Whether you know him as TSN’s Edmonton beat reporter, from his radio appearances, or his Twitter account, Ryan Rishaug has been a staple in the Edmonton sports scene for over 15 years now. I had a chance to sit down with Ryan to talk about the Oilers, the changing environment of sports coverage, and whether or not the Oilers will make the playoffs. Here’s part of our conversation. Enjoy.
Baggedmilk: You’ve been covering Edmonton sports for a long time. I’m curious, what’s your fondest memory, or a memory that sticks out in your mind, from your years of covering sports in Edmonton.
Ryan Rishaug: If we’re talking things in this city I’ve covered, I’d say the Stanley Cup Final run by the Oilers back in ’06 was pretty special. Growing up in this city, I remember what it was like when the Oilers were on top of the hockey world, and witnessing first hand as they almost got there again. The excitement from the fans, the engagement from the young fans, it was great to see as an Edmontonian.
BM: How has sports coverage changed since you started, and where do you think it’s going?
RR: Obviously Twitter has changed a lot about the way we do our work, as we all have smart phones. People can consume information much quicker than ever before. As a journalist covering something they’re passionate about, the challenge is to maintain a balance between quality and quantity. We have the means to be talking all the time, opinion after opinion to feed the beast of consumption, and many do. But just because people are always listening, doesn’t mean we should be manufacturing big things to say. I prefer to say less, and try to make what I actually report more meaningful. Compared to most in my field, my ratio of tweets sent to followers is much different. Avenues to report and give opinion are much greater now, and maintaining quality is a challenge.
BM: What advice would you give to a young journalist hoping to follow a similar career path?
RR: Learn everything — news, weather, sports, traffic. Turn down no opportunities to add a tool to your toolbox. Those who are singularly focused in this industry get left behind. It’s ok to have a passion, but for survival in a competitive industry, you must be versatile.
BM: You’ve also covered the Oilers for a long time. What is the biggest difference that you’re seeing this season as opposed to seasons past?
RR: They’re a better balanced, deeper team. The blue line is much improved, and night in night out they can compete with better teams because of it. When players get hurt there seems to be more capable replacements than before. A lot of people hated the Taylor Hall trade, but Peter Chiarelli showed guts in making a trade he knew he was losing to change the shape of his team. A move like this had to be made and so far it’s paid off, though it is still early.
BM: What areas do they still need to improve?
RR: They still need to mature a little as a team and improve their situational play. Turning pucks over constantly while nursing a two-goal lead against the defending champions is a sign that they still have to learn to manage the games better. That said, they are much better at this than they were a year ago. They also need a right shot defenceman to run the powerplay.
BM: Do you think Peter Chiarelli will look to address those areas of need this season, or do you think he’ll wait before making another move until the expansion draft shakes out?
If an obvious deal presents itself, Chiarelli won’t hesitate, but those deals are hard to come by. As for the expansion draft, I think he’ll keep a cautious eye on it, but at the same time, if his team maintains a playoff pace and has a shot come March, I think he will look to add at the deadline. Imagine that, the Oilers deadline day buyers.
BM: Your job has permitted you the opportunity to be around a lot of great hockey players. What makes Connor McDavid so special? Is it his preparation? Dedication to getting better? Something else we don’t even know about?
RR: All of the above. Connor is a special player, we all see that on a nightly basis. I have never seen the combination of speed, hands, and hockey sense that he possesses. He will be the best player in the world very soon, in my opinion. Off the ice what people may not get to see is how much he cares for his teammates. You can see it in practice: the way he talks to his peers, the way he’s constantly got an arm around a teammate, or engaging with players top to bottom of the lineup. He does the media scrums and handles the responsibilities that come with his stature in the game because he knows he has to, but I truly believe if he could just play the games, and be with his teammates, he’d forego all of the attention and spotlight happily. The players sense this as well and are overwhelmed by the combination of incredible ability, and humility. It is rare.
BM: Will the Edmonton Oilers make the playoffs this season?
RR: I said no at the start of the year, and here they are, one of the best in the West. If McDavid stays healthy, I now believe they can. The balance on their team is much better, and Cam Talbot is quickly establishing himself as a top third starter in the league. Other good teams have dropped off, and the door is wide open for this group.
BM: What has been the biggest surprise of the 2016-17 season so far?
RR: If we’re talking Oilers only, I’d have to say how quickly they’ve turned a corner. Many expected them to be improved, but few, if any, predicted they’d be a top team in the West at this point. They have some great pieces in place, but the supporting cast has really made a huge difference – the Pitlicks, Russells, Nurses, and Maroons. The quality in their game has gone way up, and quickly. It’s been impressive and surprising.
BM: Since you’re around players, coaches, scouts, etc as often as you are, how do you decide what to report as news, and what you keep to yourself?
RR: I’m a journalist first and foremost, so the story takes precedence always. I have a lot of respect for the players, coaches, and management, but don’t consider them friends. I ask questions on behalf of my network and the fans who are passionate about the team. I give opinions that I truly believe in, and make an effort to be respectful in the process without pulling any punches. Many have been angry or frustrated with me in the past, and many more will be in the future. It’s part of the job.
BM: Do you find it hard to balance work and the relationships you’ve built with these guys?
RR: I won’t lie, sometimes it’s tough to rip somebody for not giving enough effort, then walk into the room the next day and ask them for some of their time for an interview. But in my experience, most are professionals and understand criticism comes with the territory, and more often than not, the good ones aren’t too concerned with our opinions anyways.
BM: Where can people find you?
RR: On Twitter at @tsnryanrishaug but don’t expect me to fill your timeline, I don’t say much unless there’s something to be said.
I always appreciate media members that speak their mind and Ryan Rishaug certainly fits into that category. I’ve disagreed with him on many occasions, but, like he said, it’s important to understand that criticism comes with the territory and he always seems to handle it well. I’ve had more than one disagreement with Rishaug, and I’m sure there will be more, but one thing we can all agree on is that he knows his stuff and is right more often than he’s wrong.
I want to thank Ryan for taking the time to chat, and answer a few questions about the Oilers, media, and covering sports in this city that I love. Follow Ryan on Twitter, and catch him covering all things Oilers for TSN on both radio and TV.