The human side of hockey reporting
Grand Forks Herald hockey writer Brad Schlossman goes beyond the stats
Hockey fan or not, most residents of the greater Grand Forks area know the sport is an important part of the community’s social fabric.
And much of what they know about University of North Dakota hockey comes from stories written by Grand Forks Herald sports reporter Brad Schlossman, a UND graduate who’s covered Fighting Hawks hockey for the past 18 years. .
Providing the relaunch of the Jack Hagerty Lecture Series, Schlossman last week gave an inside look at how he’s covered UND hockey. Not only has the award-winning reporter earned a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and best-informed sports reporters in the region, but he’s also grown as a journalist as a result of his experiences.
In introducing Schlossman for his lecture at the Memorial Union, Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said, “Sports journalism is a multifaceted enterprise, and we’re proud to have one of our own successful alumni here today to share his perspective.”
Learning is key
So what’s the secret to good sports reporting?
“It’s great to know things, but I think the best reporters aren’t the ones who know the most; they’re the ones who can learn the most,” Schlossman explained. “If you can learn the most, you can translate that into a story.”
Schlossman recounted how he grew up playing sports and came to the conclusion that sports reporters “had the greatest jobs in the world.” In pursuit of his career goal, he enrolled at UND as a communication major, graduating in 2004. He took a class in editing, taught by now-retired Grand Forks Herald editor Mike Jacobs. It convinced him that he wanted to be a sportswriter for the Herald.
“One of the things I was struck by was – one of the guiding principles everyone had in the newsroom – they always made decisions with their readers in mind,” Schlossman recalled. “They stuck to their principles. It didn’t matter if it was going to hurt the bottom line for advertising.”
Following an internship at the newspaper and a part-time job, Schlossman broke into covering hockey in 2005 when the International Ice Hockey Federal World Junior Championship hockey tournament was held at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Because of the National Hockey League’s player lockout, the tournament featured many future NHL stars, Including Canada’s Sydney Crosby and Russia’s Alex Ovechkin.
In addition, Virg Foss, who had covered UND hockey for 36 years, announced his plans to retire from the Herald. Schlossman joined Foss in covering the World Juniors in Grand Forks.
A good mentor
“I was very lucky that Virg was an unbelievable resource for me,” Schlossman said. “To this day, Virg and I talk every single week. If I have questions about anything historically, he’s the first person I go to.”
Foss, who attended the lecture, noted how Schlossman has gown into the job of hockey reporting.
“One of the things I’ve seen evolve is that he’s writing more of the personal stories that he’s really gotten great at,” Foss said. “When he first took over, he was great on the basics. I’d read his stories and say, ‘That’s way too many facts!’ He had them all nailed perfectly, but now he’s into the human-interest stories, as well as being a great factual reporter.”
While highlighting some of the favorite stories he’s written during his career, Schlossman noted that many weren’t about the games he covered, but the players, the coaches, the officials and the myriad of hockey personnel associated with the sport.
“I think the best stories are often not about hockey itself,” he said. “As sports reporters, you always focus on the games and the goals and the assists — all of this ends up as statistics. But the best stories are always the ones about the people involved.”
For example, Schlossman inquired about an on-ice official who got hit in the face with a puck and had to leave a game. He learned the injured official underwent extensive surgery and hospitalization that left him with $10,000 in medical bills.
“I asked him how the league covered the cost and found it wasn’t covered because the officials work as independent contractors,” Schlossman recounted. “At that point, my story completely changed.
“I wrote the story, and the following year, the league took out an insurance policy for officials,” Schlossman said. “So they are now covered. The officials were very happy about that, and they talk to me now all the time.”
On the road again
Road trips with the UND hockey team have resulted in some of Schlossman’s most memorable stories, as well as helping to create a good rapport with players and coaches. There have been bus trips during blizzards, flights diverted to New Mexico, fires in the team’s hotel and a Fighting Hawks player, who wasn’t supposed to play, scoring the game-winning goal after rushing out of a restaurant where he’d been eating a burger and wings prior to gametime.
“Every single person that’s associated with the team has their own stories that are really compelling,” Schlossman said.
Part of the attraction of covering the UND hockey beat is that you never know what someone will say.
“My second weekend on the beat, I got one of the best quotes of all time,” Schlossman related.
A coach from a visiting team that lost a close game to UND vented about the officiating, making his true feelings known about the referee and two linesmen.
According to Schlossman, “He said, ‘All three of them – Moe, Larry and Curly – were sniffing glue.’
“So we got a Three Stooges reference and a sniffing-glue reference,” he laughed. “I’ve never got a quote like that from a coach in the 18 years since.”
During his career, Schlossman has seen a great deal of change, such as the increased use of the internet to make information immediately available, websites to track games all over the country and the emergence of social media.
“The challenge for us is we have to provide something more than that,” he said. “We have to interpret what the game means. We have to deliver something that the box score doesn’t tell. It’s a challenge to deliver more.”
The Hagerty Lecture Series was named for the late Jack Hagerty, longtime editor of the Grand Forks Herald, who retired in 1984. The employees of the Herald recognized his outstanding and dedicated service to the newspaper and the community. They established a lecture series through an endowment to the UND Department of Communication. Hagerty was married to Herald columnist Marylin Hagerty.