Every summer I contemplate whether I’m going to return for another season or not. I tinker with it and then decide I’m not ready yet. But this time, my intuition is saying that this is definitely my last year.
Things are coming full circle this season. If anything, that is a sign that this is my final year. Since I began my career, my dream interview has been to interview Jaromir Jagr…the player that made me fall in love with hockey. When he left for the KHL, I debated whether I should head over there to do the interview, stop in to say hello to the Kasparaitis family in St. Petersburg and Lithuania, before calling it quits.
Each year, I battled with the decision. Each summer I felt like it was not the time. This summer, the feeling is more definite.
This morning’s horoscope said: “The World card suggests that my alter ego is The Conqueror, whose superpower lies in graduation to the next level. Today I am free. I have accomplished my mission and feel on top of the world. I will enjoy the experience to its fullest. I have come full circle on my path to success. My job is done, my dream fulfilled, and I have them eating out of my hands. Accept and embrace the journey taken. It has served great purpose in growing wiser and stronger, and has provided a sense of relief in that now it’s complete.”
It’s funny that my horoscope said that today. I’ve been telling my friends for two weeks now that I believe that this will be my final season. Today’s reading just confirmed that intuitive feeling that I’ve been having…this is definitely the final season.
This month’s O Magazine talks about intuition and knowing when you’re making the right decision. Sometimes you have to let that gut feeling be your guide. What mine has been saying for the past few weeks is that my career has come full circle. With Jagr’s return to the NHL, my career has now come full circle.
Just like those players that return to the team that gave them their first start in the NHL all those years later…you know that it’s their final year in hockey.
Why Jagr’s return? Before my mom and I stopped talking, I was sitting behind Jagr at a Rangers game. He was sitting down on his end of the bench where there’s no glass. I could literally reach out and touch him from my seat.
My mom and I were talking about my future. She was telling me that I should be a hockey writer. I should combine my two passions (hockey and writing) and make a go at it. That’s when I said out loud that I should be a hockey writer. Jagr turned around and looked at me when I said that. I didn’t realize he had been eavesdropping on my conversation with my mother.
It was almost like in that moment I was finding out that my wish was being granted. A few years later, that wish was finally granted. It was his teammate (Darius Kasparaitis) that gave me my first exclusive. Granted, he was trying to do his big “F YOU” to the New York Rangers, but as things would have it, I was ethically challenged with writing it the way he wanted it.
My decision at the end of the day was to protect Kasaparaitis, since he would still be employed with the Rangers when the article was released. I didn’t want to make things worse than they already were. I played it safe in the piece, and pissed off Kasparaitis.
His sister told me what he had said about it a year later. He said I did it because I was a Rangers fan, so of course I would side with them. I told her, no. That’s not what I did. I decided to protect him. I’d already seen and heard enough of what had happened that I couldn’t bear to see things get worse. I wrote it the way that I did and left the Rangers to go to the Devils. I had sided with him. He, of course, had no idea that I had gone to the Devils. In the end, he still got his big “F You” after all.
Also, to set the record straight…I heard a rumor from the Rangers that I was going to Russia with Kasparaitis when he first left. They said that Darius told everyone that. Funny, because he never asked me to go to Russia with him. I showed up a couple of months later at MSG and it shocked a few of the players. I heard, “Michelle’s back.” The truth is…I never went to Russia with Darius. I know why he said it…it was part of his “F You” to a certain New York Ranger.
Darius started my career off in one of the most controversial ways that a hockey player can jumpstart your career…by giving you the exclusive of exclusives from a disgruntled player telling all. That’s why the Devils reporters joke that I specialize in former disgruntled New York Rangers (trust me, those disgruntled players still find me no matter where they go).
Jagr was on the Rangers when all of this was happening. I started my career just as he was finishing his career with the Rangers. That first time I saw him in the locker room…was the last time I’d see him as I started my career covering the Devils and he headed overseas for the next three seasons.
