Wednesday, 1 August 2012

HABS-TOWN: "Pat Burns got knocked out cold by a frozen Turkey!"

I had the privilege many years ago of running my own roller hockey league. The league was a lot of fun for those who played in it. I was sixteen years old at the time, and that may have been a big part of the reason that I and the league garnered about 14 minutes of fame.

The Montreal Gazette wrote a story on us, the Suburban wrote about me, and CF-CF 12 sent a "Pulse" news reporter to cover us - Pat Caporali. The whole thing was a pretty neat experience for the players in the league. "Hey, we're gonna be on TV! - and they sent a gorgeous reporter to cover us!". We were, after all teenagers, so clearly Pat's beauty was on the minds of many.

I'm no longer 16 years old, and while Pat still has that same beauty, I know she clearly did not get to where she is as result of those looks. Pat's smart, funny, a good writer, has great instincts for story - and most importantly she knows her sports. There certainly are some female reporters who are given a job in sports based on looks (or in some cases are prompted to act as though they are) - but that is not Pat.

Some of you may remember Pat from her time on CFCF-12 (now CTV Montreal)'s newscasts, or you may remember her from her time on Mitch Melnick's CIQC drive show, or from her time working the Habs radio broadcasts for CJAD.

Pat spent a decade working the Montreal Sports scene on radio & TV - and a huge chunk of that time was devoted to covering the Habs, making her a certifiable expert on the subject and an integral part of HABS TOWN.

Many readers may remember you from your time with CTV Pulse news or working on Mitch Melnick's show in the mid-90's. Were you always into sports? or was reporting your first love?
I definitely developed love for sport early childhood. I spent lots of time with my dad watching “Wild World of Sports”, boxing (Muhammad Ali & Sugar Ray) and Formula 1 racing on Sundays, along with a LOT of late school nights watching hockey playoffs games in the late 70s.  I spent ANY allowance on buying hockey cards. And even though I lived and breathed the Habs and HATED Boston, my secret prize possession was a Bobby Orr lunch box, which I still have! I NEVER took it to school for fear my support for the Habs would be questioned.

I TRIED to play sports as a kid but I was kind of REALLY small and a “girl” so I gravitated to more typical figure skating, gymnastics and dance. I hated that I wasn’t allowed to play baseball or hockey with the boys. At most I’d be relegated as the token outfielder behind the fence or the “CAR!” lookout for hockey street games.

By high school I was playing (and winning some banners) in field hockey, volleyball and competed in track and field (javelin was my specialty). In college, I was weight training and even set records in my class for dead lift and squat.

I didn’t start playing hockey until I went to University. I sucked. BIG TIME. I could skate really well, but put equipment on me, give me the puck and I was a mess. I couldn’t stand to be bad at anything and I REALLY wanted to play, so I took some clinics with the Concordia Women’s hockey team and Olympian France St. Louis. I improved enough to be able to play in a charity game with my employer CJAD/Mix 96 against NHL legends at Verdun Auditorium. I was the only girl on the ice, got plenty of ice time, and played against Steve Shutt, Henri Richard, Yvon Lambert and others. It was pretty awesome.

While I initially had plans and grades to become a veterinarian, going into sports media was a natural but almost accidental progression. I always had a love for good stories and strong appreciation for sports journalism. I really admired good writers’ or broadcasters’ ability to really tell the story in a way that makes you believe in or want to cheer for an unknown athlete or team, tell the story/truth no one knows, or learn something new. I hold sports journalism in very high regard. I feel very lucky to have grown up with and worked with some of the very best in the business. 

That's quite the accomplishment to go from not playing hockey at all, to being able to skate with varsity players. Do you ever play anymore?
It's been WAY too long since I played last. I still play outside on the ice in winter but without equipment or skates. I still have all my equipment and don't foresee giving it up. :)

What got you into hockey, more specifically the Habs?
It was the 70s, I’m Canadian and I grew up in Montreal. Everyone lived and breathed the Habs. Watching “Hockey Night in Canada” on CBC on a black and white 13” TV was the way my Dad and I bonded. Guy, Shutty, Big Bird, Dryden, Gainey, Dougie, Serge, Mario, Houle, Yvon, Engblom, Lapointe… I knew them all, memorized their numbers and stats. I cheered them all on. I never imagined that a little over a decade later I’d be working with most of them.

