My first pair of skates, which I put on at the age of 4, weren’t for hockey. They were actually for figure skating, and I had a fantastic neon green Ninja Turtles helmet to go with them. But I wanted to follow my older brother into the sport, and my parents let me. Even though there weren’t a lot of girls playing at the time, they didn’t hesitate to outfit me in the rest of the gear and let me play.
I fell in love, and there was no going back.
Thanks to my mom and dad and the sacrifices they made with their time and money throughout the years, I was able to play all the way through college – where I attended Michigan State University for academic and athletic reasons. I joined their club team, and it was the best decision I have ever made.
I captained the Spartans my junior and senior years and helped lead us to the national championship game my last season. My teammates there became my lifelong friends. And most importantly, a professor there set me up for an internship with the Detroit Red Wings in my last semester of school that helped me land my current position.
I’ll never forget how I felt when I got that first full-time job offer. I remember exactly where I was when my phone rang and vice president of communications Tom McMillan asked if I would like to come and work for the Pittsburgh Penguins as their Manager of Content. They were arguably the most high-profile and exciting team in the league, just a couple of years removed from going against my hometown team in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals.
I had graduated a few months earlier and had just turned 22. Sidney Crosby was only a year older than me and both he and the Penguins were absolutely tearing up the NHL. I truly couldn’t believe how lucky I was, that as a relatively inexperienced kid right out of college, my job was going to be watching the best player in the world do his.
I got hired right when ‘new media’ was developing into a legitimate career option. Team websites were becoming big, and organizations were just starting to hire their own people to write for them. I was fortunate the Penguins were one of the first to do so. As a journalism major, it was literally my dream job, one I didn’t even know existed (and it actually didn’t until I was graduating). It still is to this day. Working for an NHL team as an in-house reporter? You’ve got to be kidding me. Though I didn’t truly realize what was ahead.
As a Penguins employee, I have a cubicle in the front office right next to our PR staff. I cover every practice, morning skate, game (both home and away) and team event for our website, social media platforms, PensTV and the Pens Radio Network – and travel with the club as well. We fly on the team charter, ride the team bus and stay at the team hotel. That means, a lot of times, working 15-hour days, seven days a week from September to whenever the season ends.
People ask if we get summers off. We don’t. We work regular office hours and cover the draft, free agency, development camp and the rookie tournament. When the players report back to Pittsburgh for camp, we’re there waiting. And then it begins all over again.
I’m lucky if I see my family back in Michigan for Christmas. The rest of the holidays, including Thanksgiving, are spent with my family in Pittsburgh, my coworkers. And we truly are a family. You have to be, in order to be able to handle that much time with each other.
But what makes our group special is that we will be together on the road for an extended period, eating every meal together, going to and from the rink together and grabbing beers together afterward – then as soon as we get back, we text each other to hang out. I never get sick of these people. There’s no one else I’d rather hang out with. They’re my best friends.
I see the players nearly as much, and I consider them my colleagues as well. We are all employed by the same organization, getting our checks signed by Mario Lemieux. The players understand we have a job to do and help us out in that regard, while we try to do the same whenever we can. We spend more time with them than anyone else who covers them, and I’ve grown fantastic working relationships with a lot of them as a result.
To sum it up, this isn’t just my job – it’s my life. So needless to say, I’m invested. It’s impossible not to be, considering how much time I dedicate to them. But there's nothing else I'd rather be doing. Hockey is all I've ever really cared about since I was 4 years old. It's given me everything. It’s given me the privilege of working for the Pens. And now, it’s given me the chance to cover a Stanley Cup champion. I still can’t believe it.
I thought I’d be in this position my first year in 2010-11, when Crosby and the Penguins were dominating so thoroughly and so incredibly. And then, just over a month later, the captain was out of the lineup with concussion and neck issues that forced him to miss 61 straight games. That was when everything changed.
It was then I realized that this job went deeper than your typical reporter-subject relationship, watching 'Sid' work his way back to the top of his game and caring just as much about the person as you do the player. From there, there have been so many ups and downs over the years – and perhaps none more so than this season, my sixth with the team.
