I Won’t Cry, I’m Going to Smile Instead

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

Saturday was the last regular season game of my NHL hockey writing career.  As I announced it on Twitter, I probably didn’t start to get all choked up until someone from the NHL Alumni tweeted how sad they were to hear that it was my last game.  It meant a lot to get that kind of tweet.

I realized, as I was looking at Marty Brodeur in goal at the other end of the ice, that this could be his last regular season game as well…only time will tell if that is what he decides.  Maybe he’ll come back another year…

This isn’t the time for me to be sad about leaving…it’s a time for me to smile at what I have accomplished.  When I look back at all of the opportunities that have been afforded to me in the past few years by the NHL, the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Devils, and numerous hockey players across the league, I actually can’t believe that those things even happened.  It seems like it was all a dream.

I never realized how much I was able to do and accomplish until a reporter over at the Rangers told me this season that I had done something in a short matter of time that he couldn’t even do in 20 years of his career…and that was be granted permission to cover the New Jersey Devils…from the Devils.  He said I was one hell of a writer…and that was why they let me in.  It’s not so often you hear that kind of compliment from another member of the media.

I’ve heard infamous stories about my career.  I’ve heard that no one can touch me because I’m protected by the NHL.  I’ve heard that I had an affair with some hockey player that followed me from team to team just to be close to me (for the record, it’s not true…but I know who spread it and I also know who started it…it’s what happens when people assume things).

Those are the crazy stories you hear along this journey.  Most times, they’re not true…just rumors. 

In my last international tour of duty with the NHL, I was asked to cover the Rangers across Europe.  You say Praha, and I’m there.  The NHL said Praha…and I was there.  I didn’t cover just the NHL on this tour of duty…I ended up covering both teams and that included Sparta and Zug during the Rangers pre-season exhibition. 

Something happened that I didn’t expect to happen while I was diving in and learning about each club.  I found out later what happened after I published my work (and I haven’t even published the story about my findings on Kladno yet).  Hockey players playing abroad got wind of these articles and started sending me messages asking when I was going to cover their teams in Europe and Russia.  It’s not so often a writer receives requests like that, but I’ve seen it happen in the NHL too where players have requested that I write something about their team or a player there. 

I had to think about these messages through most of this season and I realized…I don’t have to stop writing about hockey…I’m just choosing to move on to a different territory.

Over these past few years, one of the most unique experiences afforded to me by the NHL was their assistance in helping me to live my dream…to travel the world writing about the people I meet and telling their stories.  At the time, it was the stories that belonged to hockey teams and hockey players.  They opened that door for me to live that dream.

I probably didn’t start to realize I was living that dream until I was on a plane to Prague, Czech Republic thinking…”What in the hell am I doing?”  I was on a plane going to a foreign country that I’ve never been to before.  I hadn’t researched the country…I don’t even know how to even speak the language.  Worst yet, I still (to this day) don’t even know how to say the word COFFEE in Czech (on my to do list before I retire). 

I literally thought I was insane for hopping on a plane, going to a foreign country all by myself when I didn’t even speak the language or know where I was going.  I thought I was literally going to have a panic attack when I headed to the customs agent with my passport.

But just as I arrived at the customs gate, there was a big sign of this smiling Czech I had been watching for the last 2 years.  It was Jaromir Jagr.  It was then that I knew that everything was going to be okay.

The people there were so nice.  I was fortunate to find several people that spoke English and helped me get to my hotel safely.  When I went to order food, despite the language barrier, it all worked out somehow.  The Czechs were so kind in helping me learn how to say those words that were 15 letters long (I mean really…I just give up on the 9th letter…why do the words have to be so long).

Everything about me changed in that first trip for the NHL…and it happened in my rookie year.

Keep in mind that I had done more in my rookie year than seasoned reporters have done in their 20 years of writing a sports column.  I went to Prague, the Winter Classic in Chicago, NHL All-Stars in Montreal, NHL Awards in Las Vegas, spent 8 hours with the Stanley Cup, learned all about poker as it relates to hockey from various NHL Alumni greats, and a whole lot more.

Most reporters just go about their job, hanging out with their computer until it’s time to write their story.  For me…I’m sure people from the NHL offices can tell you how they would stand there and watch me walking around looking at everything…I’m talking about EVERY SINGLE THING that went into making this game a reality.  I’d stand around watching them create the ice, put up the netting, prepare for the big games.  I’d watch the players practicing, photographing everyone…so I could become a better photographer.  I would talk to the camera guys, asking how this and that worked.

I absorbed everything the NHL could throw at me…why?  Because to me, this was so AMAZING.

It’s because of all of those years just going about my business, walking right in to the most obscure things…and just standing there like a fly on the wall…that people start to notice you. 

