Silver Seven Sens Interview: Bruce Garrioch
The long-time Sun reporter answered a range of questions for a new feature on the site.
Here at Silver Seven, we're starting a new feature in which we ask a few questions to a member of the local media. The idea is to get to know a bit more about the writers and reporters that you hear a lot from over the course of a season. To kick things off, I decided to go to the least-expected source: Bruce Garrioch of the Sun. The relationship between blogs and the Sun hasn't been great, but Garrioch was nice enough to answer our questions.
S7S: You grew up in the area. Did you ever imagine there would be an NHL team in town, and that you’d be one of the main reporters for the team for its whole existence?
BG: I grew up in Orleans and I can tell you without question I never thought there’d be an NHL team here. I do remember going to a 67’s game as a kid when they ran a campaign to the pack the Civic Centre to try to attract Peter Gilbert, who then owned the New Jersey Devils, to try to get him to move his team here. He attended a game and got a standing ovation but really it was just so they could get a better lease deal in The Swamp. Even when Terrace Investments made a bid for a team I never thought they’d get it. I will never forget our headline on the front that day, ‘They shot. We scored.’ I always liked the Rough Riders growing up. Had season tickets with my brothers and some family. Never missed a game. Always wanted to cover the Rough Riders and was thrilled to get that chance when I started at the Sunday Herald in 1986. Covering this team from Day One is an honour - thought I may have seen a Stanley Cup by now and I’d write a book if that ever happens!
S7S: You’ve been a Sens reporter for so long it’s hard to imagine you as something else, but was there ever a time you wanted to do something else as a career?
BG: Not really. I always liked sports growing up. I used to sit in my basement and call games on a tape recorder while watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night. Just seemed to make sense. I got a job in 1985 at the Sunday Herald working for 15 hours on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until midnight for $75. Yes, that is $5 an hour. My boss was a guy named Chris Stevenson. We had some great fun back then. The paper was bought by the Sun and it all worked out well. Somebody asked me what I wanted to do in 20 years about 20 years ago and I said, "Cover the Senators." A dream job. Why would you want to do anything else? I’ve seen North America and I’ve seen the world because of this job.
S7S: You’ve been at this a long time. What would you say you’re most proud of in your career?
BG: Tough question. My work ethic I think. I always hope people look at me and say that guy’s a hard worker. That’s what got me here. I’ve always worked hard. Not the prettiest writer you’re ever going to read. You have to work hard to get the story. That’s the key. Sometimes it takes one phone call, sometimes two and sometimes 20. Although it’s changed a lot with texting and twitter. To be honest, those two things have cut down on my phone bill a lot. They always told me I had the highest phone bill at the paper. I’m proud of the fact I covered the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, 2006 in Turin, Italy, 2009 Stanley Cup final between Detroit/Pittsburgh, three Grey Cups, that I got an exclusive interview with Alexei Yashin in Switzerland (during one of his holdouts) and the sitdown we had with Eugene Melnyk before the club’s first game this year after his liver transplant surgery.
S7S: Has there ever been a time you’ve written something you later regretted?
BG: Nope. Never. I don’t think I’ve ever had to apologize for anything I’ve written. You have to stand by what you write or you shouldn’t hit the send button.
S7S: Having covered hockey professionally, do you ever just sit back and watch a hockey game for fun?
BG: Absolutely. At home. Centre Ice package. Watch pretty much every Toronto Maple Leafs’ game simply because I find everything that surrounds them and the whole atmosphere so intriguing. The other teams I watch a lot are the Boston Bruins and really like the Winnipeg Jets broadcast at home because there’s so much atmosphere in that rink.
S7S: Are there any other sports you follow besides hockey?
BG: Golf without question. Try to watch golf whenever I have a chance. I play probably 50-to-60 games of golf every summer. I’m not very good but I enjoy playing. Usually 35 rounds and maybe 20 nines. Play every Wednesday night with my wife and then we stop in the clubhouse at Hylands or somewhere on the way home for something to eat. In the summer, I try to time my days so that if I am working I can at least get nine in at the start of the day or the end of the day. My life in the winter is consumed by hockey and the summers aren’t much quieter anymore but there has to be time to play. I have a phone and I’ve written more than one story on my phone while trying to squeeze in a game. We’re going to go to the British Open at some point. If I could cover another event I’d love to do a golf tourney - Canadian Open, PGA event, Ryder Cup ... wouldn’t matter.
S7S: It’s well known that in Ottawa, the media are good friends with team management. In what ways do you think this has helped or hurt your reporting?
BG: I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at here but I’ll answer the question. I’ve known Bryan Murray for 20 years and I respect him greatly. He has spent his lifetime in hockey and knows more than me. Why wouldn’t I? I knew Pierre Dorion’s father Pierre Sr. before he passed away a week before the NHL entry draft in Hartford in 1994 and I have the same amount of respect for Pierre Dorion Jr. that I had for his Dad. I first met Randy Lee in 1986 when he was coaching the Ottawa Jr. Senators and I respect him greatly as well. I think there’s mutual respect on both sides that didn’t exist in the past with some of the previous management. Helped or hurt? I don’t think it’s made any difference. I do think this management is accessible and tells the truth. Not sure there’s any complaints with that and I do think that helps you cover the story. Some may think there’s a conspiracy theory at work here. There isn’t.