With Jagr’s return…I’ll finally be able to do that interview with him…and with that…my career comes full circle. Even this opportunity to travel to Europe covering the Rangers feels like everything has come full circle…especially since one of those cities is Prague.
I started my NHL career with the Rangers in Prague. This fall, we’re going back there again.
I’ve made so many friends from Prague. I go over there every single chance I can get. My first NHL event was in Prague. It was the first time I ever went to a foreign country (where I didn’t know the language or the culture) by myself. I remember standing at the passport line to officially enter into the Czech Republic and seeing a huge sign of Jagr pretending to flip food at the camera with a huge grin on his face. Of all things…that sign was a sign.
I was scared to death being in a foreign country by myself (why didn’t I ask one of my friends to come with me?), and at the same time, scared to death because this was the first NHL event I had ever gone to as a credentialed member of the NHL media. Being credentialed by the Devils is one thing, by the NHL is another.
As scared and as curious as I was about everything hockey and the NHL, this opened a whole new door in my life. Everything changed from that point on. But it wasn’t until I was standing at the top of the old castle wall in Vysehrad watching the sun setting over the great city of Prague, looking at the exact same spot where a Princess declared that one day, Prague would be a great city, that I felt liberated.
It literally took my breath away. All of those fears about my new beginning in life reminded me that all new beginnings are scary. You keep questioning yourself if you’re doing the right thing because it’s so different than what you are used to. But you can’t help but feel all of those positive feelings erupting from your every being when you find a new sense of yourself.
When I first arrived in Prague it was almost midnight and I had no idea where I was. I stopped a guy on the street and asked for directions. He helped me get to my hotel. Actually, he followed me to make sure I went the right way. Another guy helped me the rest of the way…all in friggin English!
I met an ex-pat the next day in Vysehrad hanging out in the park with his kids. We talked about what it was like being an American living in Prague. You know, it was one of the best stories I had ever heard. I actually started looking around for a place to live when I got back (I still do to this day).
That trip to Prague was before my surgery. The doctor told me two days after I had gotten back that I had dropped 13 pounds. She asked me what happened. I told her that Prague Castle had a lot of stairs. She laughed.
I dropped 13 pounds because I was happy doing what I love. I was at a new beginning in my life. It was in Prague that I learned that I love to travel by myself…and to see the world. I became a better photographer because of it.
Since 2008, I have been to Prague, Dublin, London, Athens, Santorini and Mykonos. For the NHL and the Devils, I’ve been to Chicago, Montreal, Las Vegas, San Jose, LA, Anaheim and Raleigh. This final season, I’ll be in London, Paris, Prague, Zurich, Zug, Geneva, and all over Morocco. Since Jagr is back, I’ll be in Philly a lot this season. For the Devils, I plan on doing the Western Canadian road trip with them in January (I know…I’m going to be crying a lot…Russ Cohen…you can send me a box of tissues for Christmas). I’ll make it to a Pittsburgh and Montreal game with the Devils at some point during the season…after all, I have to see if it’s true what they say about Pittsburgh fans (that they’re the best fans in the league).
This is also the year I’ll be chronicling everything for that ‘book’ I’ve been rumored to be writing about the New Jersey Devils since the first day I arrived [so guys, be on your best behavior...yes, I'm talking to you Parise]. I said that I’d retire after the Devils win the Stanley Cup…just so I know what it feels like to cover the game from the start until the end. Who knows, maybe this will be the year…right before that 2012 lockout.
That’s another thing…what am I going to do with myself, especially with a lockout underway? That book I’ve been talking about…it’s almost done…as in…I’m waiting to come back from Morocco to write about the experiences there to wrap the book up. That means that it’s time to move on to the next stage of my writing career…publishing books.
When I got started in hockey writing, I did it mainly to create a foundation to my writing career. Being published all of the time allowed for more credibility for that moment when I finally submitted the book to publishers. That means I’m not just a nobody with no experience that just one day decided to write a book. No, it adds more credibility to my writing career.
