I asked my staff to give me their own favorite stories from last season, and explain why they wrote what they did, and how it helped illustrate breakthroughs their work might have given them about the game.
Embarking on this project was, personally, one of the greatest experiences I have had to date. [Granted, you’re still in your early 20s. - Acha] When Acha came to me with the idea I was unsure how it would play out. She initially got me in contact with Krystof and we were able to find a game that suited our interview time.
Krystof was a joy to work with and was readily available to answer any and all questions on his life and work. He was kind, informative, and most of all really cared about his music. Whether he was playing his own compositions or his expertly arranged adaptions on top 40 hits, he played with great care. It was nice to see someone well into their career still enjoying the day-to-day grind.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with arena DJ Sean Bovelsky and VP of Arena Entertainment, John Franzone. Getting insight into the three men’s chemistry and how they work together to produce a night at Amalie Arena was fantastic. What they do nightly is quite the feat. They are some of the unsung heroes of the sports world.
It was truly incredible getting a look into the inner workings of the arena’s sights and sounds. Never have I done something that so well bridged the gap between music and sports. It was a pleasure to shed light on the arts within the sports community and hope to follow such stories well into the future.
Acha adds: It is a rare thing to have a writer on staff who is also getting a degree in music. Bethelhub pitches in with necessary writing like previews and recaps, but he also writes about the music of the game from the perspective of a hockey fan AND musician. He wrote an interesting article about Nashville and its musical history that ran just after their Cup run. But I also truly appreciate the day he pitched in with a piece about the Bolts’ new jersey when it was revealed at the NHL Awards. And there will be more music writing soon, oh yes.
Allovimo/Alex says: One of the great things I got to do this past season was start a Syracuse Crunch podcast with Brandon. Being able to talk Crunch hockey with him over the season was certainly a highlight for me, even when the topics of conversation were difficult. This was never more true than during our last podcast of the season, recorded just the day after the Crunch had come up two wins short of a championship.
I had traveled and was still in Grand Rapids when Brandon suggested we just go ahead and record. I was hesitant because I was very emotional and not in the best frame of mind, but we went for it anyway. We knew that our honesty and heartfelt reactions to events surrounding the team were what made our particular podcast special. Honestly, our immediate reactions as we both struggled to come to terms with everything really made that episode, and in the end I was glad he offered to record that day.
Throughout the podcast, Brandon did a marvelous job handling my/our emotions. He kept the episode on track with thoughtful conversation topics and questions. He also was generous with giving me time and space when I needed it (see the 42:48 mark of that episode, where dead-air stretches on for what felt like the longest 10 seconds ever as I tried desperately not to cry). I deeply appreciated both his planning for that episode and the friendship and kindness he showed while we recorded it.
Acha adds: That podcast broke my heart, okay. But to add my own thoughts about Brandon’s work, he stalwartly covered the team this season as our credentialed Syracuse Crunch reporter, sometimes despite his own schedule as a student, and never failed to dig deep into the dressing room to get answers after games. I enjoyed his exultant piece about the Crunch competing in the Calder Cup final. I enjoyed his preview before round two. And ... this piece was some of the toughest writing for any fan to do, but Brandon did it. (Trigger warning, Crunch fans.) Last season was epic; I hope next season is just as epic.
Acha says: One of the cooler things we tried last season was publishing articles in two languages. This was to pay attention to Tampa Bay, the city, and its strong Cuban heritage. BoltsGuy04, our FanPoster extraordinaire, has always pitched in with great work for our site — but I was overjoyed when he said he’d be able to write bilingually. I had to quickly find a Spanish-fluent editor! I chose this story in particular because it encapsulates how thoughtful BoltsGuy04 is about all topics related to hockey. He also shows up to pitch in on long-running series, like the Top 25 Under 25, and is totally Raw Charge’s black ace.
