5

Remembering Botch: 17 of Jason Botchford’s friends, family, and colleagues discuss the Botchford Project and his legacy in Vancouver

When I walked into Rogers Arena for the first time as an accredited media member, the first person to greet me was Thomas Drance of The Athletic. “Quaaaaaddddssss,” he said, before flashing that trademark grin.

Actually, scratch that.

The first time I walked into Rogers Arena as an accredited media member, nobody talked to me.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

I don’t blame them, either. I was still trying to find my voice in the market and most had never seen nor heard of me before.

So what was the difference between these two experiences?

The Botchford Project.

For those that don’t know, the family of the late Jason Botchford, in partnership with the Vancouver Canucks, along with multiple media members, launched the initiative last season to continue on Botch’s legacy of mentoring the next wave of young journalists in this market.

I was fortunate enough to be the first aspiring journalist selected and it was an experience that I’ll never forget.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

But I’ve told my story before, and this isn’t about me.

This is about Botch’s legacy, how he impacted the Vancouver media landscape, and how the Botchford Project continues to do just that.

There’s a common theme with a lot of the people working in the Vancouver media scene — they all got a helping hand from Jason Botchford at some point or other.

I’ve gathered responses from people all over this city, and here’s what they had to say about Botch’s legacy, and what the Botchford Project means for preserving that legacy.

Kathryn Botchford: Jason’s widow

Watching Jason’s career and being by his side, I saw firsthand how hard this market is and how much he tried to pave the way for others. When we started The Botchford Project in his honour I was humbled and excited about the idea of preserving his legacy and paying it forward in such a profound way.

The reaction to this initiative has been incredibly heartwarming. I have been blown away with the community that has come together to rally around this. The amazing talent I have seen in these young aspiring journalists means we got this right. As bittersweet as it is for me, knowing this initiative is providing opportunities and changing the trajectory for so many lives makes me believe in the bigger purpose of life. I can’t think of a better way to honour Jason.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Travis Green: Vancouver Canucks Head Coach

It seems like it was yesterday Botch was here covering the team. He excelled in his work, asked good questions and engaged with fans more than anyone. The Botchford Project is a great partnership that brings our team and sports media together and most importantly, it’s a fantastic legacy for all aspiring sports writers.

Wyatt Arndt: The Athletic, former backup Provies writer

You’re lucky in life if you meet a good friend. You’ve hit the jackpot when you meet a good friend who ends up being your mentor. Breaking into the media business from an unconventional background, Botch had every reason to ignore me. Underpaid bloggers taking potential work away from mainstream media meant it wasn’t a very welcoming environment for me back in 2012.

It was made very clear by some of the other media members what they thought of me and others like me. Botch, though, was different. The first time I met him was when he agreed to watch the Boston Bruins take on the Canucks in 2012 at Cactus Club, the absolute hottest game of that season. Yet here was Botch, randomly saying yes to brunch with a blogger, during a very important game for Vancouver. I quickly learned this was par for the course for Botch, who had all the time in the world for people pursuing their passion of writing.

I have countless stories of the times Botch went out of his way to help me with stories, to help me get over my nerves, or to just give me advice about the business or life in general. Botch just made you feel like you belonged, which for a young blogger at the time, was so very important. I also wish I could tell him how much his trust in me meant to me when he let me write The Provies. It’s why the Botchford Project means so much to me, because it truly does feel like Botch’s spirit lives on. I cannot think of a better way to encapsulate what Botch did than by bringing people together, letting them know they belong, and letting them experience the thrill of following their passion in life.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Jeff Paterson: The Athletic, Sekeres and Price, The Nation

When I travelled around the NHL, I saw a number of teams that had Walls of Fame in their press boxes honouring prominent media members that had covered those teams through the years. I’m sure that means a great deal for those honoured. But Botch didn’t seem like a photo on the wall guy.

I am so glad the Canucks saw fit to create a living legacy program to carry on Jason’s memory. And by granting aspiring journalists full access and allowing them to be working media members for a day, hopefully a little piece of Jason lives on for years to come through every candidate selected to take part in The Botchford Project. I am proud to play a small role in ensuring we do our part to keep his memory and legacy alive in this market.

