Globe and Mail columnist Roy MacGregor received the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism during the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies Monday in Toronto. Below is a copy of his acceptance speech.
I think of myself as “The Accidental Sportswriter.” I never really intended this. But I suppose I was a sportswriter in training all along as I’d have someone else pay for things.
It was 1992 and there was a movement on Parliament Hill, where I had worked for 14 years, to have reporters pay for parking. I wrote a note to my editor at the Ottawa Citizen, the late Jim Travers, arguing that this was unfair, as those working at the paper’s head office had free parking. He asked me to lunch the next day.
“I’ve solved your parking problem,” he said.
“How?” I asked.
“From now on you’re parking at the Civic Centre – you’ll be covering the Ottawa Senators from now on.”
I had no idea then that the two jobs would turn out to be exactly the same: endlessly waiting outside board rooms for men in dark suits to come out and say nothing…..
But I fell in love with the work, largely thanks to the fun of those early Senators teams. I remember Darren Rumble, a lifelong minor leaguer, showing up for the first flight carrying his own pillow and a brown paper bag filled with ham-and-cheese sandwiches he had made himself. We explained that he would be fed on the flights and all he had to do was ask for a pillow. As the carrier was Air Canada, we told him he could join Aeroplan and save up enough points for a free flight.
“Geez,” he said, “If they’d had Bus-O-Plan I could go around the world.”
Then there was the late E.J. McGuire, the much-beloved assistant coach of the Senators. After thieves broke in and stole all the team’s video equipment, leaving only the game tapes, he walked out and said, incredulously, “Imagine that – burglars with taste!”
I always thought I would be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but never this way. My problem was that I was born in 1948 and happened to play in the same Muskoka – Parry Sound hockey loop as a kid named Bobby Orr. He was all anyone noticed.
We were sponsored by the Huntsville doctors and nicknamed “The Pill-Rollers” – just imagine that today! – and our coach, Mye Sedore, a former Sundridge Beavers great, was up against Parry Sound’s Bucko McDonald, who is in this Hall of Fame. Mye was beside himself trying to figure out how we could stop this little kid named Orr.
We used to sign sheets before every game and once, after Bucko had handed off the sheet for us to sign, Mye carried it to the centre of the dressing room, held it up and said – remember, this is the early 1960s – “You guys are afraid of a kid who writes like a girl” – and then he showed us Bobby’s very careful and clear handwriting, obviously the result of one who, like us, had spent hours practising for future autograph sessions.
“A girl!” we shouted in unison. “Let’s go!”
Five minutes later, with Parry Sound up 2-0 on goals by Orr, I felt like skating past our bench and saying, “Sorry to have to tell you, Mye, but Bobby Orr’s not playing with a ballpoint pen….”
Hockey is a game where, in some ways, everyone becomes family. It’s stronger, much stronger, than in politics. I am grateful to have my family here – Ellen, son Gord, many cousins – but the three daughters, Kerry, Christine, Jocelyn, were unable to make it. I did, however, Skype with new grandson Raphael in France just before coming here, and that was sweet.
Then there is the hockey family and I thank so many for being here. Wayne (Scanlan) and Bruce (Garrioch) drove down from Ottawa for this. So many friends from so many years around the room, and I thank you all.
What I love best about this game is that hockey, unlike baseball and basketball, has no inventor.
Hockey has no Abner Doubleday, no James Naismith.
Windsor, N.S., says hockey began there. Kingston says hockey was invented there. Montreal claims the same and some say the game was first played by members of the Franklin Expedition when they were frozen in that Arctic winter.
But I say the game is invented every time the puck is dropped.
It is invented in backyards and driveways.
It was invented every time the marble dropped in my older brother Jim’s table top hockey game.
It was invented every time the tennis ball dropped – or the puck when the lake froze over in Huntsville and our large family played its Christmas Classic. I am so proud to have so many of those players here for this today.
And it will be invented next Monday evening in a hockey rink in Ottawa, where there will not be a single person in the stands but not a single player will care.
What I wish today is for that game at the highest level to be re-invented again by the NHL and the NHL Players Association.
They might be surprised to discover what fun can be had by stepping outside that boardroom.
Instituted in 1984, the award is voted upon by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to recognize "distinguished members of the newspaper profession who have brought honour to journalism and hockey."
Former Globe and Mail writers who have won the award include Trent Frayne (1984), Jim Vipond (1984), Rex MacLeod (1987), Scott Young (1988) and Al Strachan (1993).
Eric Duhatschek of our staff accepted the award in 2001 on the basis of his Calgary Herald background.