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Ben Kuzma: The Botchford Project

by Ben Kuzma @benkuzma / The Province

When accomplished sports writer John Lott was co-ordinator and instructor of the advanced journalism program at Centennial College in Toronto, his message to wide-eyed wannabes was often blunt.

To those who struggled with self-motivation, finding and cultivating the lead to a story, sentence structure and proper grammar, there wasn't any coddling.

I had many students come to me for advice and some I sat down and said: 'You're not cut out for this and why waste time and money? Do something else,'" recalled Lott, senior baseball writer for The Athletic in Toronto and former Blue Jays beat writer for The National Post.

Then there was the unrelenting and unflappable Jason Botchford.

The late, great sports writer for the Vancouver Province and The Athletic decided in the spring of 1996 to not only pursue a career in journalism, he wanted to be guided by Lott, who was also his stepfather. It proved pivotal. It provided a platform for Botchford, who studied history and politics at Western University in London, Ont., and worked in a computer electronics factory, to further his curious nature and passionate pursuit of the story behind the story.

"I had no clue he would be interested in journalism and we decided before school to not let anyone know about our relationship and that was easy with the different last name," said Lott. "There was no bias and special treatment. I was pretty harsh and I might have been tougher on him than on some other students. On one assignment, I said: 'You did a good job writing your way out of that mess.'

"I didn't have any questions about him qualifying for the program and doing well. He was always so sure of himself that I never felt I needed to give him advice because he was so self-confident and quickly developed proficiency in the fundamentals.

He was a quick study. And I certainly did not foresee the kind of career arc, because he never played hockey. I saw his career happening in news. "He was always interested in sports but never talked that much about being a sports writer. He was interested in everything and that's why he was such a good reporter."

Botchford landed a coveted 15-week internship at the Toronto Sun. Not surprisingly, he wowed management with a zest to cover cops and courts and obscure stories of all sorts. He was a no-brainer hire.

"He fit right in," added Lott. "That's where that kind of staccato writing style started. He adapted quickly and it was amazing how he could write short and tight. But he did everything. I knew in (journalism) school he was going to do well - it was just a question of where and in what field."

The where was Vancouver. The first field was news at The Province. but there was no job security.

"I thought at the time that took guts because it was a risk and I didn't want to see him end up in limbo," said Lott.

Of course, he didn't. He was too good.

When the hockey door opened, Botchford kicked it in. In 2005, he made an instant impact on the Canucks beat and his signature 'Provies' accounts of everything happening on the ice and behind the scenes with the NHL club would become a must-read industry ritual during his 13-year run at the paper.

Former Province columnist Tony Gallagher quickly became an admirer, mentor and confidant of the provocative and polarizing Botchford. He saw some of himself in a younger journalist who wasn't afraid to put people in the crosshairs and pull the trigger.

"That's what grabbed you first," recalled Gallagher. "It was how keen and utterly determined he was to be as good as he could possibly be. And that sparked a million questions.

I was just totally enamoured wth his enthusiasm for the business and you could tell right away that he was going to be brilliant. "He was kind of the Elias Pettersson. I think they saw a lot in each other and wanted to be so good at what they did."

(Ben Kuzma is the senior Canucks reporter for the Vancouver Province and Sun and shared the beat with Jason Botchford)

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