Vancouver Canucks

A day at The Botchford Project

...looking back on the first year of The Botchford Project

April 27, 2020

Dani Huntley - @danihuntley

Participating in The Botchford Project was the experience of a lifetime. That my day coincided with International Women's Day on March 8th, made it a distinct honour, too. I received the email stating I had been selected and I could not believe it. I read it a few times before doing a couple victory laps around my desk at work. I had just started writing about the Canucks this year on my personal blog and for covering postgame reports. I was shocked and elated that I had been chosen for an opportunity of a lifetime representing the legacy of the iconic, Jason Botchford. I long admired Jason's penchant for including women in his work, whether it be Georgia Twiss' lovely art, or highlighting women in his Athleties or Provies, he was always a trailblazer.

First up was the morning skate. I put on my best outfit and headed to Rogers Arena, anxious at the outset like Allison Reynolds sitting in detention, but was surprisingly composed when the big moment arrived. Ryan Biech greeted me and showed me around the building. We walked around Rogers Arena, then sat down and took in the morning skate. He made me feel welcome and comfortable. One of the highlights, from the morning skate, was seeing Brock Boeser take the ice for the first time since, his injury on February 8th against the Flames. Esteemed members of the media were starting to arrive, take notes and tweet out line projections for tonight's game.

Later, we headed to the locker room to interview the players. I made sure to walk behind the media because I am terrible with directions and couldn't exactly remember where to go. Once we go to the locker room, Captain Bo Horvat was the first person in his stall and greeted the media with "I thought you guys were quarantined."

On the morning of March 8th, the NHL announced the media would be being closing the locker room and limiting player access going forward. This was the last time media would be allowed in the locker room since the NHL announced the new policy changes before the season was suspended a few days later. I felt very fortunate that I got this experience while I could.

After a brief afternoon respite, I made my way to Rogers Arena where the security greeted me with the enthusiasm of a prestige night club bouncers faced with a Sweet Dee-type. It dawned on me to show them my emails about the Botchford Project, and finally, they let me in. I met with the incomparable Thomas Drance for dinner. An outstanding part from my day was watching him work. The unique ways he interviews players and how he carriers himself was inspiring to see in person. For someone like myself, who's an aspiring writer, it was fascinating to observe in person.

Game time was fast approaching, my seat was number 65 in the press box, it was Jason Botchford's seat. It was an honour to sit in his spot, beside his partner in crime, Jeff Paterson. JPat was extremely gracious, helpful and one of the hardest working people I have ever seen. The game against the Columbus Blue Jackets may not have been the most exciting game, but, watching the game from the press box was exhilarating. It was surprising how small the media spaces are. When the play is ongoing it was necessary to fold your laptop screen down so you could lean forward and see the ice.

The locker room media access drastically changed after the game. Normally, media would be granted one on one player access. However, it was now in a press conference setting, where one player would sit at a mic, while the media would take turns asking questions. The media may not fan been fans of this new setup, but the players seemed to not mind being further away from us.

After the press conferences, we headed back up to the press box to start writing. It was neat to be writing beside people I admire and respect. Honestly, I wasn't sure when I was supposed to leave, but, I was going to take advantage of this opportunity. I was having a wonderful time and I planned on staying until they told me otherwise. Well, I ended up staying until just after midnight, writing away until Harman Dayal was the only person left.

The Botchford Project was an opportunity of a lifetime. Before me, there were eight brilliant fellows, who make up the Botchford 9. I asked them to share a memorable moment from their Botchford Project experiences and here are some of our highlights.

David Quadrelli: The Botchford Project 1

My Botchford Project Day was a life changing experience. It allowed me to further get my feet wet and rub elbows with the top dogs in the Vancouver media scene, something that is incredibly valuable but doesn't happen often. Having these people as mentors has been incredible for me and being able to reach out to them even now if I have a question or want their opinion on an article, I'm working on is super helpful.

Stephen Hawco: The Botchford Project 2

After game day skate we all went down for Travis Green's media availability as is done every other game day.

While we were waiting for Green, Drance suggested I should sneak in a question! I was a little hesitant to the idea at first but as I was sitting there listening to all the regulars ask their questions, I started to feel a bit more confident.

Once there was a second of silence I jumped in and asked a question about Adam Gaudette, who my piece was on.

I'll never forget the surprised look on Green's face when I opened my mouth, like "who is this guy?", but he proceeded to give me a well thought out answer that I was able to use in my article! Afterwards Thomas Drance had a big grin on his face and gave me a fist was an awesome start to an unforgettable day.

Natalie Hoy: The Botchford Project 3

Impostor syndrome was a very real thing when I was at the rink on my Botchford Project day, but so many people introduced themselves and made me feel as at ease as I possibly could. I learned a lot from just watching media members do their thing-whether it be interacting with players, to how quick they are with recognizing (and tweeting out!) novel line rushes.