I still feel that pull in my heart that I want to live in other countries, writing about the people I meet and see and photographing the world. The NHL gave me that foundation when they allowed me to travel the world to write about the people I meet and the places I’ve been to in the name of hockey. Now, I just want to write about different stories of people’s lives…and the dreams they are living. There is a whole world of opportunities opening up to me, begging me to grab a rope and just hold on tight. There are adventures yet to be discovered. There’s a life waiting to be lived.
When you feel inside that it’s time to move on and you know it’s right…that means it’s time. When you feel good about that decision that it’s time to start the next phase in life, you know it’s the right decision.
This part of the journey in my life I never understood, but I knew it had to happen. Hockey, of all things! I enjoyed every second of it. I enjoyed living that dream. I’ve met some of the most incredible people along this trip…and legends that helped define the dream of making hockey a legendary sport.
I’ve told the stories of lives that ended up being a bigger story than I thought it would be when I sat down with them. Sometimes asking that question I wanted to know the answer to ended up being the most sought after information in the entire league. Thank God Kovalchuk answered it. Mats Sundin’s retirement to play pro poker…just amazing he broke that story with me.
But the one story I love reading…that’s the story I never wrote. Martin Brodeur wrote that story (along with Damien Cox). You see…Marty was in that first Rangers game I ever went to back in 2005. It was my second hockey game ever. If you had told me back then that I’d end up writing about the Devils on that day…I would have said you were absolutely insane. Not from a Rangers fan point of view (because I wasn’t a hockey fan yet)…but from the point of view of someone who was at their second hockey game ever. I didn’t even like hockey before that game. But something magical happened that night.
I can’t even explain that magical feeling that night. All I knew was that my life was changing in that very moment. In a month I soaked up hockey like a sponge. If you told me that first year I got into hockey that I’d be a hockey writer…I would have told you that you were nuts.
To this day, I still feel like I don’t know a whole lot about hockey. But a couple of years back when Kevin Weekes and I were talking about the time when I first got into hockey, he was shocked. He couldn’t believe I became a fan in 2005-06 and by 2007 I had my own hockey column. I apparently bullshitted enough to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about to fool a hockey player…or maybe I do know what I’m talking about. Your guess is as good as mine.
But truth be known…I learned from those guys at The Hockey News. I read their stuff all of the time from cover to cover. I knew about hockey from those guys. Then I graduated up to learning directly from the teams, the players and the coaches.
I will say that of everyone I’ve learned from, I’ll definitely miss Coach Jacques Lemaire. He opened my eyes to understanding hockey at a much deeper level. I learned so much from him.
I want to say thanks to everyone that helped me along in my career, gave me the exclusives, or just pointed me in the right direction. You helped me so much along this journey. You can say that I’ve had the time of my life thanks to all of you.
I do want to thank one special person…Chris Rahn. He’s the one who got me started in all of this hockey writing. He suggested that I write for Inside Hockey. What I love about Chris, he believed that I could be a GM some day. He actually hoped I would be. After all that time I spent studying the kids in Hartford, sitting down in the front row at Rangers games, and heading to the gym to learn the mechanics that go into executing the moves out on the ice…it actually made me understand hockey. Yes, I was my own guinea pig in understanding it all. He saw that commitment in me and saw that I could do great things in hockey.
Chris, by the way, is Guy Carbonneau’s nephew. He’s the one who got me started in this biz…all because he believed that I deserved a shot because he believed that I could be something great one day. To that, Chris, you mean the world to me (kisses to Owen).
I will say that I can’t say how much a hockey player means to me unless I mention David Clarkson. David is that kid I saw in Hartford playing for the Devils minor league team. He was my only pick from the Devils that day that I expected to make it to the big leagues. Once upon a time he was that scrawny kid they didn’t expect to make it. But there was something in him that said to me…he’s going to make it.
