I often get asked by readers and friends -- even the first-grade class I spoke to at Canterbury last week -- what athletes are the best to deal with, as a reporters.
For me, no question, hockey players are the best.
It has something to do with the upbringings, and that many of these players, even today, are from farms and distant lands in places like Saskatchewan, and they're taught to be respectful and appreciative.
Or, they're just kooky.
I will always remember a story Mitch Albom told me about Steve Yzerman when I was in high school. In the late 80s, Yzerman was out on the ice, in the middle of some fray, using every profane word imaginable. He skated to the penalty box to find that there was a female photographer nearby. Yzerman immediately apologized to her for his language and promised he would be more careful in the future.
You think too many athletes in other sports would do that? And believe me, I hear stories like that all the time. That's why I couldn't believe the response on this blog when I posted that bit about the Rapid City players chatting with Fort Wayne fans, and taking pictures with kids, after that heated Game 4 last week.
Anyway, this got me thinking about the best players I, as a reporter, have had to deal with among the Komets through my 14 seasons covering the team.
There are many more, but these have been my favorites to deal with:
13) Doug Teskey: The Komets' longtime goaltender seems forgotten, considering how good he was, and he was always great for a quote -- even at the hardest of times. I remember him not only making time for interviews, but also making time to give equipment to sick kids whenever asked. In fact, I know a little girl who still has one of his sticks in her room; it brightened a dark time in her life.
12) Bruce Ramsay: Because he was a goon and an assistant coach, he was a goldmine for quotes. The tough guys are always so easy going, probably, because they get out their aggression on the ice. And riding the bus with him, to and from Asheville, N.C., made for amusing times.
11) Bobby Stewart: Had a habit of berating me from time to time -- he was a little Bobby Phillips-kooky -- but he was always a good quote. Because he was such a momentum player -- when he got hot, he was almost unstoppable -- it would be fascinating to talk to him after good games and bad.
10) Bruce Racine: Goaltenders are, deservedly, known as strange guys. Racine was always approachable, always normal, but don't be fooled -- he could get fiery. I'll never forget him overturning water jugs in an Indianapolis locker room to show his team his displeasure with their defensive play.
9) Kevin Weekes: He wasn't here long, but he was a hoot. Not only was he a great quote, and wasn't grimacing at the fact that he was in the minors when he knew he could be handling NHL goaltending duties, he was also pretty funny. I will never forget him wearing expensive suits in the locker room and lamenting the dry cleaning facilities -- jokingly, of course.
8) Ian Boyce: He was soft spoken, on and off the ice, and was always classy. People forget, I think, that he captained the Komets -- and he did it well.
7) Robin Bawa: He was always honest and not afraid to call out players on his or any other team.
6) Sean Venedam: Always had a good story to tell, and also was great about giving you the Xs and Os.
5) Kevin St. Pierre: He didn't like it if I got critical in my writing, but who does? And he faced maybe more pressure than any player in my time here, and he handled it well. He always had substantial things to say about the team and his own play.
4) Frederic Bouchard: OK, he was a bit of a diva -- he used to call me at home to gripe that I was too concerned with his plus/minus rating and not enough with his points -- but he was always funny. He remains the only player I've come across who wanted to make sure I had a date after the game, just like the players. (That was before I was married, of course.)
3) Nick Boucher: As smart an athlete as I've come across, he always has great things to say. People forget, he went to Dartmouth. That says a lot.
2) Bruce Richardson: Always accessible, and he always had a great quote -- win or lose. And not too many players had stories as good.
1) Colin Chaulk: A goldmine as a quote, he's never turned down an interview and doesn't mind calling out his own teammates. And off the record, he not only wants your opinion, but he also doesn't mind teaching you parts of the game you might not know.