Extragalactic — Interview with Nikita Zadorov: “I love the Avalanche. But if we don’t come to an agreement, I will play for CSKA”
My favorite thing that I translated is Roman Solovyov's in-depth interview with Alexey Lipanov, but it is also my most recent work, so I had to go with something else—and my personal number two happened to be the article I made for Mile High Hockey. I couldn’t bring myself to argue that it wasn’t even remotely about the Lightning; seriously, it’s so good that picking anything else over it would have been a crime.
The interviewer, Alexey Shevchenko, is a rather controversial figure in the Russian hockey media: his straightforwardness, bold humor and often brazen attitude are loved by a lot of people but hated by just as many others (including some players and even Russian national team head coach Oleg Znarok).
One thing is clear for everyone: he knows how to evoke a response. And this piece is no exception. While I’ve noticed that most lengthy interviews given by Russian players to their own media tend to go further than “we have to play our game”, Shevchenko reached a whole new level with this one. The conversation flows naturally through a number of topics and gives a great perspective of the Avs locker room and Nikita Zadorov’s very own personality.
Acha adds: CAN YOU BELIEVE WE ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE RUSSIAN TRANSLATORS WHO DEIGN TO WRITE FOR OUR BLOG? THANK YOU, IGOR AND EXTRAGALACTIC. I have loved everything she and her counterpart Igor Nikonov have done for us (do you want a site login yet, Igor?). Their grammar is better than most English speakers, and their translations have even been lauded by Russians on Reddit. And once, their translations were even used by TSN. I can’t wait to see what next season brings, and I’m excited to read their every word.
It’s no secret that the OHL is my bread and butter, and given Steve Yzerman’s penchant for drafting out of Ontario, Raw Charge is a natural fit for me. I have written a number of posts about Bolts prospects over the past year or so, but this Boris Katchouk piece stands out in my mind.
Writing a prospect report is one thing. When you watch and read enough about junior hockey, it’s easy enough to write a scouting report about a player. The issue becomes originality. You can put together a scouting report, but at the end of the day, many people would just rather watch the player for themselves.
With this Katchouk piece, I attempted to push further. I spoke with an executive with his team in the Soo. I researched his family history and listened to Boris himself talk about life playing hockey on a few podcasts. I tried my best to paint a larger picture. We learn about Katchouk as a player, as the son of a single mother, and as a Canadian kid that is proud of his Russian heritage.
It was fun to learn, and write, more about a player than just what we can get from watching him on the ice.
Acha adds: We were lucky to have Tom’s junior hockey insight while we could (my favorite piece of his was when he pushed back against our opinions in his Cal Foote article in the Top 25 Under 25). Now he’s gone off and become the Managing Editor of his own SBNation site, Mile High Hockey. Did you know he’s also the co-founder of The Blogger’s Tribune, and the father of two young children? This guy is like the Army Knife of hockey blogging, he can do it all. I hope he has time for us next season, but if not, you can catch his writing over here at MHH.
I was mostly the preview/recap person this season so I didn’t really have anything that great for this “best of” series [Pfft. - Acha]; however, the one set of posts I did that have caught on were the podcast episodes.
A little history: when I initially contacted the blog for a chance to write during my last deployment in the Navy, I’d inquired about doing a podcast with the old editor (John Fontana). Conversations were productive, but I didn’t take into account how busy I’d be when I moved from Virginia to Florida. Or how school would take up a large portion of my time (it still does).
So, because of my inability to really put time towards the idea, it never materialized. Once I was brought on board by Achariya in mid-December I put the podcast idea on the shelf and focused on my previews. Then the off-season came along and Acha asked about the podcast and well, here we are!
I’ll be honest, when I started the podcast I was expecting maybe 30-50 listeners, tops. I don’t have a big Twitter following so all the promotion for it was basically up to Raw Charge’s twitter account. Well, you guys knocked my expectations out of the park. 148 listens on episode one, 232 on episode two, 251 on episode three, and 166 on episode four. That’s just on SoundCloud, this doesn’t count the hits the actual articles got or the listens via iTunes (iTunes gives us no statistical information on how the podcast is performing).