Starting in 1991, I was the on site producer and operator for the Montreal Canadiens broadcasts on CJAD radio from the Montreal Forum with Dick Irvin and Steve Shutt, and in following years, Pete Mahavolich and Ron Francis. It was then that I began working with Mitch Melnick as the on site producer for various pre and post game sports shows, and eventually became his producer and sports reporter covering the Habs and other sports.

I eventually moved to CFCF TV (now CTV Montreal) where I was the cubby reporter among veteran broadcasters Ron Reusch, Randy Tieman, Brian Wilde and Al Bishop. I was charged with focusing on more local and amateur sports, soccer, boxing and motorsports, with only the occasional Habs feature story.

Do you remember your first Habs game?
It was a regular season game, Boston Bruins at the Montreal Forum with my dad. I’m fuzzy on what year it was exactly, or who won (somewhere between 1979-1981) He had been given tickets at work by a season ticket holder at the last minute. I was SO excited to be sitting in the famous red seats! I remember how nice the ladies in the red uniforms were who escorted us to our seats and held vigil over us like flight attendants. I remember the feel of the wood seats and the smell of the hot dogs/chien chaud. It was overwhelming and I felt like I was sitting on hallowed ground.

Do you have a favorite Habs player ever? If so, whom, and why?
I have had a soft spot for a few players over the years. The list includes goaltender Steve Penny for his amazing performance in the 1984 playoffs and then unfairly having his name left off the Stanley Cup in 1986 even though he qualified with an injury exemption. The team still gave him a ring and included him in the team photo.

Brian Skrudland is definitely on my list for never giving up on playing professionally even after he was never drafted, and earning a spot with the Canadiens as a free agent. Over the years I was inspired by his leadership, sportsmanship and competitiveness but mostly for living up to my image of him when I eventually met him. He was and still is unbelievably kind, a fabulous family man, is always smiling, and made you feel like a friend from the moment you met him. 

I had a great relationship with former coach Pat Burns which I feel like I can qualify as a friendship. Most of the fun and laughs we had were over stories told when the microphones were off. My favorite Pat Burns story was from when he worked as a police officer. He was called to a domestic dispute between a couple in their kitchen and got knocked out COLD when he was inadvertently hit in the head by a frozen turkey thrown towards the husband by the angry wife. All the while, his partner could barely contain the tears and laughter when he called for backup and an ambulance.

Lyle Odelein was the first player I officially interviewed for radio sound bites in the Forum locker room at a time where there were few women reporters and very little privacy for players to shower and change. We had met many times on the sports show and got along well, but on this occasion he was particularly courteous, friendly and patient. He never gave me the usual “gave it 110%” spiel. He even played “big brother” by often staying in locker room to make sure I got all the players and interviews I needed before leaving.

However, I have to say that Jean Beliveau is about the classiest person I have ever met and had the privilege of interviewing. He is the absolute definition of a gentleman. 

Did the couple settle their dispute & eat the Turkey at least?
Pretty sure the turkey never got cooked. But no arrests were made.

For those who don't know what are you up to these days?
After my years in the media in Montreal, I went to the dark side. I joined the world of PR. I kid. Sort of. I joined the Canadian Player’s racing team in 2000 with driver Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani, then won a Championship in 2003 with Paul Tracy. I have worked with Target Chip Ganassi, Vision Racing and a short stint with the FAZZT race team. I’ve worked with more than 30 amazing world-class racecar drivers, in various high level series, over a 12-year span, and it has been quite a wild ride.

The last few years have been very challenging ones in IndyCar for a variety of reasons that include the economy. I stepped away from racing for the past year or so, returned to Montreal and have been busy with freelance work in the PR, communications and social media field, but will likely be back in the sports or motorsports world one way or another.

Do you still watch hockey?
When I left media to work in motorsports in 2000, I watched hockey less often due to my schedule and partly because of the clutch + grab /”dump the puck” style of play at the time. The 2004-2005 lockout definitely hurt my interest level.

During that time and up until recently, I lived in Indianapolis, Indiana while I worked in motorsports. I had access to St. Louis and Columbus games and the occasional Chicago ones on TV but the US broadcasts just CANNOT compare to “Hockey Night in Canada”. I’d often go to local hockey games to watch Indiana Ice (USHL) and even ran into Chris Chelios a few years ago who was in town to see his son Dean (and later Jake) play against them.