I was right about him. He made it into the NHL and continues to grow and grow into a better player. When people ask me who I’m a fan of on that team…it’s not Zach Parise or Martin Brodeur or Ilya Kovalchuk…it’s David Clarkson. Why? Because I was right about that kid. What he represented back then was what I was looking for in what it takes to make it into the NHL. It was when NJD made him a Devil that I realized…maybe I do understand this game.
The funny thing about Clarky…I hear he’s a fan of mine. So it’s funny to know we’re a fan of each other. That’s the kid I picked as the kid to make it…and he did. It was that pick that made me realize that I could make it as a hockey writer.
After I did my first exclusive with Clarky, one of the reporters said to me that when I asked David for an interview, he said David had lit up like a kid in a candy store. He said, “You know that this interview is going to be a good one.” Indeed, it was. It is one of my favorite interviews…only because we were fighting back the tears. I knew that if one of us broke down and cried, the other one would too. But I will hand it to him…he’s the first hockey player that ever made me feel like crying. You have to have tissues with you when you read that exclusive.
I also want to thank Ilya Kovalchuk. Kind of strange that this new Devil would make the thank yous in my career, but sometime before the summer of Kovalchuk, I had this dream about him saying that he was looking out for me and my career. It didn’t make sense to me until later when his agent told me to call him and he re-confirmed with me that Ilya told me the truth. If he told me he was signing with the Devils, then that’s what he was going to do.
He had given me the most coveted information in all of the NHL and I was holding onto it as if he never said it to me at all.
Even before I launched my post saying that it wasn’t the Kings…their fans had already started a nasty campaign against me because I wrote a piece on how the Devils were building around Kovalchuk. Guess what? I had help with that article. The article was written the way they wanted it written…they being the Kovalchuk camp.
Hints were dropped left and right. Not just by me, but on the Puck Agency’s website every single time I wrote something supporting what we now know is true…Kovalchuk was going to the Devils because of all of the reasons I stated.
When we were in LA, we both got chirped on by the Kings fans. It was bad…I mean, it was really bad. All throughout the game, people that didn’t even follow me on Twitter were sending one nasty tweet after another about me and Kovalchuk. It was really bad.
I actually asked Jamie Langenbrunner what he thought of the whole thing after the game. He was the captain after all, and one of the guys that I had the largest amount of respect for. His comment about the whole situation actually made me feel better. He said that they must have really thought they were getting Kovalchuk, but it was obvious that he never intended to go there to begin with.
After that game, Kovy’s agent told me he had put in a good word for me with one of the top sports magazines around. That’s what the dream meant that they’d be looking out for me and my career.
It’s odd having to go through ridicule along with a hockey player just because he broke to you exactly what he planned on doing in free agency. I even remember how he did it. A Russian reporter was wanting to interview him, but he noticed I was hanging around waiting to ask him something, so he told the other reporter to wait. I asked the question and he told me exactly what he was going to do. He told no one else in that locker room.
If it wasn’t for Kovy, I’d never have gone to my first Devils practice. I felt like he tricked me into going just so I could do this interview with him [interview to be released next week]. I’ve tried to go before, but then it gets canceled, or I get stuck in traffic trying to get to Anaheim! But at least I got to check off one more thing from my Bucket List: Attend a Devils practice.
There are other players around the league that have tried to help my career as well, and I’d like to say thanks to them as well. Even players I don’t know personally have tried to help my career out, all because of what they heard about me. I appreciate it, guys. Even all of you boys from Phoenix…yeah…you know who you are (BizNasty and company).
[Oh, and thanks Biz for launching Play Money. Of all the friggin people to launch Play Money...you made it more popular than I expected it to be in the first three days. I don't even cover your team...but thanks for helping a girl out who didn't even ask for it.]
