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In Praise of the NHL Reporting of Elliotte Friedman and His 31 Thoughts

What does Elliotte Friedman bring to NHL reporting?

In his regular (and free, by the way) 31 Thoughts Posts, the Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman spends time talking about what happens in the NHL. And, it isn’t just an 800-word insight on some small topic. His posts are carefully crafted and, if you do a word count on one of these posts, they’re usually more than 3500 words. Just for the record, a typical adult book is about 90,000 words – which, doing the math, suggests that for every 25 posts Friedman does he’s written a book.

Coming to Appreciate Friedman as a Hockey Commentator

I have come to appreciate Friedman who’s made a career as a hockey analyst and commentator even though he’s never played a hockey game. Instead, he came to his current work from being an English major at Western University (in London, Ontario). By the way, he didn’t graduate from university and got a job when volunteering for a job with The Fan radio in 1994. There he was hired by Scott Metcalfe, now news director at 680 NEWS.

What makes Friedman so successful is that he’s understated and thoughtful, which is radical in comparison to the former bombastic Don Cherry. As a result, Friedman brings a different presence to NHL broadcasts. And, when he’s working face-to-face with other panelists, he often concedes the spotlight to them. Former NHL players, such as Nick Kypreos and Kelly Hrudey, appreciate the perspective.

Kypreos notes that Friedman’s “greatest appeal is that he brings a perspective that comes from outside the dressing room looking in. He doesn’t pretend to be a hockey player. That’s refreshing for Kelly and me. It’s a great balance. He’s really turned himself into a student of the game.”

Friedman talks about his own role during NHL broadcasts by using a hockey analogy. As he puts it, “On a hockey team, there are your grinders and your elite scorers.” Friedman noted that, “I kind of see myself as the grinder, while the other guys are the elite scorers. And there’s room for grinders on TV too.”

Related: Four “Big Events” that Shaped the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Season

How Did Friedman Come to the NHL?

Friedman came to NHL reporting after practicing his writing craft at Western University’s The Gazette student newspaper. There he learned to make up for any lack of celebrity with good writing. In fact, for me his attraction is that he looks like the biggest geek in the room and, because I was a former university professor before I retired, I can identify with that.

And, similar to all geeks (as academic sorts tend to be), his stock and trade is that he does dogged research to seek to discover trends and fresh insights that focus on what others have missed. He also conducts great interviews, with a focus on (a) really listening to what players say and (b) asking provocative questions that seem to allow players to get past the pabulum that hockey players often spit back up regularly.

Here’re some of the things NHL fans hear often during interviews: “We’re going to take them one game at a time.” or “We’re trying to score those dirty goals.” or “I’m just trying to play my game.” or “We need to get more traffic in front of the net.” or “It was a good team effort.” Those sorts of banal comments simply are spewed up over and over again.

BTW, these are simply the kind of comments that Toronto Maple Leafs player Auston Matthews is so good at avoiding, which makes him a great interview. My favorite comment of his during the 2019-20 season was, after Zach Hyman scored an empty-net goal, “Hyman is the Sidney Crosby of the 6-on-5.”

Related: Is This Year’s Crop Of Free Agents The Unlucky Ones?

How Does Friedman Approach His Work?

As Friedman noted about his role, “I try to come across as understated. There’s a lot of yelling in this business and we don’t need everybody yelling. The other thing too is that I don’t think phoniness works. Or if it works, you have to be really good at it.”

As I noted, although he fell a couple of subjects short of graduating, Friedman was an English major at Western (1989-93) who laughs at himself because humor he misspelled his own name for many years by leaving out the ‘e’ on the end. He learned his mistake when he applied for a passport at 16 and checked his birth certificate.

Friedman’s agenda for the future is actually finishing that degree. Of the courses remaining, he has one Shakespearean English course and an Algebra course.

About the course Shakespeare, Friedman noted, “And Shakespearean English, at least when I went there, was four essays and two exams, so I have to psyche myself up for that.”

Can you imagine, a prolific writer such as Friedman having to psyche himself up to do something he does at least once every week for the past few years? Perhaps it’s the two exams.

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