Ten years have passed since the forbearer of Raw Charge, Boltsmag, was founded by me. It's hard for me to mark this milestone because blogging is supposed to be a hobby really. After all "blog" is a conjunction of the words "web log" - it's just an online diary kept by a person on themselves or a subject matter.
But it's so much more now than what it was back in 2004 when the whole concept was just starting to hit the mainstream.
I started writing partly out of just trying to give myself something to do (there was more than writing involved - setting up a web site and all the administrative and design tasks tied to it; design) as well as give myself a platform where I wasn't overshadowed in discussion. I also started because, besides fans congregating on message forums at Sunshine Network (now Sun Sports) and the local newspapers, there didn't appear to be a Lightning fan site on the web at that point; the few that you could find through Internet searches were sites from the late 1990's, just before fleeting success gave way to disaster for the Bolts.
Things have clearly changed in ten years regarding hockey blogging. While some of my colleagues who encouraged me or inspired me are still doing what they're doing (Michael Fedor, Tom Benjamin - though he hasn't posted since November) others have seemingly disappeared from the web (Eric McErlain). Some have moved on to bigger things (James Mirtle started blogging in late 2004 and is now beat reports for the Globe and Mail), while others lurk around the SB Nation network (Mike Chen, come on down!).
Networks themselves run the show more than independent blogs now; while you can still find Blogspot and Wordpress based hockey blogs (like, say, former Raw Charge writer Clare Austin's new venture), the landscape is dominated by SB Nation, FanSided, Bloguin, The Nation Network, and other would-be hockey and sports networks that want to be built around passion and interest in writing.
The game of hockey itself has changed too - though the basic arrogance, machismo, and ignorance still rule it in regard to rule enforcement, player safety, and business dealings. Every time the NHL seems to be taking a step forward, they botch up something or other and take steps back in the process. Many will cite Gary Bettman as the problem, but Bettman has served owners and its owners who push for money-making opportunities while turning a blind eye to the game itself. It is owners that continue hiring and employing people out of favors instead of getting experts and setting clear standards.
Some of things that have changed to the game in ten years: Goalies are handcuffed by the trapezoid, the two-line-pass is a-okay, there's finality when games are tied after overtime (and the shootout is fine by me - I like resolution, thank you). Russia has a legit rival to the NHL, while Switzerland is a growing force with the game. After 20 years of sunbelt hockey, non-traditional markets are producing talent (but, don't force out the Canadian boys, eh?), and a salary cap constrains player expenses (while not exactly stopping extravagant contracts from being signed.)
And then there's the Lightning...
One player remains from 10 years ago in future hall of famer Martin St. Louis. I've seen four captains for the club in that time (Dave Andreychuk, Tim Taylor, Vincent Lecavalier and St. Louis), five top-ten draft picks (2008 first overall, 2009 second overall, 2010 sixth overall, 2012 tenth overall, 2013 third overall), three ownership groups (Palace Sports and Entertainment, OK (Not Really) Hockey Group, and Jeff Vinik), three different logo designs employed during that timeframe, five head coaches (John Tortorella, Barry Melrose, Rick Tocchet, Guy Boucher, Jon Cooper), three general managers (Jay Feaster, Brian Lawton, Steve Yzerman), the M-V-P line (St. Louis, Lecavalier, Vaclav Proposal), the Top Gun line (Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik), far too many starting goalies (Nikolai Khabibulin, John Grahame, Johan Holmqvist, Mike Smith, Dan Ellis, Dwayne Roloson, Mathieu Garon, Anders Lindback, Ben Bishop - and folks, that's a short count)...
And Bettman tell Andreychuk to come get his Stanley Cup. I saw that run to the Cup to start my blogging career. And while the 2004-05 NHL lockout killed the Bolts title defense and wiped out much of the fledgling hockey blogosphere... Well, I'm still here.
Much thanks needs to be expressed toward my friend and colleague here on Raw Charge, Cassie McClellan, who started working with me five years ago when we were founding Raw Charge. Without Cassie's humor, perspective, and dedication in the past and present, I wouldn't have been able to keep going. So, thank you Cassie.
I also need to give a shout-out to a long time friend from days before blogging, a friend who has been around to riff on hockey and life with - Keith Short, who was contributing from time to time on Boltsmag in the early going before moving on to other things (but never moving an inch away from the sport). A friend in hockey and a friend in life, thanks Keith.
And then there's the staff here at Raw Charge - both current and former: Alexandra Ackerman, Kyle Alexander, Matt "Don't Trade Vinny" Amos, Clare Austin, Clark Brooks, Carolyn Oswalt-Christians, Patti McDonald, Meredith Qualls, Tina Robinson, Dani Toth, and Nolan Whyte. What you guys bring and have brought to Raw Charge is derived from your own passion and love for sports, for hockey, and for the Lightning. That passion is the most basic aspect to get into writing and to keep doing it.
I have to thank Chad Schnarr of Bolt Prospects, who puts me to shame daily with the site he's got going, I've known him online since before concept of blogging came into the cultural lexicon and consider him a good friend. Bill Philp over at Lightning Shout (along with Alexis Boucher and Jason Haas) also should be acknowledged here - they're one of the independent blogs out there that are hard to find. Mike Gallimore of Bolt Prospects and Bolt Statistics needs be mentioned, as does Pete Choquette of Bolt Prospects too (who no one should underestimate or cross during a hockey discussion at any time).
If it wasn't for James Mirtle, I likely would have retired from blogging. He approached me (while he was manager of hockey here at SB Nation) to join the network in February 2009. He's why there is a Raw Charge, and I greatly respect him. Thanks also go to Tyler Bleszinski, the great sage and maestro of SB Nation, for being approachable and supportive when necessary. Former hockey section manager Brandon Worley and current hockey section manager Travis Hughes get my thanks. Former Hockey Wilderness writer Bryan Reynolds; my friend Donny Rivette at Litter Box Cats, former Birdwatchers Anonymous site manager Matthew Gunning, the guys over at Blueshirt Banter (Joe Fortunato, Mike Murphy and Kevin Power specifically, with a shout out to site founder Jim Schmiedeberg too). My friend and semi-retired hockey blogger / insufferable bastard Jes Golbez, who keeps me on my toes and laughing (and cringing) all the way. I also want to voice appreciation to Lyle Richardson at Spectors Hockey.
There are probably a thousand other people who I could rattle off here to thanks, but this is running long. You haven't been forgotten or overlooked. Many of you are on my mind right now.
And then there are you, the readers and the members of the Raw Charge community. I'm not sure how many of you were reading me way-back-when (or how many of you suffer my long-winded pieces now) but I thank you for being there for the ride.
Lastly, and most importantly, I need to thank the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. While there are things that need to be said specifically for Raw Charge (and that'll come up in March, just you wait!), it's just the matter of fact you've let me take this site and this hobby to another level with a degree of access, specifically Brian Breseman and the media relations staff as well as former Lightning staff Julie Dolak and current Digital Media director James Royer for including me in the occasional "Lightning Roundtable" feature on the team's official web site.