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A Cool Job and a Passion for Hockey

by Cam Tait /

The quote from J.J. Hebert about his first big experience with the Edmonton Oilers deserves top billing in any story.

"It was really cold," J.J. says.

"But it was also really cool."

J.J. sits back in his third-floor Rogers Place office and fondly reflects on his 14 years with the Edmonton Oilers. The 38-year-old currently serves as Senior Director, Hockey Communications and Media Relations for the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club and Oilers Entertainment Group.

J.J.'s first role with the Oilers was as Coordinator of Media Relations - a move he made from Calgary where he was working for Hockey Canada. J.J. met the Oilers then General Manager Kevin Lowe at a hockey development camp in Calgary.

J.J. met the Oilers then General Manager Kevin Lowe and Vice President of Public Relations Bill Tuele, with one thing leading to another and J.J. was recommended to Tuele for the position. 

"The 2003 season was my first season with the Oilers and it was pretty exciting," he says.

In November of that year the Heritage Classic invaded Commonwealth Stadium between the Oilers and the Montreal Canadians in front of 57,000 fans under frigid conditions.

Hence, J.J.'s comment: that something really cold was really cool.

The next season a work stoppage halted play in the National Hockey League (NHL) during the 2004-05 season. The Oilers brought their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Toronto Roadrunners to play in Edmonton that winter.

J.J. was soaking it all in, getting valuable experience. Chances are, though, he had no idea what was ahead of him.

Because nobody did.


Bill Tuele retired from the team in 2004, so J.J. took over the public relations department. He traveled with the team on every road game, saving the best ride for the spring of 2006.

The Oilers skated all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and lost 3-1 to the Hurricanes in Raleigh, Carolina.

"It was a wonderful time - and, unfortunately, could have been even more wonderful," says J.J.

"I remember great times with great people."

Such as…

"Seeing Shawn Horcoff score the overtime winner in Game 3 at Rexall Place in the San Jose series is one of them."

But the story gets better.

Former Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger cleared the puck from behind his net and hit Ryan Smyth in the face.

"I was in the dressing room with Smytty, holding his hand as the training staff injected him so he could keep playing," J.J. remembers.

Smyth went back into the game and assisted in Horcoff's triple OT winner.


J.J. was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario and moved to Ottawa when he was 12. His passion was hockey.

"I played," he says, "but never very well."

In high school a work experience program got his foot in the door of the Ottawa Senators. He originally wanted to be involved with community relations, but the team didn't have any openings.

They did, however, have something in media relations.

J.J. began working Senators home games and learned the ropes.

Western Canada then called, specifically Calgary. His family settled into Calgary and J.J. worked for Molstar Sports Entertainment on Calgary Flames telecasts.

And then there was a phone call from out of the blue.

"My wife at the time told me the Calgary Cannons (baseball club) called and asked to speak to me," says J.J. "I said, 'What? Are they looking for a mascot?'"

Not really. But they needed someone to handle media relations: J.J. got the job.

After a couple summers at the baseball park, J.J. went to work for Hockey Canada to oversee media relations for domestic tournaments, including the RBC Cup and Telus Cup.

He worked with former Hockey Canada employees Bob Nicholson and Andre Brin, who now are also employed by Oilers Entertainment Group as CEO and Vice Chairman, and Manager, Hockey Communications and Research, respectively


For J.J. and his two colleagues - Andre and Shawn May - the day begins a good 12 hours before the puck drops when the Oilers have a Rogers Place home game.

They are in the office shortly after 7:30 AM to compile statistics.

Then, it's down to the rink in Rogers Place for the Oilers morning skate. A few minutes after the skate, J.J. opens the dressing room to the media and then supervises Coach Todd McClellan's press conference in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room.

Next up is a walk up to the press box to get things ready for the game.

Lunch time comes. J.J. returns to his office to returns phone calls and emails.

In the evening, a game night staff of four assists in the press box, pushing out information, statistics, summaries and more to the media, to the coaches, to the television broadcasters and to the technical staff.

"Warmup starts and sometimes we have interviews on the bench and then guys come into the dressing room and get ready for the game," he says. "We then head up to the press box, grab our stuff and the game is on."

J.J. goes down to the dressing room with five minutes left in each period to line-up television interviews.

"Depending on how the game goes, with different storylines, my team and myself will handle requests from reporters," he says.

Five minutes after the game, J.J. opens the dressing room door to the media and attends the Coach's post-game press conference.

His day ends around 11:00 PM.

And that's just for home games.

When the Oilers are on the road, J.J.'s routine is the same. After a road game the team is on a charter bus to board an aircraft within 45 minutes of the final whistle.

It isn't uncommon to arrive at the team's hotel in another city after 2:00 AM.

"Then, you try to get a few hours of sleep and do it all again the next day," says J.J.

He loves going for afternoon walks, especially in Chicago, Philadelphia and Montreal.

"I love being in the Canadian cities and seeing the passion hockey fans have for the game," he says.


J.J. handles all media requests for the team. Things have been much busier since Connor McDavid pulled an Oilers jersey over his head at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Just recently, for example, J.J. helped coordinate a feature NBC film on No. 97. He is also working with Sports Illustrated on a magazine piece on Connor.

But he also is appreciative of local media.

"Newspapers are changing, but we're still very lucky the papers in Edmonton cover the Oilers the way they do," says J.J.

Technology has certainly changed how people get information.

"People love getting technology at their fingertips on their smartphones - especially video," says J.J. 'I had no idea it would be like it is now.

"I can't imagine what things will be like in five years."


 The schedule J.J. keeps can be sometimes daunting.

But he does more.

"I live for my kids," he says with obvious pride.

His son Josh is 16 and his daughter Emma is 13 and both play hockey in nearby Sherwood Park.

"I want them to have every opportunity they can."

They share a lot of time together at their lake property 90 minutes away from Edmonton.


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