THE BRYZ WITCH HUNT BEGINS

New Oilers tendy Ilya Bryzgalov faced the media for the first time this afternoon after practice. A great many questions lobbed in his direction were cringe worthy as the assembled scribes baited the newest Oiler to say something colourful and give them the quote they had all trudged down in the snow to get.

IS THIS HOW IT IS GOING TO GO?

We have spent a good amount of time watching Bryz interviews since the Oilers announced that they were bringing him in on a one year deal. The guy is clearly a different breed and his interviews on HBO’s 24/7 are the stuff of legend. And it is embarassing to watch the reporters in this scrum try and pry out quotes of a similar ilk.

Bryz seems genuinely happy to be in Edmonton and grateful for a chance to be back in the NHL. Is Edmonton is first choice? No. But is he sounding like someone trying to make the best of things? Yes. He pumped the Oilers "great heritage" wisely lumping in Lowe and MacT in with Gretzky and Messier and seems be a happy go lucky fellow fighting through English as a second language to make himself understood.

But this wasn’t a Dany Heatley type attitude – the guy doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body. This didn’t seem to make any sort of the impressions on the hostile crowd of mics who wanted him to diss the city, the fans or anything really and asked only questions of the sort.

It’s clear everyone covering the team is looking for him to say something crazy asap. "Do you think you suck?" "Don’t you hate Philly?" "Isn’t Edmonton crappy?" "Are you mad you were bought out?" The awkward questions just came at the poor guy rapid fire. We can’t think of any other Oiler being raked over the coals in such a fashion – much less in his first day on the job.

You can hear Ryan Rishaug trying to be a tough guy asking the hard questions of the newest Oiler throughout the clip. It would be grand if he would take a similar approach with MacT, Eakins or Lowe who actually have had an impact in the product on the ice not a guy who hasn’t even suited up in a single game but there you go. 

Bryz wasn’t having it. He stayed positive, stayed classy and made it through the gauntlet unscathed.

FOR THE RECORD

We saw a panel over the weekend on one of the networks suggest that Bryz was being brought in as a designated dressing room distraction designed to take the heat off the underperforming mega studs. If the Oilers are going to get things righted again reclamation projects are going to be a key part of the re-re-rebuild. The Oilers need to be a place where players can come to turn things around in a positive place – not in some hostile environment like what we see in the scrum above. Hopefully Bryz’s new team mates are a bit more welcoming.

Not everyone in Edmonton wants you to fail. In fact some of us want to see you dominate. I’ll say it again: Не каждый в Эдмонтонских желаниях Вы, чтобы терпеть неудачу. Фактически некоторые из нас хотят видеть, что Вы возглавляете.

Good luck to you Bryz.

  • Johnnydapunk

    As a former non sports (with one massive exception) journalist with 30 years experience I am in favour of asking very tough questions to authority figures. It is the job of the media to challenge the powerful, which means the politicians, the police, corporate leaders, and, yes, even sports figures. For the most part those tough question should be addressed to the general manager or the coach, however, but in some circumstances of athletes as well, usually in relation to controversial incidents.

    Grilling an athlete who has not even played for the team, and is in now way responsible for its struggles is pushing things a bit, but I think it was absolutely right that Bryzgalov was asked about what went wrong in Philadelphia last season. After he made it clear that he did not acknowledge that his play or his allegedly “flakey” behaviour were part of the problem in Philadelphia, there was really no point in continuing to ask the same question in increasingly blunt and, frankly, insulting terms in an apparent attempt to goad Bryzgalov into an angry response. Listening to the scrum on the radio while driving I admit that I started to cringe a bit. As someone who cut his teeth as The Journal’s only real investigative reporter for years I have had a lot of experience in asking tough questions to genuinely powerful people, but this was just inappropriate, amateurish behaviour in my opinion; the behaviour of someone who wants to be seen as a ‘real’ journalist, but doesn’t real know how to be one. Bryz was asked and he answered. Now it is time to, as he asked, give him a chance to show what he can do.

    How does a real sports journalist behave? The tough questions asked by Journal columnist John MacKinnon of Kevin Lowe at the press conference when MacTavish was appointed as GM were examples of real journalism and asking them takes real stones, believe me. His questions were pointed but absolutely fair and Lowe’s angry reaction gave us some real insight. That is how you do it.

    • DSF

      Agree for the most part.

      As a former non sports journalist with 40 years experience I agree with your overall sentiment and the awkwardness of some of the questioning was palpable but the “amateurish” nature of the proceedings doesn’t supersede the appropriateness of asking those questions.

      I think part of the disconnect is that, for the most part, sports journalism is a contradiction in terms since there is a very long tradition of sports beat reporters to be nothing more than purveyors of cliches and platitudes and when any reporter tries to step out of the mold, it appears forced and odd.