I know it’s hard to understand why I’m saying this is my final season. Most people who dream about becoming a sports writer dream about being in that press box. I never had a dream about being in that press box. I had a dream about being a GM. I actually have a piece of paper up on my dream wall that I look at every time I’m in my office. It says DREAM: to be the first female NHL GM.
It just became a different dream when I got there. In other words, that whole ‘living the dream’ is exactly what it’s been. Who would ever believe that I was doing what I was doing? Heck, when I tell people what I’ve just done or where I’ve just been I have to say it again to myself sometimes…even I think…no, that didn’t happen…but then I see the pictures…I hear the recordings on my phone saying…oh yes, it did happen. It seems like it’s a dream, but it’s my dream that just so happens to be very real.
I aspired to be a writer when I was a kid. Now, I want to write and photograph the world. I don’t want to be limited to just hockey anymore. That means moving onto the next stage. In other words…that lockout…who knows how well the book will be received, but the more and more I talk to people about it they realize…this is that book the world needs. That’s the book I’m writing…a book that the world needs. That’s my dream I’m making into a reality.
I also want to say thanks to Lou Lamoriello for believing I was worthy enough to cover his team. Thanks to Coach Brent Sutter for saying I deserved to be in there. Thanks to the Devils communications staff for putting up with me. I know I can be a pain. Thanks to the Rangers for not hating me because of that Kasparaitis tell all. Thanks also to all of the agents & media buddies that have made my job a little easier.
Now, I feel like I should mention Zach Parise for some strange reason…maybe…try not to hit me with a golf ball in September. It’ll be my last golf outing with you guys. At least, make it memorable and stop aiming to hit me with the golf ball [I'm still blaming you for that second golf ball out of nowhere...it came from the general direction you had just ventured off to]. Oh, and score more goals this season. I’ll be keeping track.
So in my final season, there will be a bucket list of things I need to do before the end. I originally wanted to put down ‘make NHL history’ as one of them, but then I reminded myself that I already did that. Only a few people know that I am a part of NHL history…and that doesn’t mean witnessing Marty Brodeur’s 552nd. It means that the reason why new media was credentialed into the NHL…I was the first. I paved the way for the rest of you guys. Some guys in the media know about it, but I was the person that the NHL let in first back in Prague. New media, as in…website based media. I was the first. The reason why I was the first…because Lou Lamoriello made me the first one in the history of the NHL.
Your thanks (for all those credentialed website based media) really goes to Lou. And for those who say I’m an embarrassment to bloggers everywhere…re-read that last paragraph. If I was…none of you would have been allowed in.
So this season, I plan on it being like that Highway to Hell when Dean (Supernatural) knows that in a year he’s going to die and go to hell…so he lived like there was no tomorrow. Me, I just want to enjoy every single second left in this season. It will conclude following the NHL Awards. Winter Adams and I agreed to stay an entire week in Vegas next year and just do something beyond work next time.
I think this last road trip with the Rangers through Europe will be something very special. All I can say is…what happens on the road…stays on the road. Either way, it’s just nice that we’ll be back in Prague again…the same place where I started my NHL career. First item on the Bucket List: Rangers Nesting Dolls (signed by the entire squad). Like I said…I’m making this trip memorable.
But I’m saving all the fun for the Devils road trip. Three seasons with the Devils…we’ve got to have one really damn good road trip, right?
Oh, and thank you to George Stroumboulopoulos (aka STROMBO) from CBC for outing my fandom to the world a few weeks ago. It’s been the greatest disguise of my career. He outed me on Twitter as a former Rangers fan. Funny, because everyone thinks I’m a Devils fan. I must have been doing my job right all along.
Now…just because I’m ending my hockey writing career doesn’t mean I’m tossing the NHL GM dream away. Oh no. That door will remain open. Maybe some cool GM will call me up and say if you want this job, let me show you the ropes and prep you for your future. Or, I can just buy a team… eh, I leave that opportunity open for the future.