Harman Dayal: The Athletic

Botch went above and beyond to support me. He paved the way for me to become a regular freelancer at The Athletic, promoted my work everywhere he could to help build me a platform and spoke with me daily about the team and ideas I could consider to write engaging stories.

Botch took me to my first ever Canucks practice in January 2019 and walked me through how I should approach interviews. He went out of his way to introduce me to Travis Green and then Bo Horvat who I was interviewing for the article. All of these gestures helped me learn the ropes about covering practices and conducting strong interviews.

I owe so much of where I’m at in my career to Botch’s unwavering support in helping get my foot in the door at The Athletic, building my brand in the market and developing story writing ideas and skills.

Thomas Drance: The Athletic

There’s things in life that you can’t really appreciate fully in the moment. Knowing Jason as a friend was one of those things.

It’s only later that you come to realize how lucky you were.

Botch and I were never on the beat day-to-day with one another, but I’d airdrop in for a road trip or a homestand here or there, and when I did we’d spend the entire time gossiping and pitching ideas back and forth and talking about hockey and hockey media, and just laughing.

I remember the laughter most of all, and the good times. And I wish I’d appreciated that they were so precious.

I remember the drive out to Long Island from Manhattan, or to Kanata from Ottawa. Grabbing beers after filing in the 2015 playoffs. Going for drinks with him and his childhood friends in Toronto. Watching Blue Jays games between games at the Young Stars tournament.

I remember when I pointed to Marc Bergevin who was wrapping up his draft pod availability after Jim Benning had said the Canucks were interested in P.K. Subban at the 2016 Draft and asking “shall we?” then watching as Botchford scramble ran through a crowd of people to get a great quote. Or that time he pretended to be sick and ditched a Super Bowl party he’d convinced me to host because he was nervous about the Eagles, and then got mad at me when I called him on it. Even the time I quickly ended an interview he was doing with Jared McCann in the Panthers locker room, just to f*** with him. He got mad at me that time too, but it was always with a laugh.

Most of all I remember the advice. The sense that Jason believed in me, and if he believed in me, then I’d best believe in myself too.

After Jason passed I realized how many people I shared that last experience with. How easy and generous he was with his time, his insight, his advice. I thought about that a lot this week especially when helping out with the Botchford Project.

We’ll never see another like Botch. He remains and always will, an original.

Ryan Biech: Vancouver Canucks Hockey Analytics Department, former CA Managing Editor

Jason was someone that I looked up to as a writer when I first dove into the world. I never thought that he would become a friend just a few years later. He had the ability to push everyone in the media landscape, particularly us “up and comers” without making us feel like we were being pushed. He helped me look at things differently, overcome my fears of asking questions, and was a good ear to hear out frustrations.

Although my path has changed from covering the Canucks to actually working for them, I look back on the time spent with him and can clearly see the lessons that he taught me. The Botchford Project is a fantastic legacy for Jason, as it allows so many smart individuals a chance to get their foot in the door and get the mentorship to allow them to take the next steps forward. That’s what Jason did for so many of us and it’s a great feeling to know that others are getting that same support from the people who got it from Botch.

Patrick Johnston: The Province

Jason Botchford was an unusual colleague, but in the world of journalism that actually often makes you usual. Journalists are a weird bunch. Usually, you’d describe most as ‘nerdy.’ We know a lot of mostly useless stuff. Or it seems useless until one day it’s suddenly useful to help explain a story or at least give you a lede or a way to sign off a story. Jason was unusual in how I came to understand him.

In-person, our conversations were awkward. But in messaging with him, I’d laugh my head off. Maybe that was on me. But what I came to realize was that Jason kept his guard up in person. That’s just how he was. And I came to learn how important carrying that shield around with you is when you’re dealing with the public. You never know where a story might pop up, but you should be endlessly skeptical. You should always ask questions. The questions you ask will also often reveal how you think. That’s why, I think, Jason won over the trust of so many interesting people inside hockey.

