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The Eulogies: Remembering Vancouver’s One-Man Army

BEST COLD FEET

The media gets a bum rap sometimes, but there are valid criticisms to be had about sensationalism, and the way the constant need to generate traffic drives us to create a lot of content that doesn’t really need to exist. 

Most of the time, it’s pretty innocuous. You or I may not care about the Canucks’ road policies on video games, but a few people do, and if they want to read about it, then God bless them. 

Unfortunately, there’s a darker side to content mills, too. 

Because the media is defined largely by reporting and analyzing the actions of others, there can be a tendency for people to use the worst day of someone’s life as an opportunity for career advancement. 

My aversion to this kind of behaviour and fear of being perceived as a cynical social-climber is the biggest reason it’s taken me so long to write about the passing of a man who was, for all intents and purposes, my favourite sports writer, and a personal mentor; even if I didn’t know him the way others in this market did. 

This is all a long-winded way of saying that part of me is still very worried this is a terrible idea. I’ve been trying to write about Jason Botchford for the past four months, and there’s only ever been one format that really felt right over the course of working out what he meant to me, my peers, and the platform you’re reading now. The problem is that it’s not mine to claim. 

So, mere hours before a self-imposed deadline, I was ready to throw the idea in the trash, along with the dozens of hours of work that went into it. After all, Botch and I were friendly, but we weren’t close and had never even spoken to each other in person. Maybe I was out of my mind. Maybe the time had passed.

But I kept thinking about the family he left behind; about his son Hudson, and how cruel the universe was to take a father away from his son at just three years old.

I thought about how hockey, and by extension, Botch, is so inextricably tied to my relationship with my own father. How for three consecutive years, we would listen to podcasts on the drive up to Penticton for the Young Stars Classic. Botch was a frequent guest, and a bridge between older and younger generations. I thought about how the Canucks played such an integral role in father-son bonding and how the universe ripped Hudson’s father from him before he could make those memories for himself.

And I realized that one day, he’s going to ask someone what his dad was like; and I want him to know how many people admired him, understand the extent to which his actions had an impact on those around him, and how grateful the city of Vancouver is that his family was kind enough to share him with us for the brief time he spent on earth.

I had heard Botch’s wife, Katherine, planned to make a scrapbook of all the nice things we he had to say about her husband. I thought that maybe at the very least this could spare her some of that work, and if that’s all I achieved, it would be a success, even if the idea remained as bad as it was the day I conceived it.

After all, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

BEST ORIGIN STORY

I first interacted with Botch on the weekend of the 2017 Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference.

What I had intended to be a fun weekend getaway and an opportunity to hang out with my CanucksArmy colleagues across the water quickly turned into a walking panic attack thanks to an article I had written about a radio hit by then-Vancouver Sun writer Iain MacIntyre.

I hadn’t thought much of it when it was first published, but it ended up going viral within the Canucks ecosystem, generating responses from Iain himself and even a brief reference on the Canucks broadcast. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the attention, but I was also sweating bullets, worrying that I’d gone too far. It meant a lot to me for Botch to fire off a quick DM and express solidarity.

Something that made him special was that he would gladly reach out, unprompted, to people he’d never interacted with to let them know they were doing good work. That’s a monumental gesture from someone whose attention alone qualifies as a compliment. Jason was a mentor to a lot of people, but he could also be your biggest fan.

Jason and I would speak to each other regularly from that point on, usually to discuss the characters of Canucks Twitter that we’d recently fixated on. It was easily one of the best relationships I forged through writing and I’m gutted it was cut so short.

BEST SUPPORT

 

Something I quickly learned over my time here is that virtually everyone who’s played a significant role at CanucksArmy since it’s inception has a Jason Botchford story. Botch got in on the ground floor, taking notice of what we were doing long before much of the mainstream media did.

A lot has been made of CA’s reputation as a springboard to success in the hockey world, and it’s easy to see why. One thing a lot of writers, reporters, and NHL team employees have in common is that they used to write here. Another thing most have in common is a longstanding relationship with Botch.

