The Summer of Fat Albert Brings Bad News for the Hockey Beat

At the very top of the hockey media hierarchy here there have been ominous departures this summer — Tarik El Bashir is pursuing new beats within the Post’s sports department, ones which won’t require anywhere near the travel commitments the hockey beat does, while Lisa Hillary is bolting to cover the Flyers for Comcast in Philadelphia. Tarik’s departure came as a bit of a shock earlier this summer, and is disappointing given the volume and quality of product he brought to the beat, particularly in the past couple of seasons. For a lot of hockey fans in this town, Tarik’s commitment and work ethic arrived as a breath of fresh air on a beat that for a generation of editors on 15th St. seemed little more than a way station, a step barely above internship at Redskins Central. Hillary’s departure, however, is more discouraging.

Back in 2007 Comcast plucked Hillary out of the Great White North, and she uprooted herself from a prosperous broadcast existence in her native Canada to come to Washington precisely because she was sold on Comcast overhauling — revolutionizing — its approach to hockey here. She was also enticed by the prospect of covering the world’s best hockey player, Alexander Ovechkin. The move by Comcast seemed bold at the time, a real commitment to improving the hockey beat here in broadcast media.

Early on, it looked promising. In her first season on the beat I remember Hillary approaching me in the Verizon Center press box and asking if I’d plug her special video series on a late-season Capitals’ fathers-and-sons weekend trip for games in Florida. I was flattered by her request, and eager to help. Comcast sent Hillary and a cameraman to Florida to tail the fathers and sons. At the time that project struck me as compelling evidence that Comcast was allocating important resources to broadening how hockey was covered here. That level of commitment didn’t last.

Beginning about two seasons ago Hillary was quick to correct me whenever I’d refer to her as a “Capitals’ beat reporter.”

She’d become very much a sports generalist, covering numerous playing fields here. There’s virtue in that, I suppose, but it wasn’t the pretense upon which she’d moved here. Moreover, hockey here at such a critical time needed what Hillary brought back in 2007: serious credentials, and serious devotion. It was a distinctive vision by Comcast, and it needed to be supported. From my vantage, it wasn’t.

Beat reporters follow NHL teams at home and on the road. They cover practices. Hillary’s considerable on-camera appeal led Comcast executives to increasingly assign the Canuck reporter to in-studio anchor duty, early in mornings, late at night. It was a schedule ill-suited to covering mid-morning Caps’ practices, and especially for following the team on the road. Hockey — particularly as it was first envisioned by Hillary upon her arrival here — lost out.

Hillary is well known among the biggest names in hockey broadcast media, and over the years as they would engage her in the Verizon Center press box I sensed that they were under the impression that she was on a special mission here in Washington, knowing as they all did our city’s perpetual struggle in gaining acceptance for hockey here. By late last season it was abundantly clear there’d be no such notable mission for Hillary.

Meanwhile, Comcast Sportsnet in Philadelphia accords the Flyers a status on par with the Eagles and the Sixers and the Phillies, as sports media outlets in authentic sports towns tend to do. An under-utilized but industry-acknowledged talent in D.C. was, to some extent, going to waste, and Comcast execs in Philly pursued Hillary hard. Hillary was presented with precisely the challenge there she was here four years ago, only this time there would be no Lucy pulling the football on Charlie Brown. Flyers’ fans won’t tolerate shunned status for their beloved bullies. Beginning next month Hillary will be an authentic beat reporter in an authentic sports town.

Our loss. Big time.

“I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my life — I’ll be doing more of what I love to do,” she told me via text from the studio last night.

The real shame in all this is that very quickly Lisa fell very much in love with her first American home, our nation’s capital. She accomplished a good deal on the beat in the limited access to it she was accorded, but with the needed support she could have done a lot more.

Lisa became a friend, and I enjoyed seeing my friend on the outlet’s 30-minute sports wrap shows in mornings and evenings as I readied for work or relaxed after a long day. But when I engaged Hillary at the rink I always learned a lot, particularly from anecdotes she shared about covering hockey in its home. And I felt strongly that a reporter with such passion for puck, and with such notable credentials, was desperately needed, daily, at our rinks. Comcast here didn’t quite see it that way.

A quick anecdote about how hockey and hockey friendships comprise the fiber of Lisa Hillary. A couple of years back I wrote a file that excerpted a memorable reflection from iconic Canadian author Roy MacGregor. Lisa read it and at a Caps’ game soon thereafter asked me if I knew MacGregor. I did not. A couple of days later I opened email early one morning from a quirky address suffixed in ca. In it I found a warm greeting from MacGregor, who somehow had been guided to my blog and commended me for it. I wonder who could have put him up to that? Lisa played dumb about it at the next home game. But it’ll be some years before I forget it.