After my first year, it was expected that I would switch over to go work for the NHL offices or a team.  I kept thinking…can the NHL (or teams) afford me, yet?  The answer was always a NO.  I make more money elsewhere…and I like my designer wardrobe.  I’m not ready to give up that lifestyle yet. 😉

Rick Peckham (Tampa Bay Lightning’s play-by-play announcer) said to me on my first trip to Prague during my rookie year what was being said about me behind the scenes.  He said that I was the person that would change the face of the NHL.  Those are big words and big expectations for anyone to see that in me right from the start…and he was just reiterating what he had heard about me.

Over the years, I wondered how I could do those things.  All throughout my life I had heard that no matter what things I set my mind to, I could achieve amazing things.  It’s followed me from the music biz to my philanthropy work to even my work today.

Yet, over the years I’ve watched how things have changed in the NHL based on pieces I’ve written.  I’ve seen the changes and I’ve watched the NHL evolve.

There are even stories I’ve written over these years that helped change people’s mindsets about the players they criticized and spoke ill of.  For the longest time, fans complained of how getting to know the New Jersey Devils was non-existent.  They wanted to know about their favorite players…what they’re like…what kind of food they eat…what their favorite book or movie is…they wanted to know about these guys, and that door always seemed to be closed to them.

That has changed slowly over the years.  I can tell you the exact moment it changed for the better…Martin Brodeur broke that barrier when he named David Clarkson the worst dressed…just because he knew it would piss him off because he said that about him.  All of a sudden fans everywhere started to think…hey, that Brodeur isn’t a jerk…he’s actually kind of cool.  They were able to see him in a new light…that he was actually a fun guy, playing the biggest joke of all time on his teammate.

There are the stories I’ll never print, and then there are the stories I printed just to change people’s minds about a player…like David Clarkson’s “Goon With a Big Heart.”  After that article, I never heard another Rangers fan say a bad word about him.  Actually, a lot of them became fans of his.  Why?  Because of that part where he pulled his car over to the side of the road and cried after he learned that one of his kids from “Clarky’s Kids” was going to die in a couple of weeks. 

They even stopped calling him a goon after that. 

Clarky is also the only hockey player that almost made me cry in that locker room.  We were both fighting back tears when he talked about that kid.  I knew that if I broke down and cried, he would have cried too. 

There was also a time that Georges Laraque refused to be interviewed by the media.  I took a chance and asked the Montreal Canadiens if I could interview him, they went back and got Georges…and he did my second “Goon With a Big Heart” story.  Imagine my surprise when a famous lead guitarist told my editor how much he loved that piece.  It showed a different side of Georges that most people didn’t know about (or made fun of over the years).

There were other stories over the years that landed on the front page of Fox Sports like Marty Brodeur telling me honestly whether he would retire or not and Jacques Lemaire’s real retirement (the second time around). 

There were also times where I asked a player a few times if he was certain he wanted me to print the comments he was making…knowing that it could mean he may not be asked back to the Club.  I printed it and watched a few days later how the team reacted to what he told me to print.  And yes, he was punished for it.

It’s not the first time that happened, but Sheldon Souray was probably the last time I would allow it to happen.  How odd to find out a year later that Sheldon was buddies with one of my friends from back in the day…one I used to party with back during the rockstar days.  Lesson learned…the world is much smaller than I think it is. 

There was also this one moment in the New Jersey Devils locker room that I went up to this Russian after the rest of the press had walked away.  He was getting ready to be interviewed by a Russian reporter when he saw me standing there, waiting to speak to him.  He told the reporter to wait and turned to me.  I then asked him, “Are you going to re-sign here next year?” 

He answered the question…along with all of the details on how he was going to do it.  The thing is…he remembered he told me.  I didn’t print it and he noticed that I hadn’t.

A few weeks before July 1, it was reiterated to me once again that what Ilya Kovalchuk told me that day was exactly what would happen.  Promises were made that Ilya did not (and would not) lie to me…if he said that was what was going to happen, then that was what was going to happen…and all of the assurances I could possibly need to print that Ilya would re-sign with the Devils were given to me…so I printed it.

{Fans have questioned why I would wait to release information like this, especially since I was given the most coveted information in the entire NHL.  1) I didn’t know Ilya well enough at the time to believe that he would not lie to me and humiliate me in the press.  This was my reputation on the line and I wasn’t about to print anything that I couldn’t get a 100% guarantee on. 2) I like to wait until the right time to release information.  I would rather be 100% correct, then to have fans accuse me of not knowing what I was talking about.  In other words, I don’t want to lie to my readers and I will not have any player make me into a liar based on the information he gave to me. 3) I also don’t like to print rumors.  I’d rather be 100% correct than to guess and say it’s fact.}

Players from the Devils weren’t sure who Ilya was talking to…but I had laid down clues that he had spoken to me.  Actually, I planted one directly to Martin Brodeur.  I gave him some info about Kovy that only the two of them would know about…only way I knew that happened (considering I wasn’t there when it happened, only those two)…would be if I found out from Kovalchuk’s camp directly.

