LAKings.com recently caught up with Vin Sylvia, a long-time member of the media in Manchester, New Hampshire. He covers area sports – including the Manchester Monarchs – for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.
(Q) What are your initial thoughts of the Monarchs’ play thus far? What do you like about this year’s team?
(A) Given all the injuries they've had, it’s tough to make an assessment. In October, when they were mostly healthy, they were terrific. In November, when they've struggled just to get a full lineup in uniform, they've been predictably uneven. Their defense has been decimated, and that's had a particularly negative effect on special teams. On offense, where I thought this team would really shine, injuries have prevented them from fully hitting stride. Getting Jordan Nolan back this past weekend helps, but I'm still looking forward to seeing the four Stanley Cup winners -- Nolan, Andrei Loktionov, Dwight King and Slava Voynov -- all play in the same game for the first time this season. As for the guys who’d probably be in Manchester even without the NHL lockout, I think Tyler Toffoli’s rookie season so far has been everything the Monarchs and Kings had hoped, and Brandon Kozun has followed up a strong 2011-12 season with a strong start.
(Q) How has the sports landscape in Manchester and in New Hampshire changed over the last decade, starting with the arrival of the Monarchs in 2001?
(A) Before the Monarchs, many around here -- including quite a few Manchester lifers -- thought pro sports could never succeed in this city. Some of that was due to the failure of the New York Yankees’ Eastern League affiliate here in the early 1970s, though fortunately there were enough people who understood the transformation minor-league sports had undergone by the time a new arena and an AHL team became a realistic possibility.
Because the people backing the arena, Anschutz Entertainment Group and the Monarchs front office -- most notably former team president Jeff Eisenberg -- worked together so effectively and did things right, the team was an instant success. That proved to the doubters that Manchester could succeed as a home to high-level minor-league sports, and that in turn made a new ballpark and new Eastern League baseball team, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, possible. Now we have two successful franchises in the city, and I believe it’s really changed Manchester’s image of itself. People enjoy knowing they don't have to go to Boston for a quality professional-sports experience; they can have that right here -- and save a lot of money at the same time.
(Q) What has the Monarchs organization done effectively to stand out in a busy sports market that includes, high school, college and other pro sports teams like the Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots?
(A) Before the team ever took the ice, the Monarchs organization worked to become a part of the community in Greater Manchester and beyond. You can find plenty of people around here who have no idea what icing means but love the Monarchs -- either because they’ve had a great time taking their kids to games or because the organization’s charitable wing, the Monarchs Care Foundation, made a major contribution to their school or group, or because the Monarchs have been great hosts at a corporate outing. That’s given the people of Greater Manchester -- and, to a slightly lesser extent, the people of New Hampshire -- the sense that the Monarchs are “our team.”
(Q) When you think about the Monarchs and the team’s impact on the community, what highlights come to mind?
(A) Again, you’ll find a lot of people around here who’ll say, “I’m not really a sports fan, but I love the Monarchs.” Many of those people are involved in nonprofits that have benefited from the Monarchs Care Foundation or parents whose kids have had Monarchs players visit their school as part of a literacy program. Seeing those people come to appreciate the value of a professional sports franchise to a community is a recurring highlight.
(Q) Describe the culture of hockey in New England? Why are area sports fans so drawn to the sport?
(A) I still can’t skate, so I’m probably not the best person to answer that question, but I’ve been a fan since the Bobby Orr days, and I spent years covering the sport, so I think I have a decent understanding of the region’s hockey culture. It exists on a few levels. There are the people who could skate almost as soon as they could walk and who had a hockey stick in their hands before they could talk. Their dads (and, in some cases, moms) built a rink in their backyard every winter, and the game’s always been a part of their lives. Then there are the people who never really played but love the sport -- or sports in general -- and could always find some quality hockey to watch, whether it be at the high school, college or professional level. Plus, hockey has a genuineness about it -- hockey fans have an especially low tolerance for fakers -- that New Englanders like to see in themselves.
(Q) What new challenges do you face as Deputy Managing Editor-Sports, Photos and Features at the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News? How has your job changed since the advent of online news, social media and the 24/7 news cycle?
(A) The biggest challenge is in reaching generations of potential readers for whom print journalism has never been a part of their lives. The Union Leader and Sunday News do a better, more comprehensive job of covering sports than any other media outlet in the state, but we have to do a better job of exposing people to that coverage. I really believe that people who see what we do -- with our coverage of the Monarchs, of the University of New Hampshire, of the Fisher Cats, of high school sports -- will return to us again and again. We’re doing a better job of getting that coverage online and in social media, but we still have a ways to go. Much of that applies to our news and features coverage, as well. Managing several departments and delivering the news through multiple media platforms makes the challenge that much greater. It's a lot different from when I made the switch from reporter to editor/manager in 2001, when putting out a quality print edition of the Sports section was far and away the top priority and getting stories posted on our website was a secondary task.
Vin Sylvia has been with the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News – the largest newspaper in the state of New Hampshire - since 2001. You can follow his coverage of New Hampshire sports online at www.unionleader.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @VinSylvia.