J.D. is the managing editor for the hockey world’s biggest source of prospect info, Patrick Johnston has taken over his old beat at the Province, Harman Dayal and Thomas Drance will be spearheading efforts at the Athletic, and Ryan Biech will be taking his talents to the inside of the Canucks’ organization to work for their analytics department.

And then, of course, there’s Wyatt Arndt, who not only became Jason’s friend and collaborator, but went on to be the only person to ever write an edition of the Provies/Athletties, playing the backup goalie role for what had become Botch’s baby.

If they ever write the story of CanucksArmy, it will be tied inextricably to the story of Jason Botchford, and for that, we are eternally grateful.

BEST NEWS

BEST ADVICE

I’ve heard more than a few people in the media dispense advice about keeping your head down, not rocking the boat, and treating the position of Hockey Media Personality with the reverence it commands, but not Botch.

I want “don’t let the mopes win” on my tombstone.

BEST CHARITY

BEST TRIBUTES

BEST TASTE

In a beautiful piece in the Athletic, Jason’s wife Kat mentioned her husband’s favourite writer was the legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. 

One thing that set Thompson apart from his contemporaries was his willingness to take on all comers, including his peers. This quality was, perhaps more than anything else, the thing I most admired about him, and about Botch.

Thompson discussed what he considered to be the limits of mainstream election coverage in his seminal piece of political journalism Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72. Replace all the references to politics in this passage with hockey and you basically have Botch’s ethos:

“The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of political journalism in America has its roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists – in Washington or anywhere else where they meet on a day-to-day basis. When professional antagonists become after-hours drinking buddies, they are not likely to turn each other in… especially not for “minor infractions” of rules that neither side takes seriously; and on the rare occasions when Minor infractions suddenly become Major, there is panic on both ends.”

BEST VOW

BEST GOLDEN CHILD

Jason went out of his way to help a lot of us, but what he did for Harman was truly special.

HD: “Honestly, it’s tough for me to articulate in words how much Botch meant to me… he gave me a voice in the media space and carved a path for me to follow.

Publicly, I’m sure everyone remembers what he did for me. It all started with the “Boy Genius” nickname and he took every opportunity to pump me up. Athletties, Twitter, Patcast, TSN 1040, everywhere I went I saw he was raving about me and my ideas. Through the past eight or nine months my social media following has quadrupled and almost all of that is because of Botch. But it’s privately what he did for me behind the scenes that left the most impact. For starters, he helped forge the current opportunity I have at The Athletic. The first two stories I did for them was in September on Virtanen and then a later one on Stecher. At the time, there was no plans to bring on another contributor because The Athletic Vancouver already had Botch, JD Burke, Ryan Biech Halford, Brough and Israel Fehr. But Botch saw something in what I did and wielded all his power to make sure I’d continue getting my shot. I knew he was pulling for me behind the scenes, but it was only until someone sent me an old DM exchange they had with Botch that I realized how much he was doing.

As it goes, Botch messaged with the news that he’d convinced The Athletic into giving me a shot as a contributor. He told me I’d need to perform well on my stories, but that he’d be on the ball in making sure I was on the right track with ideas and that he’d make sure he marketed the crap out of the work I did. And boy did he deliver. We talked every day and planned stories out months in advance. We were each others sounding boards. Through the highs and the lows of the season, he told me exactly what I needed to hear to stay on the right path. He got the most out of me like a coach would out of his players. Botch knew what the readers craved — he was the voice of their thoughts and feelings and made sure I was creating work that would resonate with them. Whether it was story ideas from the ground up, coordinating marketing strategies with the higher ups at The Athletic once the piece was done and everything in between, he was the conduit. He was a tremendous mentor and friend and there’s no way I’m at this point without everything he’s done for me.”

It’s a good thing Harman listened to Botch. I told him to be a good kid and go to school.

BIGGEST REGRET

I never did get to give you that autograph.

BEST LIFE MOVES FAST

Any sports journalist in Vancouver worth his salt wants to make an impact on the way the team is covered.

Botch did more than that. He made an impact on the team itself.