Indy actually has some good hockey history. Championship banners still hang in the Coliseum at the Indiana Fairgrounds won by the Indiana Racers (WHA) for whom Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier played. Former Canadian coach Jacques Demers also coached the team.

I would often run into NHL players at various IndyCar events in NHL cities. Vincent LeCavalier would come to races in Saint Petersburg, FL and meet the Canadian drivers I worked with. I actually often saw Montreal Canadiens former player and recently named Player Development Coach, Patrice Brisebois, as he is not only a big race fan but has been behind the wheel of a few stock cars himself.

I started watching hockey again in 2010 because my roommate in Indy was a Vancouver native, diehard Canucks fan and bought the NHL package for our TV viewing needs. I’ve keep closer tabs on hockey ever since but now that I am back in Montreal, as long as the season starts on time, I might invest more of my time watching the Habs alongside my 9 year nephew (who boasts a wardrobe that is 70% Canadiens gear, 8% Sydney Crosby t-shirts and jersey, 2 % IndyCar racing and the final 20% dedicated to Star Wars.)

I was 12 when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in '93. I have some memories of it, but I'll never forget some of the players. I even wear #11 on my back when I play sports because of Capt.Kirk "is work" Muller. Who do you think your nephew has to look up to on the team now?
I did forget to mention that while my nephew's closet contains 70% Habs gear... he lives in Toronto and his favorite book is Roch Carrier "The sweater". I'd say Subban tops that list at the moment. His favorite player however is Sidney Crosby, especially for his role with Team Canada at the Olympics. I'll be introducing him to the movie "Slapshot" soon enough.

Do you find it difficult to be a hockey fan at this point? Or is it easy to turn the "fan" off and on when appropriate?
I definitely have a tough time being just a fan. I still find it difficult to sit in the stands at a hockey game or at a racetrack without trying to analyze like a reporter instead of just sitting back and enjoying it casually. I seem to have developed an all or nothing attitude about it. I either want to know about EVERYTHING going on, or nothing at all. Now that I don’t cover it as a reporter, I never feel like I’m getting the whole story.  Sometimes I get the urge to call up some of my media friends and say: “Ok. Seriously. What’s the REAL story.”

I have also come to realize that I have a passion for the sport of Hockey but I don’t have the sense of connection to a team or players that I had as a kid. I feel like the human part of the story is getting lost and that it’s become more about numbers, stats and salaries. I’m not sure I like that at all.

It sounds like you're expecting your nephew to turn you into a fan again - is that something you're actually hoping will happen?
I would be lying if I said I didn't wish for that a little. :)

You talked about working in the world of IndyCar racing, how was that the same or different from Sports reporting?
They both involve a lot of travel and story telling. My role in IndyCar was to help get the story of the team and drivers out to the media, attract more fans in order to benefit sponsors and the team.

In a way, it wasn’t so far off what I was doing as a reporter except that I was now on the inside trying to get the story out.  I was now part of a team rather than a completely unbiased observer. Having said that, while I’m fiercely competitive and loyal to a team, I still tend to abide by the “no cheering in the press box” rule that I lived by for so many years as a reporter. It gives me the ability to do the job and tell the story from a somewhat more neutral position, and in a way that should be helpful to media, sponsor and fans. But it was great to be able to share my insider’s view with them as well.

Racing, like hockey is still very much a team sport but racecar drivers are equivalent to goalies in hockey or pitchers in baseball or quarterbacks in football. They are elite athletes. While, they can’t do it with out a strong team around them, they are a still a different breed. They think differently. They see things differently. They are hyper competitive. They react differently and are just “off” enough to be able to do what they do VERY well. And that makes for some very good stories to tell.

There has been a definite evolution in “storytelling” or sports reporting this past decade, especially with the appearance of social media. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of getting their stories out in new and unique ways.

Do you ever miss sports reporting or give any thought about getting back into it?
You bet I do. All the time. But the opportunity hasn't quite presented itself.

What's the best hockey game you attended? What do you remember about it?
Hard to pick just one but I’d say every Canadiens game in the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs would be on the list, particularly the overtime games. The most memorable is a toss up between the LA Kings game 2 with the Marty McSorley illegal stick incident and the final Game 5 Stanley Cup win in Montreal and the ensuing mayhem that followed.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories that are somehow related to the Habs?
Too many to recount but they often come up over beers at Hurley’s Pub or L’ile Noire in Montreal with some of the media that covered the team over those same years.

