Sunday, 19 August 2012

HABS-TOWN: "I'm no longer a fan of the Montreal Canadiens"

Many of you, like me, may remember Ben Raby from his time in Montreal. He worked at the Team 990 (now TSN 990) for four years with the likes of Mitch Melnick and PJ Stock. He left for Washington D.C. shortly after completing a Master's degree at Syracuse University. He still makes occasional appearances on TSN 990, most recently this week with Conor McKenna on "Melnick in the afternoon".

Ben Raby is a man of many hats in the sport world. I've had the pleasure of knowing him for the better part of a decade. He was a pretty good ball hockey player, has knowledge on a multitude of sports and my own mother confused a picture of him as me - so he must be a pretty good looking guy.

While Ben has moved on to another locale, he is still a Montrealer born and bred, the Habs were an important part of his growing up, and to me that makes him an interesting member of HABS-TOWN.

Many readers may remember you from your time at the Team 990 (now TSN 990) here in Montreal, were you always into sports, or was reporting your first love? 
I think my goal of becoming a sports reporter began when I was still a fetus. It was something I was always interested in as a kid and the interest only grew as I went through high school and university.

Somewhere (hopefully far away) are cassettes and video tapes of simulated sports shows I made from my bedroom when I was between six and ten years old. I also used to put together sports magazines and newspapers with my own writings during that time.  Those are now stored away in boxes and likely won’t be seen again for a very long time… but they were fun to sift through when I last saw them in 2007.
I was just a sports media junkie from a very young age- watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays and calling Mitch Garber’s CIQC radio show on Sunday nights as nine-year-old with a high voice.

On a serious note, I also had a role model for a career in media with my uncle Jason Moscovitz having worked as a political reporter on the CBC for 29 years. He remains a mentor of mine and an honest reviewer of my work.

For those who don't know what are you up to these days?
I left Montreal in 2007 to pursue a Masters Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse University. The degree from an American university offered me the opportunity to work in the U.S. and I’ve done so since 2009 in Washington, D.C.

I wear a few different hats in D.C. working as both a broadcaster and writer. I’ve covered the Washington Capitals for the last three years and am part of the broadcast team on the radio side where I host the pregame, postgame and intermission shows. I also cover the Caps as a correspondent for and with Comcast Sportsnet in DC and with a few different local radio stations.

When there are no conflicts with the Capitals, I work on the radio broadcasts for the American University and George Washington University’s Men’s Basketball teams and starting with this upcoming season, I’ll also be part of the radio broadcast team for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

During the hockey and basketball offseason, I work as a sports anchor with WTOP Radio in DC covering all local teams including the Washington Nationals and Redskins. 

Does that make it difficult to still be a Habs fan? 
It may sound sacrilege to say I’m no longer a fan of the Montreal Canadiens but I’m in a different situation living in a different city and covering another NHL team for a living.

When Montreal kids go on to play in the NHL, they may have a soft spot for the Canadiens and look forward to the games against Montreal but their priority is always the team they play for and their upcoming opponents. That’s the way I have viewed things while I’ve been covering the Caps.

If for example, the Caps have an upcoming game against Florida and the Panthers are on the NHL Package in my apartment, but the Habs are also on TV that night, chances are good that I’ll be watching the Florida game in preparation for our broadcast. I really don’t even think twice about it.

There has also been a lot of turnover since I last called Montreal home and followed the Canadiens regularly. I think Andrei Markov and now Francis Bouillon are the only remaining players that were regulars with the team when I last lived in Montreal in 2007. I’ve never really had any allegiance to the current group of players.

That said- the soft spot for the franchise and the history is always there. Just don’t expect me to worry too much when the team hits a rough patch in their schedule next season.
What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
I’m not sure if there was any one specific thing that got me into hockey and the Canadiens. It was probably just a combination of watching Hockey Night in Canada and going to games at the Montreal Forum with my father.

I also enjoyed collecting the old Panini stickers and hockey cards as a kid and when I was five or six years old, my grandfather got me the complete set of Canadiens player figurines from Provigo- a set that I still have today… somewhere.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
I don’t remember when exactly I saw my first Canadiens game, but it had to have been sometime in the late 1980s when I was four or five years old.

Apparently I was confused when the game started because there was no play-by-play announcer like all those games I had watched on TV. I’ve been told that I then took it upon myself to do the play-by-play from my seat, causing those around us to wonder what the heck this kid was doing. Guess it was a sign of things to come.

My father introduced me to the Montreal Forum when I was a little guy. I also remember my cousin Ben Raby taking me to see Wayne Gretzky and the L.A. Kings when I was five or six. 

Do you really have a cousin with the exact same name as you?
Yes. Yes I do. He's a doctor.
Do you have a favorite Habs player ever?
Russ Courtnall was among my favorite players when I was still a little guy. He was a goal scorer with plenty of speed- was just fun to watch. I used to always request jersey #6 in my house leagues because it’s the number that Courtnall wore in Montreal.