How? Consider this exhibit A:

 

 

Ryan was one of the many bloggers whose exploits were frequently covered in the Provies and Athletties. He used each one of his professional successes as an excuse to sing his praises, and if he were still with us, you can bet Ryan’s journey to become the first homegrown analytical talent hired by the Canucks would have gotten a long, detailed entry in the opening night edition of the Athletties.

When I look back at Ryan’s meteoric rise from the blogosphere to the boardroom, I can’t help but think of that phrase Botch was so fond of saying: “life moves fast”. 

It was a great way to illustrate how quickly circumstances change. I used to grin every time I heard someone say it. Now it just makes me sad. 

BEST FORESHADOWING

If you want proof of just how important Botch’s support and influence has been to the site’s success, look no further than the first word I over wrote for CanucksArmy:

BEST PHILOSOPHY:

BEST SWAN SONG

Not many people get to go out like this. As far as media careers go, this is the equivalent of Daniel Sedin scoring an OT goal in his last game at Rogers Arena.

BEST LEGACY

Jason’s gift of the gab has become legendary within media circles, and his prolific output of articles, radio appearances, and podcasts have given fans of his work countless quips and quotes to fondly remember in the days since his passing. Still, every artist has his magnum opus, and there’s one statement that’s quickly become a rallying cry for long-suffering Canucks fans. 

It seems appropriate that the statement Botch is now perhaps best remembered for is “we need an army”. He was talking about how the Canucks’ success in the future wouldn’t come the addition of one elite player, and could only be achieved through the collective effort of a sprawling collection of young NHLers picks, and prospects. It’s an excellent slogan for a rebuilding hockey team, but it can be equally applied to wide range of situations, not the the least of which is the monumental task the Vancouver media ecosystem has in front of it of heading into next season without the presence of one of its most central figures. It’s also something I suspect he knew better than anyone, because I don’t see how anything less than an army could have written so prolifically, offered support to everyone who came to him for guidance, and still had time left over to be a loving father, husband, and friend.

It’s only September, and I’ve already lost count of how many times a news story has come down the wire and I’ve thought to myself, “I wish Botch was here to talk about this”. I imagine that’s something all of us are going to be saying a lot this year.

A million sportswriters could live a million separate lifetimes and there would never be another Jason Botchford. There’s just no replacing him. But that doesn’t mean the market can’t still be as funny, entertaining, and electric as it’s been in years past. 

I’ve spoken to dozens of people about Botch in the past four months, and one thing that’s come up over and over again is how so many of us wouldn’t be where we are now if not for his guidance and support. That’s undeniable, but the thing that all of us need to remember as that all of us, every writer, every radio host, every podcaster, every fan whose observations were ever featured in the The Provies or The Athletties still possesses the innate qualities that drew him to us in the first place. 

What made Botch’s work so special was that he was able to take what had previously been a top-down relationship between the sport, the media, and the fans and turn it on it’s  head. In the Athletties, everyone became part of the vast, sprawling history of Vancouver hockey, and everyone who participated was weaved into the tapestry he created. 

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, and something that comes up a lot, as it does for any writer, is how often I’ve been wrong, and how I can learn from those mistakes. 

I wrote an article prior to last year saying I didn’t think the Canucks’ could handle life without the Sedins. They had meant so much to the organization, taken on such monumental roles as ambassadors, that without them, things could quickly turn ugly. 

Instead, we were treated to one of the most entertaining seasons in the past few years, thanks in large part to the contributions of players who had developed under their leadership. Sure, they didn’t win a lot of games, but on most nights they were fun to watch, and the mood surrounding the team at the end of the season was more positive than it had been in quite awhile. 

I had made the mistake of underestimating the effect people can have on you, even when they aren’t around anymore. I’m not going to make that mistake again this time. I understand better than ever now the ways that people are inspired by greatness to rise to the challenge even when things are at their most bleak.

To all my friends and colleagues who, like me, are looking ahead at next year and wondering what they’re going to do without him, I just want to say: you’ve got this. Just because he saw things in you before you could see them in yourself doesn’t mean they were never there. 

Let’s go.