The announcement of DUBNetwork taking a step back on Friday was one that weighed heavily on me. With everything going on in the country, Oregon, and my hometown in Minnesota, I just couldn’t find the words yesterday to begin to describe how I felt.
I’m not going to sit here Saturday morning and pretend this news is the biggest news, it’s not, but it still hits me at my core.
I was up most of the night watching what was happening here in Portland as well as Minnesota as I prayed for my friends and family to remain safe.
The decision DUBNetwork made to take a step back pales in comparison to what is going on with the virus and now the protests/riots. I will not pretend to even put this on the same playing field, but the impact of the announcement is still tough to read.
Over the last several years I’ve watched amazing, respected journalists lose their jobs as newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, etc. make difficult decisions. While I was a beat reporter covering the Portland Winterhawks, my income and how I pay my bills did not come from writing for DUBNetwork. There are so many who are hurting and have lost their job, so this is a different type of loss.
As we made the announcement on Friday, I reflected on how devastated the professional industry is as people who rely on journalism to pay their rent or mortgage struggle. I realized this morning I have not done as much as I can to help support those people. I subscribed to the outlets where I’ve turned to for coverage.
Two seasons ago, I was able to begin living a dream of covering a hockey team on a day-to-day basis as a beat reporter. I moved to Oregon from Minnesota in December of 2015 and immediately looked for hockey. Hockey is a big part of who I am and how I escape from everything else going on around me.
My background comes from high school hockey in Minnesota along with the NCAA. I knew of the Portland Winterhawks and the WHL, so upon arrival in the Pacific Northwest, I immediately looked for hockey coverage and specifically the local team.
Coming across Brandon Rivers’ blog, Scott Sepich’s beat, and Chad Balcom’s podcast, I was all in — hook, line, and sinker.
As my personal life collapsed around me in 2017, it was my faith family, immediate family, my friends, and the hockey community which helped me through some very challenging times.
When Brandon joined DUBNetwork I followed his writing to this site. After every Winterhawks game I attended I hit refresh on my computer waiting for his recap. I knew I wanted to do something like him, and hopefully meet him at some point. I also waited for a notification that a new podcast from Chad talking hockey was available.
Prior to the start of the 2018-2019 WHL season, I wanted to do more than just attend games. I wanted back into the game at a deeper level. My passion for the sport was at an all-time high, but I did not know how to get involved.
I reached out to Chad on Twitter asking him if he would be attending Portland’s training camp. After meeting up with him in front of the Moda Center, we proceeded to watch hockey together for several hours and days. I asked him if he knew how I could get involved and he mentioned DUBNetwork was looking for more writers. Not sure if I could pull it off, Chad encouraged me to throw my hat into the ring and also look at DraftGeek as well as DUBNetwork. It was the first time I heard him say two of his most commonly used phrases, “A rising tide floats all boats” and “It’s a developmental league for everyone.”
Long story short, both Brayden Sullivan at DraftGeek and Paul Figler at DUBNetwork agreed to take a chance on me as a writer. Not long afterwards, I received credentials to cover the Winterhawks, what a feeling! While this article focuses on my time with DUBNetwork, I would be remiss if I did not thank Brayden as well for giving me a tremendous opportunity with DraftGeek too. I owe so much to both of these men.
My brain was spinning with ideas on how I wanted to run my beat. I wanted to put my own spin on it, but also learn from Brandon and Scott.
The first task I was assigned with DUBNetwork came in the form of a season preview for Portland. I met with Brandon to talk through my ideas as well as his guidance. From that conversation on, we formed a unique bond. He had been covering the team the last several years. I wanted to do right by him as he agreed to step back to allow me to cover the Winterhawks.
Over the course of the season I bounced idea after idea off Brandon. He helped guide me on how to write a proper game recap. The approach was storytelling more than a summary; anyone could pick up a box score. I’m not where I am today without Brandon. I consider it a privilege to call him a friend.
I was off and running covering the team and living my dream. My goal as a reporter is to give as much access to the fans as I possibly could. I knew how much information I wanted, so figured maybe others craved it too?
None of what I worked on could have been accomplished without the help and support of the Portland Winterhawks organization. From the top down, the organization is first class. Nick Marek and Piper Criscola accommodated my requests granting me access to staff members, coaches, and the players. They retweeted my articles and even linked to them on the team’s website. The work ethic shown by these two is unmatched. We’ve shared a lot of laughs along the way, and I gained two friends in the process. Without them, my coverage looks entirely different.
Scott Sepich is a legend in Portland, no questions asked, and meeting him was truly an honor. How he ran his Winterhawks beat is the gold standard. He was gracious enough to give me pointers and advice. I’ve done my best to implement those tips into my work. Talking hockey and swapping stories with Scott is one of highlights over the last two plus years.
I was able to join Chad on a podcast as we interviewed Chris Peters of ESPN prior to the start of the 2019 World Juniors tournament. He gave me a start into podcasting which helped improve my interviews. Chad and I see the world through a different lens. However, I’m thankful to him for pushing me outside of my comfort zone while still respecting me. With all the tension going on around the country, if more people were as accepting of people’s differences as Chad, we would be in a different spot.
Over the last two seasons covering the Winterhawks, I also had the opportunity to travel to road games in Everett, Seattle, and Tri-City. I never quite made it to Spokane, but the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena remains atop my list of road buildings to visit. I’m thankful for the access the PR Directors of the other four U.S. Division teams provided. As I told game stories, the story is not complete without the other side’s perspective. Building relationships with the other U.S. Division teams is equally important to me. There are some amazing people within the division, and I look forward to working with them more down the road.
My list of people to thank could go on and on for another 2,000 words. As frequent readers know, or our editor Zach Zaret (I owe this man a lot), I’m quite capable of doing. I will spare doing this because this is not intended to be a goodbye article.
Instead, I want to thank those who trusted me to tell your story or showcase your talents. I do not take it for granted for even a second. Also, thank you to everyone who took the time to read my work, I appreciate all of you!
This is my 192nd, and final, article for DUBNetwork, it has been quite a ride.
While my time with DUBNetwork has come to an end, I have no intentions of concluding my coverage of the Portland Winterhawks or the other teams in the U.S. Division. What does this look like going forward? I’m not sure yet.
In the meantime, if news breaks with the Portland Winterhawks, I will provide updates via Twitter. You can follow me at @jjcritzer.
All I know is my passion for the game is still running through me. Junior hockey is special, and the teams, coaches, players, and everyone involved have stories worth sharing. My hope is to be able to help tell their story and provide coverage of their hard work.
Until then, please stay safe, take care of each other, showcase grace, and I will “see you around the rink!”