On her Facebook page this week Hillary wrote, “I would much rather watch Strasburg pitch than hear Albert Haynesworth bitch.” Would that more in her profession joined her in that sentiment. It just seems all so sadly fitting that in this the summer of Fat Albert, with all the usual media suspects hyperventilating over the physicals and shuttle runs of a fraud, we’d witness a top-flight puck reporter grow exhausted from frustration and bolt for a serious sports town. Washington has great sports fans. It’s yet to achieve a sports media culture worthy of them.

This entry was posted in Comcast SportsNet, Media, Morning cup-a-joe, Philadelphia Flyers, Print, Tarik El-Bashir, TV, Washington Capitals, Washington Post. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to The Summer of Fat Albert Brings Bad News for the Hockey Beat

  1. Tracy Tran says:

    From the outside, I thought Lisa was a decent reporter and I know a few who hated her guts, but it seemed behind the scenes she knew a lot and was willing to be helpful and going to Philly shows two things: 1) as you mention, the DC sports media is not ready to be embrace all the DC sports teams except the Redskins and 2) When your company’s world main HQ is in Philly and willing to offer you money in Philly, you have to do what is best and take the best opportunity out there.

    You bring up an interesting point: we all heard rumors that Leonsis might build his own network. Could this move be something to Comcast that they’re leaning towards more coverage of the Skins? This might get interesting.

  2. muddapucker says:

    An excellent file… I, too, believed that the entry of Lisa Hillary into the Comcast scene in 2007 indicated a commitment to hockey that we had not seen before from Comcast.

    What Comcast doesn’t realize is that she not only

  3. muddapucker says:


    … she not only provided instant credibility regarding hockey but she also provided an air of class and dignity to a group of Comcast broadcasters that were a bit casual and nonchalant in their work.

    Lisa Hillary was a professional, not a broadcast character.

  4. TheFingerman says:

    I am sad to see Lisa Hillary go, and it would not be good if this was a sign that CSN is somehow not committed to Caps coverage. But I think your depiction of CSN Caps coverage as severely lacking isn’t really true. CSN’s coverage of hockey is far better than it was a couple years ago, and you have to compare their coverage of the Caps to their coverage of the non-Redskins teams–and I think their coverage of the Caps is better than their coverage of the Wizards or Nats. The Wizards beat reporter also does SportsNite shows, and I don’t even know if the Nats have a beat reporter. Would I like to see the Caps covered as much as the Redskins are? Of course. Is that really realistic, considering the Redskins are still the most popular local team and the NFL in general is far more popular than the NHL? Probably not.

  5. Monty says:

    It’s too bad Lisa Hillary is leaving because she was one of the few local sports anchors who was a genuine hockey fan. However, I must admit that I thought for such a genuine hockey fan Lisa’s analyis/commentary was not as good as expected, such as commenting on Wash Post Live in March 2009 around the trade deadline that the Caps might have to trade Alex Semin to get say Bill Guerin. Huh?! Locker and Smokin’ Al provided much more keen analysis. (If Lisa is replaced by Julie Donaldson (woo), it may not be too bad). Comcast has improved in its coverage of the Caps but it is still Skins-centric as is all the local media. But I generally avoid watching Comcast SportsNet from July to mid-Aug because it’s endless Skins. Is the birthday of a Skins’ player really worth five minutes of a 30-minute Comcast Sportsnet – only in this town (e.g., Comcast’s WPL goes from its “Burgundy & Gold Daily” segment in May – Ivan can’t wait to get to that segment every day – to “Burgundy & Gold Endless” beginning in July. Beginning in mid-Sept I go back to watching Comcast SportsNet by recording it so I can just fast forward through the Skins overkill to any Caps coverage.

  6. JR says:

    CSNDC is a second rate network. No, they didn’t really use Lisa Hillary’s knowledge, and she is probably thrilled to be moving on. I hope when Ted eventually starts his own network, he’ll hire quality hockey talent and not donkeys like currently work at CSNDC studio. SportsNite…LOL.

  7. Hittman says:

    Now if only we could find a color man who doesn’t speak with an accent like he’s from the Northern Territory…

  8. Comment Deteled says:

    This comment was deleted due to violation of the comment policy.

  9. admin says:

    That’s quite an accusation you just made. What do you base that on? And don’t be suprised if you comment is removed.

  10. muddapucker says:

    I suggest you remove it… I offered my opinion, as did others. It may have been intuitive, but it wasn’t malicious.

    I shouldn’t think there is a place for malicious gossip in this blog.

  11. topshelf_22304 says:

    Sad to see her go but understand that CSN-Philly can afford to devote more spotlight and energy to the Flyers because there are really six sports entities they have to cover: Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, Penn State and Villanova Basketball. Contrast that with CSN-Mid Atlantc which has to cover the Redskins, Ravens, Nationals, Orioles, Caps, Wiz, Maryland, UVa, VT and Georgetown basketball. Consequently, I think CSN-Mid Atlantic does a good job with their Caps coverage, all things considered.

