Jose Romero, of the Arizona Republic, did not enjoy what would be a typical path to becoming a beat writer for a NHL team.
Prior to the Republic, Romero, the Coyotes beat writer since September 2020, made his living as a free-lance sportswriter. But that gig was interrupted by the pandemic. His assignments dried up, leaving him down, but not out. Though he was outside.
"I took a job at Costco," Romero said. "But the work was hard. Costco is no joke. Like, you are on your feet constantly. Hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle. I'm outside pushing (shopping) carts around in the middle of the summer. That was brutal. It builds character, but here I am, in my 40s thinking, 'I don't need to build anymore character.'"
Eventually, the Arizona Republic came calling and Romero eventually became one of the few, if not the sole, Latino beat writers in the NHL.
Romero, who has Mexican roots on his father's (fourth generation) and mother's (third generation) sides, was born in Eugene, Oregon, and raised in Portland. He attended the University of Oregon and majored in journalism. But before he committed to print journalism he took a shot at TV broadcasting.
"It didn't really do it for me," Romero said. "But I was still in my early-20s. A family friend said to me, 'Hey, you're a pretty good writer.' My news director used to tell me that, too. So, people would tell me that I'm a good writer, but I never really saw it in myself. I just figured that I was having fun with it."
But Romero soon landed his first writing job with a bilingual, Spanish-English newspaper in Portland, which led to an internship with the Seattle Times, where he spent the next 11 years.
During that time, Romero met his wife, Stephanie, an Arizona native with Mexican roots at a 2005 journalism conference in Texas. They had a long-distance relationship for five years before Romero moved to the Valley in 2010.
"My first 10 years (in Arizona), I was a freelancer for the Associated Press," Romero said. "Man, I did all kinds of stuff. There was a point when I first got here, finding a job was so difficult. When spring training ended in 2010, I was kind of scrambling, like, 'What am I going to do?' I don't like to just sit on my hands and do nothing, I've got to be doing something. I've got to contribute."
Romero worked as an usher at State Farm Stadium for the 2010 Cardinals. He also had his first stint with the Arizona Republic, a one-night stand.
"One night, I actually tried an overnight shift delivering papers for the Republic," Romero said. "You know, like, throwing them out of a car. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. So, I get into the car with these guys who have been doing it for years, and they had it down to a science. I'm in the car with them listening and watching, and it's like three or four in the morning, and we're tossing papers out the car window. The experience was crazy. But after that, I realized I could not work overnight."
In 2011, Romero began covering the Coyotes as a freelancer for the AP.
"The AP really needed somebody to cover these games because they're so busy," Romero said. "I was like, 'You know what, it's hockey, I'm going to give it everything I have. I like the pace of it. I like the people. The players are super friendly; there's not a bad guy out there, they're always easy to talk to, and that's what makes it good.'"
Fast-forward nine years, and came the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Sporting events were paused. Freelance assignments dried up.
Then, came the call from the Republic.
"The editor at the Republic called and said, 'We've got an opening. Do you want to cover the Coyotes?' I could have said yes right then and there, but I talked it over with my family first. One thing led to another, and here we are. September 14, 2020, was my first day."
Romero is pleased by hockey's continuing push for diversity, equity and inclusion.
"Last year, when the Hockey Diversity Alliance launched, and when Matt Dumba made his speech prior to the 2020 playoffs -- that really energized me," Romero said. "I was like, 'Okay, hockey's changing, hockey is really changing.' And then when I got this job, I realized I was a part of that and I could be a part of that."
Romero believes the Coyotes are embracing change in the game.
"The team keeps surprising me," Romero said. "The things they're doing, some of the hires they've made in the front office. One of the most fun stories I did last year was writing about all of the women who work in the organization, their roles. Two of the best conversations I had were with (General Counsel) Marina Carpenter and (Senior Vice President of Marketing) Tania Moreno. They were fabulous conversations, entertaining and insightful. It's really come a long way. None of this stuff would have been relevant four or five years ago. But when Alex (Meruelo) came aboard, and when Xavier (Gutierrez) came aboard, there's just been a total shift, and it's been really good, really good. It's going to take time and investment, but it seems like they are really committed to it."
It's about commitment and people, he said. As it was, too, at Costco.
"It's the people you work with," Romero said. "It's the relationships you build, the conversations you have in the heat of the parking lot at Costco. That's what it was. It sucked, but it was rewarding."
Whether it is in the heat of a parking lot, or the cold of an ice rink, Romero tries to make sure people are first.
"There's a lot of good people (in hockey)," Romero said. "It's kind of unfortunate that the pandemic hasn't allowed for much personal contact, so I'm trying to catch up with that now. I know it's not the typical place for a Mexican-American, a Latino person. Hockey's not really our thing, per se. But I've always felt like I belonged. I understand this game, I understand what it's about, and I always felt like it was a good spot for me to be here."