S7S: Who have been some of your favourite people to interview? Is there anyone you haven’t interviewed that you wish you’d got the chance?
BG: Nobody gives better answers than Bryan Murray. He combines his answers with his dry wit and is just excellent. Daniel Alfredsson, Curtis Leschyshyn, Jason Spezza, Clarke MacArthur, Patrick Lalime, Ken Hammond, Andrew McBain and Alexei Yashin to name a few Senators. I’ve never gotten the chance to interview P.K. Subban one-on-one but I think I’d like to do that one day. I think what he says is so interesting in a day where many athletes use boring quotes.
S7S: Which Sens team was better: the 2002-03 team that lost to the Devils in the conference finals, or the 2006-07 team that went to the Cup finals?
BG: I’m going to say 2006-07 only because they got to the finals. I get the debate and it’s a great question because the door was open for that 2002-03 team and maybe a team with Zdeno Chara on the blueline might have been able to combat the Ducks better.
S7S: As much as blogs might hate to admit it, the majority of Sens fans get their news and opinion from The Sun. Does it change anything for you, knowing you shape the opinions of more than half the fanbase?
BG: I have respect for bloggers who introduce themselves when they’re at the rink and aren’t afraid to say hello. There are some who have openly criticized me who come to the rink and don’t say hello? What does that say about them? I know what I think but I’ll keep it to myself. I have to face a player if I criticize them. A blogger should try to face a media person if they criticize them. That’s my two cents. It builds respect. I think saying we shape the opinions is giving us too much credit. I still think people have their own opinions. We just give ours. An opinion is never wrong and I think that’s where people get carried away. If you don’t like my opinion or you don’t like Don Brennan’s opinion, so what? It’s okay to disagree but I find that on twitter it can get over the top, stupid about it. It really is. Criticize me but don’t criticize how I look.
S7S: You are one of the most-followed Twitter accounts when it comes to NHL news, and are a staple of every network’s trade deadline coverage. How did you become one of the most trusted voices when it comes to breaking news? Does it ever surprise you?
BG: It’s the Sunday column. I do a good job promoting it and the reality people love that stuff. I’ve had a lot of GMs in the league tell me they love reading that Sunday column. It’s about working the phones. I try to speak to someone in the league - management with another team, coach, player or an agent or a broadcaster - every day just to make sure I don’t live in the Ottawa bubble. Players are also a valuable resource because they always hear what’s going on. Of all the players I ever met I always thought that Jason Spezza would make a good executive of some sort when his career was over. He follows players. He knows what they’re doing. He knows where guys are and he knows the issues. The popularity of the Sunday column doesn’t surprise me because even though not everything there happens it doesn’t mean it wasn’t discussed. I work every angle to get that stuff. Texting has made it a little easier to do than it was in the past.
S7S: In this day and age, there are lots and lots of hockey writers out there. Whose columns do you most enjoy reading? As a Sens reporter, do you most enjoy reading other Sens content or would you rather read about other teams?
BG: I really enjoy Kevin Paul Dupont at the Boston Globe. He doesn’t cover as much hockey as he used to but he’s one of the greats and such a brillliant storyteller. I like Larry Brooks Sunday column and I always read what Bob McKenzie has to say on TSN.ca. My old buddy Pierre Lebrun is a must read as well. As for the Senators, I like to see what 6th Sens and Senschirp have to say because they usually react to whatever the mainstream media is leaning on.
S7S: One of the big points of contention between blogs and mainstream media has been the use of so-called "analytics". On a scale of Kyle Dubas to Brian Burke, how much weight do you give to analytics?
BG: None. Never looked at them. I watch the game and look at the regular stats available from the NHL. I think they tell the story.
S7S: Now moving to this year’s Sens team. Who has been your biggest surprise this year?
BG: My biggest surprise has been Mike Hoffman. I wondered if he’d be able to pick up where he left off last year and he really has. Impressed by him and will be interesting to see where his negotiations go.
S7S: What would you say is Ottawa’s biggest weakness this season? Do you think they can fill it by the deadline?
BG: They have got to find a defenceman to play with Cody Ceci. It has to happen. Will they fill it? Maybe with a rental but I’m not sure that’s the answer.
S7S: At this point, who’s your pick to win the Stanley Cup?
BG: Since we live in the East I’ll say Washington. What a team. (Editor's note: This interview took place before the 7-1 drubbing on Sunday.)
S7S: Whose idea was it for you to start wearing a bowtie?
BG: Pretty sure it was my wife Maria’s. We had bought a bow tie and a pocket puff for a wedding in the summer. When TSN signed me up to do Question Period she said why not try this it out. It worked. She helps me pick everything I wear to keep me colour co-ordinated because I have zero fashion sense.
S7S: And lastly, where do you think Ottawa finishes the season?
BG: Seventh or eighth and that’s right about where we expected. Get into the playoffs and see what happens.
A big thank you to Bruce for doing this interview. Let us know in the comments who else you'd like to see in this feature in the future! And feel free to suggest other questions to ask too.