The best one was definitely when Erik Erlendsson joined me for a free agency recap. It’s the best episode I’ve had and he’s stated that he would happily guest again during the season. I’m hoping episode four’s lower numbers were mainly due to the timing of it and not an actual disinterest in the content, because the podcast is going full-steam ahead this coming season.
There is also a bit of information many of you don’t know about me coming into next season that will be revealed probably around preseason. I’m pretty excited about it and I’m really hoping the podcast continues to grow. There’s an audience there and I just have to get y’all to consistently tune in.
For real though, I didn’t think people would enjoy listening to me banter about the Lightning, but here I am with a promising start. Thank you to everyone who has tuned in and supported the podcast. Please pass the word about it so we can expand the audience and in turn the community!
Acha adds: This humble Navy veteran right here doesn’t think his previews were good, when they were some heartfelt, enthusiastic writing that I truly enjoyed reading and editing. If you guys were following his grim, hopeful, stressed-out previews near the end of last season, they ramped up in intensity until my favorite one, the Dallas Stars preview. Matt never pulls his punches, and if something blunt has to be said about the team he loves, he says it. The best part of his writing is that his written voice is almost exactly the same as his podcast voice: full of passion for the team. It’s been a pleasure to encourage his self-expression all year long.
Rxlands — Our artist!
Acha says: One day Saima said to me, “Do we want an artist?” And I said, “Uh. Of course we do?” And this is how Rxlands came to grace our pages. He’s doing art for the upcoming game previews, and he’s done art to mark big franchise milestones. We’re lucky to have him, and I’m truly glad he’s part of our team.
John Fontana — “And down the stretch they come...!”
Disappointment can mar a season as much as drama and setbacks can. And yet, sometimes a club defies how set back they are and stays alive in the most valuable area of a pro sports season: Contention. The Lightning's 2016-17 season had its setbacks, its flaws, its drama and its failings leading up to late March... But they survived. Contention — and of course hope — persisted in the dying days of the NHL season. Even if 2016-17 was disappointing in full, hope, chance and contention survived.
Acha adds: What more can be said of the site founder, John Fontana? I think he said it best himself in his lovely farewell to the site, but I’m just grateful that he’s kept his hand in enough to help out with Gameday Threads and the occasional editorial. Come back any time, Mr. Fontana!
I have an issue with writing for Raw Charge: it’s that because I’m the Editor in Chief (and usually editing and organizing), I tend to take the assignments that nobody else is able to. This means that I’m the pinch hitter for stuff like the Thanksgiving day links, or the New Year’s Eve game recap. My work therefore is fine, but not fabulous.
I’m just a writer over at Pension Plan Puppets (Leafs blog!), but it gives me the freedom to write whimsical stuff like the NHL Awards mad lib (above), or this story about my home-town team, the Orlando Solar Bears, and their epic playoff-wrecking line brawl. I also wrote a pretty good argument for noted Southerner Auston Matthews to receive the Masterton nomination from the Leafs this past year; sadly, they didn’t take my advice.
But what have I written for the Tampa Bay Lightning? Just...random stuff. I usually try my best to keep my opinion out of it, but perhaps I should learn from my work for PPP and cut loose about the Bolts here in our blog, kind of like I’ve done for Puck Daddy. Live and learn.
But what are my thoughts on the rest of this website that I love?
It’s fantastic, and I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I do.
Alex/Allovimo adds: (I’m doing this without her permission or knowledge. Muahaha.)
Much of my understanding of the hockey world out of Syracuse comes from discussing all facets of the sport with Acha. Her approachability is equaled by her intelligence, and her wicked sense of humor makes discourse with her easy.
During this past season, Acha wrote a hilarious article that was sprinkled with all of the incredible characteristics that make her, her: Hockey Santa, please let the Canadiens face the Bruins in the first round of playoffs. I absolutely enjoyed it, and I’m thankful for both her leadership as our editor and her narrative abilities. We’re lucky to have her!