There’s a question I’ve been asked off and on during my 67 years in the newspaper business that always grabs my attention.
How did I become so passionately interested in writing about sports at an unusually young age? Or words to that effect.
My response comes as fast as an Al MacInnis slapshot.
My father began taking me to hockey games at the old arena in downtown New Glasgow when I was four or five years old. It was during the war and before I walked into a school room for the first time.
Nothing unusual really.
You just have to watch a hockey or baseball game on TV, look closely when there’s a crowd shot, and see those excited little kids with their parents, hopefully wearing Maple Leafs or Blue Jays duds.
It’s part of growing up.
Not often do you spot unhappy faces when the cameraman zooms in – unless a youngster just missed getting a puck or catching a ball.
Despite being so young, I still recall a lot about that old rink down by the river. I still remember the uncomfortable wooden benches, my earliest trips into the New Glasgow Bombers dressing room, shyly shaking hands with seemingly tall guys like Tiger Mackie, Alex Robertson or Foster Dickson.
I still reminisce, too, about other childhood habits.
I’ve never forgotten about getting an allowance on Saturday mornings, maybe 25 cents at first, then a raise to half a dollar. I knew where it would be spent.
Off to the Academy Theatre, a block down Forbes Street from home, for those double features. The first was always a comedy, maybe the Bowery Boys, East Side Kids, or Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The second was likely Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Hopalong Cassidy.
By the age of 10, there was something else exciting about my Saturday routine. After the movies, I’d head for Royal Sweets to spend my last 10 cents. What did I buy? Not a comic book, but the latest Hockey News.
In those infant days of the publication, it was a tabloid newspaper – and I loved it. Every week I read it from cover to cover. Sometimes more than once.
That ritual about The Hockey News lasted only a few months. That Christmas, in 1948, Santa put a subscription notice in my stocking. It might have cost $2 for a year.
My initial thought was that I wouldn’t miss another issue – and I didn’t.
So come forward 73 years and I’ll explain why those memories are flowing again as though the events occurred just yesterday, or when I found my latest Hockey News in the mailbox last week.
The publication – in case you’re not familiar – has grown up immensely since my first subscription.
Most visible is the format. No longer is it a tabloid paper. Rather, it’s an attractive magazine, not just in full colour, but produced on the highest quality of glossy newsprint you’ll find in any major magazine.
I’m bringing all this up because of the publisher’s column in the latest issue. Graeme Roustan, owner, executive chairman and publisher of his firm, Roustan Media, writes interestingly in each edition.
He bought The Hockey News in January 2018 and, wow, what a job he’s doing.
The old newspaper version was what I thought about as I thumbed through the 2021-22 Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide. Up front, Roustan’s column addresses the fact it’s the start of the 75th season for hockey’s “bible.”
His words: “(The magazine) is an iconic institution that must survive us all so that future generations can fall in love with the game in the way that only readers of The Hockey News can.”
The 61-year-old Roustan mentions he’s been a regular reader himself since he was a six-year-old. So I’m one up on him. I began reading hockey’s bible 12 years before he was born.
But I definitely can’t compare our careers. I couldn’t hold a candle to what he has achieved in his lifetime.
That’s okay. I became a fan of his the first time I read his hopes for his new purchase. That admiration simply expanded as he started living up to his goals.
If you aren’t aware, I was a regular contributor to The Hockey News during the 1960s when Roustan was a toddler discovering rubber pucks and plastic hockey sticks.
I covered the Maritime Senior Hockey League when it was a significant force in the hockey world, featuring teams like the Windsor Maple Leafs, Amherst Ramblers, New Glasgow Rangers and Halifax Wolverines.
I was hired by Hockey News co-founder Ken McKenzie. He operated the paper on what was commonly called a tight budget.
I don’t recall the subject of my first submission in 1961, only what transpired when I attempted to send my article to Montreal.
I wrote it at home, on a contraption called a typewriter. I carefully put the original copy in an envelope, keeping a carbon copy for myself. I headed proudly to the telegram office downtown. The office attendant thanked me and said the article would be sent within minutes.
Mission accomplished, or so I thought.
Less than an hour later, the telegraph office phoned. The Hockey News, I was informed, wouldn’t accept my story.
The next morning, another call. This time it was McKenzie – calling collect.
He advised me that he never received writers’ articles by telegram. They had to be sent by mail. That was the procedure even for NHL correspondents – all six of them around the six-team league.
Keep in mind that I already mentioned McKenzie’s reputation of operating on a shoestring.
Henceforth, my articles required postage stamps, and I wrote for him until the Maritime league folded five years later.
But back to Roustan.
He says throughout 2021-22, all 16 Hockey News issues will feature the publication’s history as it stickhandles through its 75th season.
I’ll read them all.