I’ve long admired Mark Spector’s work as a sportswriter and a columnist, but we’ve never enjoyed the best of timing, him and I—at least from my point of view. More on that later.
With training camp for the Edmonton Oilers just days away, fans are wondering who’ll fit where between next Saturday and the start of the season. As always, there’ll be some new faces in new places when the puck drops.
That holds true on media row as well, with the most noteworthy change among the unwashed with press passes being that Spector will be plying his trade with Sportsnet as a website writer and on-air personality when the 2008–09 NHL season begins after more than 20 years in the CanWest newspaper chain, formerly known as Southam.
After 15 years writing at The Journal and six years with the National Post, including the last handful as the lead general sports columnist, Spec is leaving for Sportsnet. He’s given his notice and his new gig begins during camp.
With the hard-copy end of the newspaper business shrinking and the impact of the internet expanding by the day, Spector is making the move to help fill the void created when Pierre LeBrun, who is as connected as anyone, bolted for ESPN.
Spector will be based in Edmonton, so the move will involve little more than a change to his pay cheque—I can only assume in amount as well as who endorses it—and some added TV work.
A newspaper guy by trade going back to his days at the Gateway at the U of A, Spec’s already done some post-game guest spots on Sportsnet broadcasts of Oilers games. That’ll continue.
It’s a great gig that’ll include covering the Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and the Western Conference in general, as well as other events as time allows.
THANKS FOR COMING
As for the timing reference, let’s just say Spector beat out a remarkably qualified field of candidates, a group of hopefuls that included yours truly.
Now, I don’t know if I finished second or 22nd in the running, but it seems I hung in long enough to get a call a week or so ago from Patrick Grier, who was overseeing the hiring process.
It went something like, “Robin, we really liked your interview, but we’ve decided to go with someone else…”
Being a trained journalist, my response was what you’d expect. “Who?” I asked.
“Uhh, Mark Spector,” Grier answered.
I had no idea until then Spec had thrown his name in—for the record, I think it’s BS that he got the job solely because he’s got better teeth and hair than I do and the camera doesn’t add 100 pounds to his appearance like it does with me—but I laughed out loud.
I called Spec and we had a good guffaw, even if it was him doing most of the chortling.
It was like déjà-vu all over again. When I arrived at The Journal 20 years ago, Spec was the junior guy in the sports department. It didn’t take long until I was backing up Jim Matheson on the Oiler beat on a temporary basis—home games only, no travel.
Anyway, I obviously didn’t do enough to blow the socks off sports editor Peter Collum because when a full-time back-up to Matheson was picked the following season, Spec got the job.
Five years or so later, after Cam Cole left for the National Post, the decision was made to split his column two ways. Spector got a piece of that and, eventually, The Journal had the good sense to hire Dan Barnes from The Sun. I finished second in the running to Barnes. Again, hair and teeth—and the fact Junior is a better writer than I—were the difference. I got the Oilers beat.
Years later, in 2000, I made the absolutely brilliant career decision to leave The Journal for The Sun. Bad hair. Bad teeth. Bad call. But that’s a whole other story—one that isn’t over yet.
Anyway, congratulations, Spec. Bugger.
I’m hearing Matheson will be doing a bigger share of the Oilers beat this season, something approaching 50 per cent in terms of travel and coverage. The only question I have about that is: “What took so long?”
Matty, who, as everybody knows, is in the writer’s wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has been relegated to back-up status in terms of the Oilers at The Journal for the last decade.
He’s been concentrating instead on covering the NHL at large and he’s done a lot of excellent work—most notably his must-read Hockey World, which runs on weekends during the season.
Still, it made no sense to me why somebody with Matty’s contacts and experience wasn’t used more on the Oiler beat, and that includes when I took over from him.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.