      I do agree that MacKinnon did something that is lacking in coverage of the Oilers but it is vey rare (even from MacKinnon) and, given the state of the team at this juncture should be much more in evidence.

  • Serious Gord

    Re: reporter ethics.

    If you think rishaugs conduct was reprehensible, here is an example of what the Yankee reporter pool was like back in 1964 via David halberstams excellent book “1964” via a NYT column on the book:

    “Among the new breed of sports reporter known as chipmunks was a writer who once asked a player about a telephone call that had interrupted an interview. When the reporter learned that the player’s wife had been the caller and that she had been feeding their baby, he posed the un-locker-room-like question, “Breast or bottle?””

  • Yes, I mostly agree with what DSF says about the Bryz interview, but once you have asked it a few times and the player has gone as far as he is going to go, you have to let go unless you have a very different angle. You can hardly compare the Bryz situation with grilling a politician about a scandal.

    While I do not wholly disagree with your comment about sports reporters, I think you underestimate just how tough their job is. It is a great deal easier to ask a politician a tough question than a football player or hockey player, who is accustomed to settling disagreements violently. I have total admiration for the courage of Cam Cole, Robin and many others who write critical things about these people and then show up in the locker room the next day and face them. I suspect I would be sweating like a pig. Give them credit. I have been face-to-face with unhappy cops but nothing quite compares to the confrontations I experienced in the one major sports story I did.

    All beat reporters face the same worry; being cut out of the loop and getting beaten to stories by their less challenging rivals.

    • DSF

      I think the one thing that makes sports reporting more difficult is the ability of sports teams to control access.

      While most public figures have no or limited control over media access, sports teams can easily shut out troublesome reporters or, at least, make it very difficult for them to do their jobs.

      In this day and age, if an athlete physically attacked a reporter his career would be over while, as we’ve seen with the EPS harassment of Edmonton journalists, the police and other public figures can find more insidious ways of striking out.

      So much of a journalists mojo comes from how supportive his employer is if he treads on dangerous ground.

      I’m intensely curious about the major sports story you covered.

      Can you share anything?

  • Crackenbury

    I’d love to throw in my 2 cents about Rishaug and the news conference, but I didn’t hear it. Judging from the posts on this board he must have been an unbelievable jerk. I can’t reconcile that with what I’ve seen from him in the past.

    Were his questions really that inappropriate? What exactly could have been that bad? Why are Gregor and Brownlee supporting Rishaug, while most of the posters on this board seem to have a different view?

    • james_dean

      When one of my friends is getting beaten down, right or wrong i will always jump in.

      Cant fault the nation boys

      Its the bro mentality and you gotta respect that

  • I actually used to enjoy Shaugger, when he was upbeat and comical but this wallowing in negativity thing is quite tedious.

    He’s on a bit of a roll. I thought his coverage of the Yak thing was tainted with over the top personal indignation that turned sour. I didn’t think it warranted the venom but it seemed the flavour of the week for the lemmings and he made a large effort to lead the charge. ~(yay!)~
    The organizations hands off handling of the entire affair was rather odd as well but reconciling odd and this organization is not an exercise I am willing to invest much time into.

    This Bryz presser is both hilarious and as wanye points out …disturbing.
    What seems evident from the clip is that
    A) Bryz was predictably ready for the junk questions
    B) Bryz is not as dumb as those who would try and bait him
    C) Bryz enjoys the sparring

    I too am quite fond of him already.

    Solid piece again Wanye!!

  • Czar

    Because they all eat at the same buffet table in the press room.
    And work for the same company.
    Fans, on the other hand, wonder why Bryzgalov can’t just play some hockey before the blowdried media weasels try to manufacture some quotes.

  • Czar

    I hate how people keep calling Bryz ‘controversial’ or a ‘cancer’. He’s a quirky guy for sure but the media are such idiots when they ask him dumb questions directly after a tough game. I have to give hockey players credit, if I had to deal with the moronic questions that they get asked on a daily basis, I would be fined regularly. The media sure isn’t helping make people feel comfortable in Edmonton after the whole Yakupov thing and now this.

  • DSF

    Okay, DSF, I will indulge your curiosity. It was the story about Grant Fuhr’s cocaine problem that Dave Staples and I did together, with Cam Cole coming in at the end to write columns about it. That would be about 23 years ago. Lets just say Dave and I have some pretty good war stories to tell about that one. My wild encounter with Glen Sather the day before it ran certainly outstripped anything I have experienced in the biz before or since.

  • Randomhero79

    as usual Sir.Wanye, great article. The Edmonton media scrums are starting to look like a gaggle of 14 year old girls, creating drama out of anything and whining about it when they get called on it. Not saying all media guys, or all 14 year old girls are like this, just 85% of them