Shortly after he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Brian Bellows, I got a custom made Stars sweater with his #26 on the back (they didn’t exactly have those hanging on the racks in Montreal).
I also liked Chris Chelios which was more a result of his being my older sister’s favorite player. Wearing a Chelios jersey at the Bell Centre in the early 2000s always garnered plenty of reactions. 

More recently Saku Koivu was another favorite of mine and his name is one of the few that I still look for in the box-scores. He was a gamer in Montreal. Captained the team during the worst decade in franchise history and he put up with so much nonsense in the media. I’ll always remember his comeback in 2002 and his going up against Boston’s Joe Thornton in the 2002 and 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I was actually at the game in Dec. 1996 against the Chicago Blackhawks when Koivu suffered a serious knee injury. He was the NHL’s leading scorer at the time with 38 points in 30 games, but after the injury he never produced points at that rate again.

Is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate? 
I don’t think it’s too difficult to turn the “fan” off when appropriate. Selfishly speaking, you usually want to see the teams you cover do well because it’s usually good for business (more people tuning in or reading your coverage), but that doesn’t mean you need to cheer in the press box or forget that you have a job to do.

When you deal with the players you cover regularly you develop a relationship that differs from a fan-athlete relationship. It’s a professional relationship that may also allow for a casual conversation when time permits, but I’ll put it this way- reporters can’t talk to players the way fans may talk about the team on a call-in radio show.

The best example I can give of tossing away the fanhood is when you’re working on deadline. When writing a story on a tight deadline the last thing a reporter needs is an overtime finish or a crazy late-game comeback. In those situations, regardless of whether “your” team is leading, sometimes you just want the game to end quickly regardless of who comes out on top. It makes life as a reporter a whole lot easier.

What's the best hockey game you attended? what do you remember about it?
Some of the best hockey games I attended were the first few times the Colorado Avalanche visited the Molson Centre in the late 1990s. At the time the Avalanche were one of the best teams in the NHL, they were still only a couple of years removed from Quebec City (brining out plenty of Nordiques jerseys to the arena), and their goalie Patrick Roy had a little bit of history in Montreal. The atmosphere at those games was always special.

I’ll also always remember attending the final game at the Montreal Forum on March 11, 1996. The Canadiens beat the Dallas Stars 4-1 and the postgame ceremonies included an eight minute standing ovation for Maurice Richard.

A couple non-hockey questions, you moved to DC right around the same time as the Expos, now you work for the team, does that make it that much easier to be a Nationals fan, or do you still feel the pain of the Expos loss? 
The Expos were my favorite team growing up so I’ll always have a soft spot for the team’s history in Montreal and the memories of seeing some great players at Olympic Stadium (say what you want, but I maintain that it had to have been one of the most under-rated fan experiences in all of baseball).

That said, this is my fifth summer in D.C., and having covered the Nationals in some capacity since 2008, I have gotten to know the folks who work with the club, I have followed the growth of the team and I have seen them evolve into a pennant contender. It’s been a great ride which should only get better.

I do acknowledge the unique situation I’m in. I understand that most Expos fans don’t care about the Nationals, just as most Washington baseball fans don’t care about what the franchise did while in Montreal. 
The Nationals themselves (perhaps under orders from MLB) do a very good job of acknowledging the Expos past. Any time a franchise record is broken for example, you’ll often hear a reference to a Montreal Expo. Whenever the Nats begin a home stand, the press notes will always include the club’s all time record (dating back to 1969) versus the upcoming opponents.

I would say that in each game broadcast, there are least three or four references to the Expos. On the TV side, former Expos outfielder FP Santangelo is the color analyst, so many of his anecdotes or references come from his time with Montreal.

It was also special in 2010 when the Nats honored Andre Dawson and Gary Carter by including them on the team’s ring of honor at Nationals Park. The Nats wore the tri-colored Expos hats during batting practice that day and the players then had to sign the hats for charitable auction purposes.

Adam Dunn, Ian Desmond (third-round pick by Montreal in 2004) and Drew Storen (an Expos batboy in the late 1990s in St. Louis) weren’t happy about having to give up the hats and apparently went out and bought their own Expos hats after the fact.

The point is- the Expos actually have a bigger presence in D.C. then some may realize. 

Before I let you go, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you - have you gotten around to seeing The Godfather or Goodfellas yet?

I have in fact gotten around to seeing the Godfather and Good Fellas, and the latter is actually among my all-time favorite movies. 

The origin to this question dates back to 2006 when I was working with Mitch Melnick and it was discovered in an on-air conversation that I have seen very few must-see movies.
I think I was given a list of ten classics that I was instructed to watch… I only wound up watching four of them- Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather and Good Fellas- but I’m forever grateful that they were brought to my attention.

I still have never seen the Wizard of Oz. 

For more from Ben Raby, follow him on twitter: @BenRaby31
or read his articles at CSN

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