Samuel Lehner, Steven Ellis and Cameron Brushett are all teenagers, still live at home with their parents, attend the same high school, and have to rely on bus fare to get around.
This unlikely trio is also the driving force behind TheHockeyHouse.net, one of Canada’s emerging hockey blog websites that continues to grow in popularity, less than two years after its official launch.
“I’ll be honest with you, probably no one even knows our age, and that’s fine with us,” said Ellis, who also holds a part-time job at a McDonald’s restaurant. “We want to be taken seriously.”
They have already been successful in that regard. Since the website launched in October of 2011, it has garnered 500,000 page views, with 174,000 unique visitors.
The young entrepreneurs are also expanding into television this fall, working out an agreement with local cable broadcaster TVCogeco to launch The Hockey House television show. Lehner says the program will essentially be an extension of the website and will feature a mix of news stories and interviews.
The Hockey House also recently signed a contract with United States-based blogging network Yardbarker, a property of Fox Sports which regularly publishes the work of the Canadian group’s young stable of writers. (Yardbarker bills itself as the largest collection of sports blogs and independent sport properties on the Internet, reaching 20 million users a month.)
“There’s not too many sites, at least on our network, that we’ve been able to find that cover not just the NHL, but international hockey as well,” Jack Kloster, vice-president of business development and operations, executive producer for Yardbarker/Fox Sports Digital, said in an interview. “So I think that they fit a content need for us.
“And then, their site design, they’ve got a clean site design which seems like something that should be fundamental but it’s not always a given in the blogosphere.”
Kloster was asked if he was surprised when he learned The Hockey House was run by teenagers.
“It’s impressive,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of aspiring journalists in our network and it’s a great way to start by putting together your own property.
“I’m all for guys going after it on their own.”
Lehner is the greybeard of the group at 17, while Ellis and Brushett are both 16. All three have recently graduated from Grade 11 at Iroquois Ridge High School, nestled in the suburb of Oakville, west of Toronto.
The trio have been pals since elementary school.
Ellis said the original idea behind The Hockey House was initially hatched by himself and another school friend, Jackson Scarrow, who both began writing blogs for obscure web-based hockey sites in 2010.
The gigs rarely paid and, with little control over the editorial content, the pair started to hatch plans about starting their own blog-based hockey website. That’s when Lehner came into the picture.
While Ellis and Scarrow were more interested in writing, they had little expertise on the technical aspects of developing and maintaining a website.
A self-professed computer geek, Lehner has long enjoyed puttering around in cyberspace, launching his first computer business venture when he was just 10.
“I used to create Lego character cards and I’d sell them for 5 cents apiece,” he said. “Business was pretty good.”
From there, Lehner started designing his own video games and then began working on his first website, which is no longer operational. The idea was a “mini eBay” for Oakville-area teenagers, where they could buy and sell products like old video games and used cellphones.
That idea never really took off, as Lehner started focusing on a new website venture, samproductions.ca, where he offers video production and website-design services.
His portfolio of clients have included a nursery school, local musical artists and a skateboarding company.
Ellis saw Lehner as the perfect fit for The Hockey House and brought him on as the website’s designer. That freed Ellis, Scarrow and Brushett to focus on editorial content. (Scarrow would eventually quit the group last February.)
After using word of mouth and social media such as Twitter and Facebook to advertise for writers, Ellis says they soon settled on a stable of 15 hockey bloggers who are mostly high-school or university aged.
None of the writers are paid. But, Ellis says, all are keen hockey fans and writers interested in working on their craft and gaining exposure.
The 2012-13 NHL lockout kind of threw the group into a bit of a tailspin, with little news to fill their website with. But it also turned out to be a bit of a blessing as writers turned their focus to international and junior hockey, and readership started to climb.
“That’s really when we found our niche,” Lehner said.
Lehner, who says he has aspirations to one day be a filmmaker, said the deal with Yardbarker is a big boost for the future stability of The Hockey House.
He did not want to discuss exactly how much revenue the deal was worth but says it was not enough to be able to go out and by a luxury sports car – or even a mountain bike.
“It’s not like a ridiculous amount,” Lehner said. “It’s enough to cover minimal expenses and still have a bit left over.
“But it’s really not about the money for us with this site. It’s just about being able to gain experience, to give other writers experience and try to deliver a solid product.”