I thought it was funny when one Devils player had his website guy ask me if Kovy was really talking to me and that he really was signing with the Devils.  It made me laugh because the players were just as anxious as the fans were to know if it was true!

It was always a question during the Summer of Kovalchuk who was really talking to the Kovalchuk camp.  The ones they were talking to, we knew who the others were…and they were very selective with who they spoke with and released information through. 

The WOW factor in my career has always been that moment in the locker room when Ilya Kovalchuk told me exactly what he was going to do in free agency.  It was the most coveted information in the entire NHL…and he gave that story to me first.

When Mats Sundin decided he was going to retire and play professional poker…he released that information through Inside Hockey…because they remembered there was this reporter there that would understand the significance in this decision and write the story the way they needed it to be released.

I almost had a career covering poker and hockey after that release…if I hadn’t gone to Greece instead. 😉

So now, as I look back and smile at all of the things I’ve accomplished in this short time being an NHL hockey writer, it’s surprising to me that most people won’t even be able to accomplish  in their entire career what I’ve done since 2007.  

The reason why I did anything and everything that I could in the NHL…it was because I didn’t know how much time I would have left in this world.  I was busy making dreams come true in the most amazing way because my health has been faced with so much crap these past few years.  Being told the cancer had returned was enough to scare the bejesus out of me. 

This will be my last time covering the NHL playoffs.  My time this season has been devied up between the Devils and the Rangers.  Last year, I started off my hockey season with the Boston Bruins…and they won the Stanley Cup. 

While I could say I started my season with the New York Rangers in Europe…I’m going to have to say instead that you’ll have to toss a coin with this one…I also started my season with the New Jersey Devils at the exact same time.  They’re both in the playoffs…one of them is bound to make it.  But which?

That’s how I’m hoping this season will end…in June.  I always said that I’ll retire from writing about NHL hockey when the Devils win the Cup and I get to cover it through to the end…maybe this is the year…considering I announced in July this was my final season.

As for the future, I think you can tell which direction I’m going.  More lifestyle stuff.  More travel.  More hockey abroad.  After all, I may have designed this path to cover hockey overseas because of this little thing called a lockout…maybe I’ll be covering the Devils and Rangers in EUROPE…but without the logo on the front of their jersey.

I have also been getting questions this season about why I haven’t covered hockey as much as I used to.  Well, I was in Europe/Africa at the start.  I was sick when I got back. 

Then in January, I got hit really hard and then had to go 80% liquids for months.  This season I’ve had to really rest a lot.  Work has been escalating at the office, and since they pay the bills, they get my time.  This season may have been the worst healthwise than any other season.  {And I had surgery during my rookie year!  I’d take that pain post-op over the pain I’ve felt this year…any day.}

Throughout this season I’ve had to ask myself if I was making the right decision.  I had to ask all the way down to that last game on Saturday…and I knew I had to start the process of saying goodbye.  There are things that have happened since my July announcement that have reminded me all throughout this season why it was the correct decision. 

I’m not leaving hockey…I’ll be sitting downstairs next season watching the Devils and the Rangers…being a fan again.  I’ll be running around the world, watching and learning about hockey from other parts of the world.  Who knows, I may come back talking about how we can evolve this game of hockey…how we can expand…and help it to survive as we deal with the economic issues that faces not just America, but the world.  You have to think above and beyond just that fan atmosphere…you have to always think about how we can make this game better.

I always pictured myself as moving into working in hockey permanently when I hit 40.  That’s in less than 5 years.  During those 5 years, I have other dreams I want to make come true before I dedicate myself fully to making that decision.

I believe it was Glen Sather that said to someone that in order for you to take the job as GM, you have to work the trenches…that includes scouting players.  You never know, the NHL teams may take my new stories from overseas and use them as part of their scouting reports…and that’s probably what these players overseas are hoping for…that I’ll somehow take notice of them and next thing they know…they’ll be playing in the NHL.

But until I hit 40, there are other dreams I’ve got to make come true.  There are seeds I need to sow in foreign countries, new homes to be built, new stories to collect, new worlds to photograph, and new people to meet.  I’m setting off to change the world around me…that is the dream…and that’s bigger than this hockey dream that came true.

One thing I’ve learned from this hockey adventure is that dreams come true in the most amazing ways when you are on your path in life.  I can recognize when a path is coming to an end and it’s time to start a new one.  That’s what this whole season has been about…the path coming to an end and a new one forming before me. 

This adventure has been amazing…BUT I have other dreams that need to come true…that’s why I’m saying goodbye.  I won’t cry, but I’ll smile at all that I’ve accomplished in these past few years.

About Michelle Kenneth

Michelle Kenneth is the voice behind PerfectionistWannabe.com.