Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Media on Ice-Howard Berger

For many of us in the US FAN590 is a bookmark on our computers, along with MOJO Toronto and Team1200 in Ottawa. It is great to hear a station that dedicates so much time to talking hockey year round and Howard Berger is the guy. He has been flown all over for this lock-out and everytime they "go to Howard" all typing stops on my computer...He was kind enough to talk to me for an hour and a half recently (until 12:30 am) from his hotel room in Detroit as he covered an entire day of the GM meetings...hard to find a nicer guy in Hockey.
EK:How did you end up covering hockey?
HB: I covered hockey part-time as a freelancer beginning in 1979, but began full-time coverage and travel with the Maple Leafs at the start of the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. I was commissioned to write a book/diary on traveling with the Leafs during that 48-game schedule and, of course, I filed reports for my radio station. The following summer (1995), we lost the Leafs' broadcast rights and I was told to keep traveling as a reporter. I've been doing it ever since.
EK:What do you enjoy about covering hockey?
HB: I most enjoy the people in hockey (majority of them, anyway). The travel is tiring and I miss my family when I'm away, but I also enjoy seeing the other cities, and it allows me to do some better work around the Leafs when there aren't the usual 100 or so reporters, like at home practises/games.
EK:What has been the biggest frustration covering the lockout?
HB: The biggest frustration, by far, covering the lockout has been the general lack of cooperation from both sides, when compared to 1994-95. The secrecy of meeting locations was not a part of that process, and I've never figured why it's been a part of this one. Clearly, sending the hockey media on wild-goose chases has not aided the process this time; there is no CBA. How worse could the situation be if the owners and/or players had informed us of the time and place of the get-togethers? It's childish behavior by both sides, and I think it's their collaborative way of expressing a general disdain for the media.
EK:How have your job responsibilities changed at the paper?
HB: Responsibilities really haven't changed. It's my job to cover hockey, in whatever circumstance is required. When games are being played, I cover them. When there's a lockout, I become a labor reporter.
EK: With all the layoffs, do you fear for your job?
HB: I've had no indication that my job is in any peril, and I'm very appreciative of my company for looking at the big picture and realizing that hockey will eventually return, and the Leafs will need to be covered, as always. In the meantime, there have been enough hockey-related matters to keep me busy.
EK:Do you want to cover hockey when it returns or cover another sport?
HB: The thought of covering hockey with replacement players makes my skin crawl, and I'm not alone in that regard. And though the people who run the sport are acting irresponsibly, it hasn't yet dampened my enthusiasm for the game. Hockey is very important in Toronto, and that makes the notion of returning to "normal" work one day quite appealing.
EK:Do you think the your relationship with the players or owners will be strained because of an anger you feel if/when hockey resumes?
HB: I've tried, like always, to be honest in expressing opinions on the subject, and I've never been solely in the camp of one side or the other. If there are fires to put out when hockey returns, so be it.
EK: Do you feel the media has done a good job covering the lock-out?
HB: Generally, the media has done a fine job, with the notable exception of those few who are married to one side or the other -- have become mouthpieces for that side -- and could therefore never report on the subject with any impartiality.
EK:Were you Hockey God, what would your CBA and NHL look like?
HB: Generally, I do not favor a salary cap. I believe the NHL should be subject to the same laws of any business venture -- survival of the fittest. If 30 teams cannot be properly sustained, the NHL should reduce in size to a workable number, in markets where it has a chance to thrive. The fact the profitable NHL teams refuse to share revenues proves that the owners, themselves, aren't truly interested in a 30-team league. I believe that the NHL, in the not-too distant future, will become an 18-24 team league, and will return to some grassroot locations. The fantasy of being considered alongside the other major sports was destroyed for good when no major U.S. television network offered the league a penny of up-front money. Hockey is, has been, and always will be a regional sport, and all the rule tinkering in the world won't change that.

Tomorrow: Kevin Greenstein from Inside Hockey

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