I’d say the oddest ‘story’ was the 1993 broadcast I was involved with as the on-site producer for the “live” RADIO broadcast from the chapel at Concordia University in Montreal of famous broadcaster Danny Gallivan’s funeral. It even had live play-by-play commentary of the service and guest lineup by Habs broadcaster Dick Irvin. That was just… very awkward.

In 2002, I brought IndyCar drivers and Montreal natives Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani to the Bell Center for a Canadiens game. I escorted them to do interviews between periods and meet the players after the game. Both drivers would later laugh that I got more attention that day than they did, because of all the people (media, ushers, players, etc) that would stop us just to say hello and chat with me rather than them.

There are quite a few Canadians (and hockey fans) that work in IndyCar and one particularly fun memory happened at Milwaukee Mile racetrack some years ago. Following a storm, as we waited for the track to dry on a bitterly cold day, a mechanic pulled out some tuques, a dozen hockey sticks and a ball. A hockey game broke out right there in pit lane. 

Play By Play for a funeral sounds crazy. I have no recollection of that, but I do remember how packed the square was in front of the Cathedral the day of Rocket Richard's funeral. Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing that Hockey is treated like a religion in this town?
Passion is never a bad thing but sometimes it needs to be given a bit of direction or perspective. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone... Just like any set of beliefs or religions, it's all fun and games until someone gets suspended or there's a riot. Let me be clear though. "Hockey riots" have little to do with hockey or passion. The one and only exception to that rule is the very first one...  March 17, 1955... the only one that had any REAL moral and cultural implications in support of Habs player Maurice Richard and even that was less about hockey and more about civil rights and the start of the "Quiet Revolution".

I'm sure you must have some funny stories about some of the current faces of Montreal sports media that people might not know, care to share?
WAY too many to tell without risking someone getting upset with me.
There was the time Mitch Melnick and I called out one of the newscasters at the radio station for almost burping on air after eating/stealing hotdogs that were brought to us by a listener.
He denied it happened so we edited the "tape" to include a REALLY tremendous burp and replayed it on air as the "uncensored version".
We laughed so hard we couldn't pull it together for about 5 minutes live on the air. 

There there's the time that Terry Haig interviewed left handed baseball pitcher Steve Frey on Mitch Melnick's show while I was producing and working the board. His question to the pitcher was "So Steve, is it true that lefties have more stuff on their balls?" I completely lost it and was CRYING. Mitch and Terry had NO idea what the hell was wrong with me because I couldn't speak to explain. All I could do was replay the portion of the interview during commercial break. It ended up being a long break until we could compose ourselves.

I have a vague recollection of Brian Wilde doing a live hit prior to a hockey game where Edmonton was playing the "Blackcocks" that night. 
I also get the hiccups a lot. They are loud and obnoxious. I get them often when I am nervous or anxious about something. I once had them so loud and so long when I was working a Canadiens radio broadcast (as producer) that the play-by-play guy and Hall of Fame broadcaster, Dick Irvin, had to apologize to everyone listening nationally (Canada) for the odd noise you could hear over the crowd. We were inundated by calls from listeners offering suggestions on how to get rid of them. None of them worked. 

What do you think of the hiring of Marc Bergevin and his moves so far?
I think he has the most difficult and scrutinized job in hockey. I think any and every move he makes will be analyzed to death by the Montreal media and fans. I’m not sure anything he does will be meet with complete agreement. I’d say, in my opinion, so far so good but I think he’d better invest in some antacid and to be safe, put in an order for some thicker skin.

With Free agency still going on, what do you think are the Habs biggest needs? 
I think they need to keep P.K. Subban but I would hope the GM isn’t done shopping. The GM is there to always look at improving a team. Key to the equation is good leadership both on and behind the bench but chemistry can’t be overlooked. But I’m not sure what he needs on the ice can be bought right now.

What do you think is coming in the immediate future for Scott Gomez?  
There better be a lot of hard work and at the very least an equaling or surpassing of his 2011-12 goals total. That probably shouldn’t be too hard to do.

Will the 2012-2013 NHL season start on time?
It certainly better start on time because in this day and age, there isn’t a single sport, not even hockey in Canada, that can afford to lose any fans or their support. Do not take them for granted.

For more from Pat Caporali, follow her on Twitter @PCaporali

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