I live in Kelowna, so it was also my first time at a game this season. I had seen the Canucks' zombie-themed in-arena film online, but it was much cooler on the big screens. The reporter beside me was not nearly as enthused; he had sat through it every home game (at that point, around 15 times), and I guess it was getting a little stale. Fair enough - but I'm sure the pros of the job more than make up for it!

Cody Severtson: The Botchford Project 4

When I got there, I had Ryan Biech give me a tour, and I was pretty much in, "don't embarrass yourself mode." The second I arrived at the waiting area by the entrance, Jim Benning rounded the corner, and I may have got out a meek and incredibly awkward, "hey."

I might have said, "sup?" but my brain has chosen to do me a favour and purge it from my memory, something I greatly appreciate.

After dropping off my 70-pound laptop bag at the media room, I made the long walk over to the bleachers, where I had the pleasure of meeting several icons in Vancouver media.

After introducing myself, I told them what I'd hoped to write, got feedback on the potential piece, and then I sat down to take notes on the team's morning skate.

It was then I realized that I left my glasses in my laptop bag ...and my phone! So, I sat there blind and incapable of noting the worldly tips and tidbits being taught unto me by these legends of Vancouver hockey journalism!

Rather than run back and grab the essentials, I sat, watched, conversed, and reset my internal counter of trying not to embarrass myself. 

Nate Lewis: The Botchford Project 6

During morning skate, I told Ryan Biech and Thomas Drance which Canucks I wanted to talk to for my article: Troy Stecher? Great; Jay Beagle? No problem; Bo Horvat? Awesome; JT Miller? Alright.. Their reaction signalled to me that halfway through the season the collected media members and Canucks staff didn't have an easy rapport with the breakout first-liner. The impression I had gotten of Miller from an outside perspective was of a highly competitive person who wore his emotions on green and blue sleeves.

During game day media availability, I talked to Stecher, Beagle and Horvat and was unsure if I'd have time to get a fourth interview in. Most of the media had already left the dressing room but I hung around because Miller was just wrapping up a lengthy conversation with Ben Kuzma. Canucks PR staff asked Miller if he could answer a few more questions for the Botchford Project participant and he readily agreed, smiling up at me while he picked at his sock tape. Miller was gracious, thoughtful and generous in answering my questions. There's no doubt that he can be prickly at times, as opponents and referees have found out, but in this moment I found his candour and presence to be both refreshing and humanizing, a great reminder of every person's multi-faceted nature; a reality that can be forgotten when that person is so dang good at hockey.

Eric Thompson: The Botchford Project 7

I think the best part of my experience was getting to work alongside writers and journalists from different media outlets. Hearing what the other writers were working on and how all their different creative processes worked was really helpful, both for my Botchford Project piece and moving forward with my other work. It was an incredible experience and I can't thank the Canucks, Drancer and Harman enough for helping me be a part of the inaugural season of Botchford Project recipients.

Chris Faber: The Botchford Project 8

A memorable moment for me was dealing with Elias Pettersson. It was an optional skate that day and he didn't participate or deal with any media. I mentioned to Canucks PR that I was writing about Jason Botchford and when they told Elias, he came right out. Talked to me for more than 5 minutes and I could really feel how much he cared about Jason.

Sitting in seat 65 I got pretty emotional. I was trying to hold it back, but it was almost impossible. I wanted to be up there with Botch one day. I kept imagining him leaning back in a chair and giving me a hat tip. Words can't describe how much he means to me, but I try to emulate his energy everyday, try to help anyone who needs it and try to bring the Botch energy in all the Canucks content I create.

Dani Huntley: The Botchford Project 9

The media room is where Travis Green took the podium to answer questions after the morning skate. I had a couple questions to ask him and I was told he wouldn't answer my questions at the podium. Instead, I was fortunate enough to have a one on one with him in his office.

 I was so nervous walking down the hall into his office by myself, I kept repeating my questions in my head. He shook my had and I sat down. So far, so good, I was playing it cool. He made it easy on me being very kind and approachable. He is a coach who gets a lot out of his young players, so I asked him about Jake Virtanen and the progression in his game this year.

"The positive part is Jake brings a lot of speed to the game. He's a big body, when he gets a step on somebody, he's hard to handle. Offensively he can create things on his own, and that also is a benefit for us when we play him on the third or forth line because he can create offense. Everyone is looking for offense out of your third and fourth line and he's been able to do that I find on any line."

Travis Green also, spoke about what Jake still needs to improve on, in order to play more complete game on a consistent basis.

"Now the part he's still working on in this game, how does he play on a line that's playing against top teams, where he's strong defensively in his own zone, winning puck battles on the wall, being able to break the puck out, and not let the other teams top players spend time in our zone."

 "So, that's the constant teaching and talking through with a player, you know I've said it a lot, at the end of the day the onus goes on the player. You know, I've never seen a player not get played, or not play as much as he wants for playing too good."

"The better a player plays over 200 feet, the more minutes he gets and I think Jake really in the last three years has progressed into a player, and we are still trying to push him to become even a better player."