Jason Brough: Sportsnet 650

I love to argue. Sometimes I’m not even interested in the topic, but I’ll get my opinion out there anyway. Maybe it’s because I crave the cognitive exercise; more likely, I have a biological need to be right, and for everyone to know that I’m right.

Arguing with Botch was both exhilarating and infuriating. I remember a brawl we had after I praised Edler and Tanev for blocking a bunch of shots in a game the Canucks had no business winning. Botch thought it was dumb, because if you’re blocking all those shots, you don’t have the puck. I got his argument (it’s not rocket science, nerds), but for me it didn’t make a difference. Blocking shots hurts. You do it to help your team. I’m happy to praise that, even when it’s a bad team. Perhaps especially when it’s a bad team.

Anyway, we carried this argument on for a while. Or at least, he did. Anytime the Canucks blocked a shot, Botch would needle me. Eventually, I got fed up. In a DM, I told him he could knock it off with the blocked f****** shot thing. (Not sure that’s exactly what I said, but I definitely swore at him.)

I think my DM actually hurt his feelings. He thought we were having fun! And after thinking about it, I realized I shouldn’t have sent the DM. Because it wasn’t personal with Botch. He simply wanted to have a sports argument. He was just so damn good at the needling that he got under my skin. Even though it’s literally my job to have sports arguments.

Botch wasn’t always right. I wish he could’ve seen Tyler Motte develop into a fan favourite. Botch used to call Motte “Charlie Hustle,” and I hated the way he said it in such a derisive way. Botch was more of a Goldobin guy. See? Not always right.

At the end of the day, what Botch understood best was the entertainment value of going all-in with an opinion. “Who cares?! He’s 34!” might’ve been my favourite moment in Vancouver sports radio history. You need courage to go all-in with opinions, because you risk ridicule if you’re wrong.

And that’s an important lesson for any aspiring member of the sports media. Don’t play it safe. If you’ve got an opinion, say it. If it turns out you’re wrong, just admit it. Don’t let the ridicule get to you. Embrace the mistake. Learn from it. Have fun with it.

And if it ever does happen that I’m wrong about something, I will definitely take that advice.

Mike Halford: Sportsnet 650

Botch gave us the time of day when most in his position didn’t have to or, more accurately, didn’t want to. And this wasn’t because we were seen as direct competition or anything. What we were doing in the early stages of our careers was different — sometimes, waaaaaay different — and that often clashed with coworkers and/or bosses content to keep doing things the same way.

In that sense, Botch was a godsend. He was always looking to do things differently, be it telling stories, writing gamers, conducting interviews, doing radio. He had a curiosity about him, fueled by his desire to stand out among the rest. It was a big moment when he embraced the work Brough and I were doing, and even bigger when we began to collaborate on things. And I know we weren’t alone in that. I consider myself fortunate to be one of the many he helped propel to greater heights. I wish he was here to see them all now.

Matt Sekeres and Blake Price: Sekeres and Price

One of the things Botch and the old Sekeres and Price show on 1040 had in common was mentorship. Ours was done formally with an internship program involving BCIT students. Jason’s was very much informal.

But we all believed in it, since we all had many helping hands on our way up the business.

Sadly, between the pandemic and the format change on 1040, we can’t do in-person mentoring right now on the new S&P show, and that makes us all the more pleased to see The Botchford Project continue on at Rogers Arena. It is a most fitting tribute to our friend, a legacy that his children can be proud of. Good on the Canucks, The Athletic, Kathryn Botchford, Jeff Paterson and everyone else for seeing the project through during these difficult times.

Congratulations to all past fellows and future ones, we’ll be monitoring your progress and cheering you on. Keep climbing, kids.

Daniel Wagner: Pass it To Bulis

Botch was one of the first people I told when I first went from writing about hockey part-time to making it my full-time job. I showed up to a prospect training camp practice and there he was, standing at the rail looking down on the rink. Mostly, I remember how happy he was for me, that big grin and boisterous voice shouting out, “Bulis!” He was also just happy that anyone was hiring a writer to cover the Canucks full-time.

