from the Blackhawks?)
I'd asked a friend (who is credentialed to cover the Rangers) about what the culture is like up around these parts, but I was still a little surprised when I finally experienced it first-hand. Maybe I was being naive, but I thought the atmosphere would have been a little more laid-back. I wasn't expecting baseball or anything, and I was prepared to be more formal than I usually am, but it was awfully quiet (aside from the fellows sitting above me in a box—more on them in a minute) for a bunch of people watching and writing about a sport they love for a living. People who sit next to each other every game. But maybe that's part of the difference in culture between hockey games and basketball games.
Anyway, the voices I heard most were calling out player numbers and making Devils-slanted jokes in the interim. It sounded like they were tracking something. Local trackers for official stats? New Jersey internal stat trackers? I don't know. They were definitely concerned with which players were coming on and off the ice and at one point sounded like they were tracking touches during a Caps power play (although they may have just been trying to catch up on who was on the ice for that PP). Let's just say that based on what I heard, I'm not surprised there are a lot of mistakes in the NHL's data—it's tough for two people to keep tabs on all the players coming on and off the ice, and it sounded like they missed a player here and there regularly.
I hadn't been to a hockey game since May 2012, and I'd forgotten how few breaks there are. There isn't much time to type (not that I had to—thanks Kevin!). Moreover, since the press level was all the way at the top instead of courtside (like we have for basketball), most media members leave for the locker rooms before the final horn even sounds. I went a couple of minutes after the buzzer and got there before the locker room doors were opened, but it seems like if you get in line to go in first, you can stand right up next to the players and ask them your questions. I guess that's important if you're working on a deadline, have a quoteless recap typed up, and feel like you only have time to get relevant quotes, but I like to gather a diverse range of quotes before finalizing a recap. To each his or her own, I guess.
Getting squeezed out thanks to relative tardiness wasn't a problem for me, luckily. After an accidental detour into the Devils' locker room—I should probably note here that team and event staff were nothing but nice to me all night as I got lost over and over again—I made it into the visitors' interview area. It wasn't as crowded as the home team area—just Mike Vogel, Carrera, and a videographer from CSN, along with a Caps media relations person and another individual I did not recognize. I ended up missing most of their interview with Jason Chimera and was too weak-kneed to talk to Real American Hero and 2014 Olympian John Carlson. Mike Green was the other player pulled aside for interview. None of them said anything particularly interesting—just the usual stuff about cutting out mistakes, effort level, and playing through this rough stretch. Green was more optimistic in his answers than Carlson.
After that, the Caps media relations person told us Adam Oates would be answering questions just outside, so out the five of us went. He didn't say anything particularly interesting—he thought they played alright, with neither focus nor effort much of a problem and just need to cut out the mistakes—although maybe at this point he doesn't feel like going into detail about the same problems over and over again. I can certainly relate from the press end, not wanting to ask the same questions after each and every loss (of which I've seen many, I assure you). At one point, Oates was discussing Grabovski's status. In hindsight, I should have used that comment to transition into one of my questions about the Erat-Grabovski-Fehr line, but I missed that opening.
After Oates finished up, I asked someone how to get out and hopped on PATH to head back to New York, knowing that this was a much better use of my time than my other sports media option this weekend: Covering a college basketball game alone in Ithaca.