Being on the new media beat for hockey here the past five years has meant exchanging warm hellos to others with an extraordinary passion for our great game during the long calendar of the hockey year, and above everything else for me, it has meant making extraordinary friendships. There is no easier person to befriend than a friend of hockey, I like to say. Tonight however I’m in the unusual position of going to the rink and saying goodbye to a friend, to the very person who’s enabled me to make so many new and great friends in this game, the Capitals’ Nate Ewell. I’m really not looking forward to it.
The Capitals are rightly credited for extending — before all others in sports — a welcome mat of access to bloggers. But Nate Ewell has been singularly responsible for the architecture and maintenance of that access. I have so many wonderful Nate Ewell stories to tell, but what’s most important about them I think is how in every instance his media policies broadened and bettered hockey’s storytelling here. Over the past five years I’ve used this blog to try and tell some of the stories about hockey I didn’t think were being told by traditional media, or approach them from differing angles. Nate Ewell wanted precisely that, and to the extent that I had any success in the endeavor, I have to give credit where credit is due.
Without Nate Ewell here for me the past five years I’m probably a proverbial blogger in pajamas prattling on about power plays and puck sodas. Instead, OFB has an archive of diaries from pro hockey players, photo slideshows requested by players’ mothers, chronicles of weekends with in-kind access to the parent club’s American League farm club, and perhaps my favorite OFB product, a snazzy Christmas card or two. But best of all we have new and lifelong-lasting friends in pucks. There is no greater reward from immersion in a passion-hobby than that.
Nate did so much more than merely open doors for bloggers here. He had, it seemed to me, a vision that was made manifest by the attributes of cutting edge technology, and nobody in hockey knew how to leverage that like Nate. It’s no accident that Nate’s media team was a mortal lock each year to win his industry’s top performance award, and it’s no accident that the Capitals’ stable of new media personalities is regarded as the most accomplished around the league. You reap what you sew.
One of the things I’m most proud about in being a Capitals’ blogger is that over the past five years I’ve made a minimum of 500 requests for inordinate access to Capitals players, coaches, and scouts, and Nate Ewell and his team have said yes to the requests about 98 percent of the time.
Once I made a request of Nate that the team couldn’t oblige, but rather than merely saying no Nate shared with me the email of denial that came from very high up in the organization, because it included some flattering words of reflection for OFB, and he wanted me to see that.
Last April the press contingent for the Montreal Canadiens, numbering nearer 100 than 50 in individuals, famously overtook the Verizon Center press box for the Caps-Habs playoff series. Live radio calls back to Quebec were carried off not in enclosed broadcast booths up there but from ordinary, open seats typically used by the print and digital press. I remember this because I, a silly blogger, was seated next to many of them. Ted Leonsis famously promised that when the day arrived and media interest in his hockey team swelled he wouldn’t forget about the commitment by his bloggers. They’d always have a seat of access, he said. Nate Ewell made sure of that.
Last year I approached Nate and suggested we work together to organize a bloggers’ summit of sorts at the Capitals’ training facility, in the offseason, when things were slightly less hectic in his workday, because while I knew that the Capitals appreciated the commitment and quality of local bloggers’ work generally, I personally wanted to try and get better, learn more, and most especially afford us a forum for dialogue. We carried off that summit last July, and we filled a Kettler conference room with bloggers and Caps’ communications pros. It was in that forum that Nate shared with us startling data about the breadth of reader reach we in our Washington hockey bloggers’ collective have; you better believe this techy team knows about that. It was a detailed data run that Nate didn’t have to do for us, but he wanted us to have a tangible appreciation for our commitment from the team. I will always remember that.
At Kettler the Capitals have an archive of print media coverage for the team that actually dates back prior to the very first puck being dropped for Capitals hockey in D.C., and on a whim one day a few years back I asked Nate if I could access it. Of course he said yes. That access helped me immensely; I was able, for instance, to write about the Capitals’ first-ever training camp, back in 1974, in all of its disorganized and resources-challenged glory. For a greybeard like me, it’s actually quite an emotional experience being in that archive, paging through hockey’s history in my hometown. I’ve got a time- and energy-consuming real-life job, and so getting over to Kettler and immersed in that archive for research didn’t always occur in times convenient to Nate and his staff. That of course didn’t matter.
If I had to identify a lone defining association of my very fun run with Nate from the past five years it would be with the team’s midsummer Development Camp and our interest in live blogging the camp’s concluding scrimmage. Annually Nate fairly commandeered the team’s kitchen and break room above the Capitals’ practice ice sheet to get us set up with tables and extension cords for the live blog, but there was one summer when media interest was such that we couldn’t set up there. So Nate simply took us down to his office, which also overlooks the Capitals’ practice sheet of ice, and set us up there. We literally booted him out of his office for three hours. But he wanted us to tell you a story.