The New York Islanders Blog Box is set to kick off its fourth season of providing web-writers with behind-the-scenes access to their favorite team. This season, four new faces will join the crop of talented bloggers perched high above the Nassau Coliseum ice during Islanders home games.
John Zadrozny, Tony Stabile, Chris Hessell and Christian Arnold earned spots in the 2010-11 incarnation of the program by impressing the Islanders Communications staff during a recent tryout. They were selected from an array of Blog Box hopefuls who were invited to show their stuff by covering the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, live from the Coliseum floor at the Islanders Draft Party.
“Having the ability and access to cover the Islanders Draft Party, especially with such an important pick, was a blast,” recalled Stabile, a contributor to hockeyindependent.com.
He and the other auditioning bloggers were thrown into the fire on draft night, seated in press row alongside members of the mainstream media and left to fend for themselves.
“It was mostly a free for all,” added Zadrozny, who goes by the name “Dragoneye” at yesislanders.com
. “I got to meet a lot of passionate Islanders fans that day as well as John Tavares
, Matt Moulson
and Trevor Gillies
. Being a part of the media scrum for the first time was something I won't forget.”
The four new members are part of a planned revamping of the Blog Box for the 2010-11 season. The program will feature 11 writers this year, and each will be expected to provide more content than ever before.
“The reason we have continued this program and even overhauled it for this season is to bring extended insight around the coverage of the team,” said Islanders Director of Communications, Kimber Auerbach. “The bloggers that our staff selected were put through an audition process and were interviewed. We’ve let all of the bloggers know what we expect from them and we’re committed to taking this program to previously unimaginable heights and to become a leader in how teams embrace the blogosphere.”
Blog Boxers are issued single-game credentials on a rotating basis during the season, with four writers attending every Islanders home game. After watching a game from the press box, participants are granted access to the players and coaches to conduct interviews.
“At first, in all honesty, it was scary,” said Michael Schuerlein of Islesblogger.com
, a founding member of the Blog Box. “However, the media really began to accept us when they saw several of us taking it seriously and giving the print media their due respect and space.”
Fellow founding member Denise Karl of 7thwoman.blogspot.com
and the Islanders blogger for HockeyBuzz.com
has also been instrumental in forging a positive relationship between the Box and the media.
“So much was said about having us non-mainstream-media types given access,” Karl said. “There were concerns about the quality and type of information we would be putting forth to readers. Having the team affiliation gave me a different sense of responsibility.”
The program’s only female continued, “Some of the MSM (mainstream media) are readily accepting of us non-traditional types. The relationship and communication has been very good. Perhaps it is because the group of us that have been doing this for a few years extends the courtesy and respect to the beat writers in the room, letting them ask their questions first before we proceed. We understand they have deadlines and editors to satisfy. For the most part, we only have ourselves to answer to.”
Stabile got his first taste of a media scrum on draft night, and found it somewhat bizarre to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of his favorite sports journalists, never mind his favorite players.
“At first it’s a little intimidating, considering your standing next to the people who have been feeding you information for so long,” Stabile noted. “Now you’re there getting the information at the same time with them!”
Once comfortable with asking questions alongside their counterparts from major print publications, Blog Box writers must learn to forge relationships with the athletes.
“As a fan and especially a hockey player, being around the coaches and players was a bit surreal at first, but now it just feels normal,” Schuerlein said. “There are a handful of players both on the team and now off, who know me by name and respect my view as someone who enjoys the game on and off the ice.”
Karl is another testament to the respect that Blog Boxers can earn from the team:
“As a mature woman covering a young man’s sport, I was very nervous at first wondering how I would be treated, but the coaching staff, management and players have all been very gracious and accommodating. Their willingness to be warm, honest and genuine is just a testament to the fact that hockey players are the most likeable athletes in all of sports.”
While unmatched player access ensures that members of the Blog Box have the best content on the web, their blogs also benefit from the added traffic that comes from being associated with the official website of the New York Islanders. The Blog Box section of www.newyorkislanders.com features biographies of each writer, as well as a link to their Islanders blog.
“Without the Islanders, I wouldn't have the exposure that I do or had the opportunities that I have had,” Schuerlein said. “The traffic the Islanders send is certainly a big benefit because we are broadcast directly to a pretty wide audience. It's also a big privilege to be linked to such a big website.”
Particularly insightful blog posts are even tabbed for the front-page of newyorkislanders.com, further promoting the writers and their sites.
“While 17 percent of my page views are direct, 25 percent of the traffic on my 7thWoman blogspot comes directly from the NY Islanders website,” Karl said. “It’s a staggering number and it increases tenfold when something I have written is featured on their home page. I would never have been asked by so many other hockey venues to be a contributor or been asked to work for HockeyBuzz.com had it not been for my Blog Box affiliation.”
Karl is a prime example of how a dedicated writer can use the Blog Box as a spring board into the sports journalism industry. However, no matter how successful these bloggers may become, Schuerlein insists that there will always be one part of the experience that he’ll never get used to.
“There is one thing that still blows my mind though,” the four-year Blog Box veteran said. “Whenever I see Garth (Snow) in the hall, he makes sure he stops and talks for a minute. I cannot fathom that the GM of a professional sports franchise knows my first and last name. It's certainly a wake up call that what I am doing is still very, very real.”
Though the job is certainly real, for first-time members Stabile, Zadrozny, Hessell and Arnold, the Blog Box is a dream come true.
“To have the ability to cover the team I love so much and live and die with is truly amazing and I can't wait to get started,” concluded Stabile, who is slated to cover his first game this October.
The 2010-11 Blog Box is proud to boast the most talented and dedicated group in the history of the program. Be sure to check in on the newcomers and the veteran bloggers by visiting www.newyorkislanders.nhl.com.
Welcome New Bloggers
John Zadrozny – “Dragoneye” at www.yesislanders.com
Tony Stabile – Contributor, www.hockeyindependent.com
Chris Hessell – www.nyifyi.com
Christian Arnold – www.islandershockeyblog.com