One of my biggest gripes with contemporary hockey journalism is the vanilla prose the mainstream press characteristically deploys to convey hockey’s most exciting moments — its goals. This is hardly unique to our big papers in town — it’s an industry-wide shortcoming, excepting only a handful of colorful, scene-recreating scribes.
Note the prose of Mike Vogel today in describing two of last night’s Bears’ goals:
“Covering the point after Mike Green pinched into the corner, Tomas Fleischmann ripped a hard, low shot on net. Manchester’s Jason LaBarbera made a pad save, but kicked the rebound directly to Kyle Wilson. Wilson fired it home for his seventh goal of the playoffs.”
“Wilson and Fleischmann combined to push the Bears’ lead to 2-0 late in the period. Monarchs defenseman T.J. Kemp partially fanned on a pass attempt in his own end. Wilson slid the puck to Fleischmann, who curled down the wall and patiently waited for a trailer. Rather than trying to force a pass, he fired a wicked wrist shot into a teacup-sized gap between the near post and LaBarbera’s left shoulder . . .”
Flash has a sniper’s hands, and Vogel’s use of “teacup-sized gap” not only reminds us of that but makes us as readers 500 miles away from the action last night appreciate the young Czech’s virtuosity against the league’s best netminder. Vogel regularly paints us a picture of the entire zone as the scoring play develops and is ultimately achieved. He includes the circumstances integral to the development of scoring plays. In the case of Flash’s goal, we are informed that Monarchs’ defender T.J. Kemp fanned on a clearing pass that kept the Bears’ attack alive. That attention to lead-up detail is characteristic of Vogel’s prose.
The very reason to have print press at hockey games is to have them convey to their readers a sense of what transpired out on the ice, as sort-of surrogates for us, and yet, how often are we readers left with little more than the most basic who-scored, who-assisted, and-at-what-time-of-the-period numbing narratives? That’s sub-intern caliber stuff, as a lot of interns cut their teeth richly describing scoring plays for their college papers while covering NCAA hockey.
Goal scoring in hockey, off of brilliantly executed odd-man rushes, from super-speed snipery, or a frenzy of mauling mayhem in the slot, most often merits a journalistic reckoning rising to the arts, and not brochure phrasing.
Here the Hemingway Code applies: Show Don’t Tell.
In a very real sense the successful hockey print reporter’s prose should generate the same spirit of excitement found from the color or play-by-play accounts in the broadcast booth. We do not appreciate Gary Thorne or Mike Emerick or Joe Beninati’s oral brilliance for their announcing the correct time at which goals are scored. To their enthusiastic inflection they often also bring a keen analytic eye that sagely discerns the subtlety and design of an attack.