No one expected the Pens to win in 2011 with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both out, though Marc-Andre Fleury did his best to give them a chance. But the next year…I still really can’t figure out what happened in that Flyers series. Same with the year after that, though no one expected that lockout-shortened season to end that way.
Acquiring Jarome Iginla is the non-playoffs highlight of my career. To watch the internet explode late in the evening thinking that Boston had acquired him, knowing that it was actually Pittsburgh – I still have the screenshots of those tweets on my phone. Scrolling through the next morning and seeing fans react as they woke up was awesome. That was my first experience with a larger-than-life superstar other than Crosby and Malkin, and Iginla didn’t disappoint. Somewhat quiet, but so friendly and so nice for someone of his stature. The Pens were, without question, the Stanley Cup favorites.
But then for the Pens to lose in a fashion that still, to this day, defies explanation, just like the year before – it sucks. To be swept by Boston and score just two goals in four games after putting on what Senators coach Paul MacLean called a “clinic” offensively in the Ottawa series, it sucks. To walk into the locker room after being eliminated and see Pascal Dupuis in tears, thinking it was his last game as a Penguin with free agency looming that summer, it sucks. To watch one of our guys hobble onto the team plane, barely able to walk after being Pittsburgh’s best player on the ice, it sucks.
The expectations for this team have never been nearly as high since, but that doesn’t take away from the disappointment of seeing a season end early. To be with these guys from the start of training camp, watch them go through the grind of an 82-game season and then fall short of their ultimate goal, it’s heartbreaking. I know 29 out of 30 teams are in that situation every year, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Especially when the Pens are a team that do have a chance to win every year with Nos. 87 and 71 anchoring this franchise.
This season seemed fated to go in that same direction, though not at first. When the Penguins acquired Phil Kessel, that made a lot of us feel alive again, for lack of a less dramatic term. He was the first real superstar to join the Penguins since Iginla, who was an awesome guy but an older one, approaching the end of his career. Kessel was just 27 and one of the most talented snipers in the league.
We all went into the office of my boss, Sam Kasan, and watched every single highlight video we could find. I’ll never forget how giddy we were as we watched Kessel, time after time, tear down the wing and rip a snapshot into the back of the net before the goalie would even react. I think a lot of us were pretty burned out and had accepted that we might not ever win another Cup, but the addition of Kessel rejuvenated us and got us excited to go to work again.
That feeling didn’t last long as the Pens struggled throughout the first half of the season, which feels like a lifetime ago. And at the time, it felt like it lasted a lifetime. The Pens got all of their lengthy road trips out of the way early, which was beneficial in the long run, but at the time meant so many late nights and exhausting stretches. It meant staying at the studio doing radio broadcasts until 3 in the morning, where we would break down yet another game where the Pens couldn’t score, played slow and relied on their goaltender to win for them.
I remember how thrilled our management was about hiring Mike Sullivan to be head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. I remember having to do the phone interview with him outside of Church Brew Works while I was having lunch with coworkers. We spoke for 10 minutes and I experienced his firm, articulate, passionate and intense speaking manner for the first time. I did even more interviews with him at the rookie tournament, so when the Pens hired him to take over, I knew him better than most. But even as he and his staff embarked on the challenge of taking a bunch of great players and becoming a great team, even as I watched the evidence pile up into a mountainous heap that this was a special, special group, it truly didn’t hit me that this team had a chance to win it all until they won Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Once I realized that, I got incredibly emotional. I know I’m not lacing up the skates and going out onto the ice, but I am there every time those guys do and I have so much respect for what they go through. I have so much respect for how hard the coaching staff works. I have so much respect for every member of the support staff and front office who have made so many sacrifices of their own along the way to get to this point. We’d be here all night if I went into all of that in detail.
But there is literally nothing else in this world I’d rather be doing. When I was 4 years old, I never, ever would have dreamed I’d be here. I never, ever would have believed that when I was a kid growing up with tears in my eyes as I watched Steve Yzerman hand the Stanley Cup to Vladimir Konstantinov in his wheelchair that I would eventually be on the ice for a celebration years later. I never, ever would have believed that the sport I love more than anything in the world, the sport that has given me absolutely everything, would give me this as well.
So I’m going to go enjoy it, with the rest of the organization. It’s been so worth it.