  12. barb says:

    lisa hillary is very professional and about the best reporter on comcast here in dc. we’ll miss her. bless her heart and wish her luck! could she take laughlin and benninati with her? pretty please?

    i wonder if she went to philly so she didn’t have to endure another interview with that obnoxious couple that is always jamming their little pie-faced child into the camera range when the interview is taking place. how about a big piece of cardboard to block that? too much to hope for? 🙂

  13. frank says:

    I am sick of redskins.. my husband and I comment on the crappy tv reporting all the time.. comcast was better than some but when i have to read blogs written by fans to find out basic info… that means there is an absence of professional reporting (no diss on bloggers mind you, but it just seems like a lost opportunity for newspapers and tv reporters who need the patronage). I am just glad hocky fans are passionate enough to write blogs to update me!
    The five min mac nab bites last year during playoffs drove me crazy NBC!

  14. Michael Jenkins says:

    Great article. We’re all going to miss her coverage and her presence in the newsroom. She’s definitely one of the best in the business.

  15. Hittman says:

    Dang…now I want to know what that deleted comment said.

  16. Dougeb says:

    She did a nice job for sure, but why take this as “bad news”? How do you know the next person who gets this job won’t be even better?

    Your article seems to take a negative tack, so typical of fan posts, but not the usual for an accomplished writer like yourself.

    Everybody knows, without repeating, that this area is always going to be “Redskins first”.

    I’ve traveled the world and lived in many parts of the USA. This region is unique in many ways, but the primary reason is that many people who “live here” aren’t really “from here”. Thus, we have lots of transient fans who root for teams from their roots.

    No, Washington will never be a “sports town” like Philly. Then again, I’m more than happy living here.

    Lighten up, enjoy life !!

  17. Geo says:

    imho, the real loss with Hilary and Tarik leaving, is that you do build trust and knowledge on a beat over time (whether you’re a newspaper reporter, TV reporter, blogger etc.). There may be scoops that players and management might’ve shared off the record with them that they’re more than likely not going to share with a newbie. And someone who’s covered a team for several years will probably ask better questions than someone completely new (although you could argue a “fresh voice” sometimes helps too).

    I know Katie Carrera has helped Tarik regularly in the past, so she at least isn’t starting from scratch.

    I liked Hilary and wish her well. I’ve attended some Caps games and a ‘Skins game where Philly fans were en masse. I hope she has a thick skin, no doubt sometimes she’s gonna need it. 🙂

  18. joe says:

    Hillary liked the sports and easy on the eyes, which is good. However, I never felt like she gave insightful analysis. The key is whether COMCAST Sportsnet replaces her with someone with a real hockey background, or with someone who is pretty much an intern, like the Post did.

  19. Scott says:

    You cannot compare the departure of Lisa to Tarik. Tarik was at every practice and every game. Lisa was great but she would go three weeks without a report on the Caps. Discouraging for OFB, because they will not have Lisa to leer at during games.

  20. Joe says:

    Heard Hillary today on Parker & Parker. She says that Sorenson is going to replace her. As far as I know, Sorenson has no hockey background whatsoever. We are moving backwards, not forward here.

  21. Cathy W says:

    Joe, Jill Sorenson does have hockey experience. She covered the Caps for NBC4 when she worked there under George Michael. She was very involved in the charity Scoring for Children, which was Bondra’s and Kono’s charity to raise money for Children’s Inn at NIH.

  22. Dougeb says:

    If it is Sorenson, I agree, she will be fine. Katie will adequately replace Tarik and we’ll all be “peachy”. Now, if the Caps can figure out how to win in the playoffs……..

  23. Jenn says:

    This is a really tough loss for the local hockey market. Lisa was always professional, courteous, but alway honest about her beliefs in what would make this team stronger. I have had the priviledge of hearing her speak to smaller, more intimate crowds at Hockey N Heels, STH events, and the Caps Convention, and she made no bones about her Canadian training and her love of the sport. A previous poster said that she wasn’t around much at Kettler, but every single time I was there, she was also there, as was Tarik. Its hard to believe we are have lost both. Shame on you Comcast for losing this one.

  24. Pingback: – The Buzzer Blog » Blog Archive » Flyers Getting a New CSN TV Beat Reporter

  25. Pingback: Farewell to Lisa Hillary | Capitals Outsider

  26. Bart says:

    I will greatly miss Lisa, and hope that Jill manages her post game interviews without that nasty family that shoves their little girl into the background.

  27. varly's five hole says:

    This is less about CSN D.C.’s commitment as it is about CSN PHILLY plucking talent that suits their needs. Philly is Comcast’s corporate headquarters and CSN Philly’s needs come first. They see someone doing well, “Bring ’em to Philly.” Jill Sorenson will take care of the beat just as well as Hillary did.

    And get over the “Skins-centric” stuff. That is not going to change, no matter how much the Caps win.

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