He’d seen how the number of reporters in the press box was dwindling and I remember how excited he was that there would be someone else showing up to the rink to ask questions in scrums instead of the same people every day. Botch craved having new voices writing about the Canucks, providing a different perspective and asking questions that others wouldn’t think to ask. When I think about how happy he was for me to make covering the Canucks my full-time job, I can only imagine how thrilled he would be to see all the new voices covering the team through the Botchford Project.

Chris Faber: Sportsnet 650, Canucks Conversation, CanucksArmy

Nobody has ever inspired me the way that Botch has. His personality being showcased on radio was what made me want to get into the sports media industry. I loved Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon when I was younger and lost the sports passion in my early 20s.

Jason got me back into sports and that has led to my complete investment into making sports into a career. Every day he motivates me, he makes me want to be better to others but also be better to myself. His passion inspired me and drives me every day because that’s what sports coverage should be all about. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at a job in my life.

J.D. Burke: Elite Prospects

It wasn’t long after I’d taken up the mantle at CanucksArmy that my work had caught the attention of Jason Botchford, for better, and even sometimes worse (I’m looking at you, Philip Larsen). Just getting that Twitter follow from Jason meant the world to me; I’m pretty sure I screencapped it at the time. That this staple of the Canucks beat, a man I’d looked up to, wanted to engage with my work or pick my brain on certain topics was the greatest honour and privilege of my then-nascent career.

Botchford understood better than anyone that these new voices with varied perspectives and unconventional paths to the field were there to enrich the experience of everyone involved, and he arrived at that conclusion in the context of a field of entrenched media personalities on the national and local beats alike who feared these people, their perspectives, and what they brought to the table more broadly. That’s what makes The Botchford Project such a fitting way to continue his legacy.

I’d like to think, with every degree of confidence, that Botchford would’ve extended mentorship, care, and opportunities to the David Quadrellis, Danielle Huntleys, Clarissa Sabiles, and Arash Memarzadehs of the world. Instead, Thomas Drance, Jeff Paterson, Ryan Biech, and countless others have done their part to step up in his absence, and they’re doing a tremendous job. It takes a village, though, and I hope one lesson everyone takes away from this is that they can all play a part in trying to fill this void. I hope the lesson here is that every one of us has the opportunity to smash those barriers in Botchford’s steads, and to help a new generation achieve their dreams.

Justin Morissette: Sportsnet 650

Botch could be a frightening force of nature if you got on the wrong side of him, but if he took a shine to you there was no one more supportive of young, fledgling talent in this market. I’ve said this before, but the most exceptional thing about our friendship is how unexceptional it was for him. He made time for so many young people finding their way in all facets of sports media — which is incredibly rare in a competitive industry that shrinks more and more each year — because he remembered what it was like for him starting out, how cold and unwelcoming he found it as a new voice arriving in the Vancouver sports media scene.

That we can honour him through the Botchford Project, a dedication every year to help new voices get a leg up on their way in the door, to do our best to foster a culture of inclusion… There’s no more fitting tribute. Because that was Botch. Always willing to offer guidance, but also just chew the fat about this team — refining his own positions but also listening and learning, discovering new angles through constant conversation with new people, new ideas. There was no greater honour than having Botch present your take before the masses, and he always credited his sources — a man ever dedicated to sending the elevator back down, and raising people up. I miss him all the time.

Jackson MacDonald: Roxy Fever

Botch was a singular figure in sportswriting history. Simply put, there will never be anyone quite like him, here or anywhere else. He reinvented the way the Canucks are covered in this market in his own gonzo image, taking one of the most pedestrian formats in all of sports — the postgame recap — and making it appointment reading during some of the leanest years in team history.

He covered the Canucks as an ecosystem rather than just a sports team, layering his articles in meta-commentary just as social media became a cultural phenomenon. Not only was he a true original, he matched his gift for journalism with a seemingly endless generosity with his time, particularly when it came to aspiring writers who sought his advice. Botch was always quick to respond, and happy to contribute in any way he could—even two days before Christmas, as he once did for me. It was a privilege to read his work, and an honour to know him. Simply put, I would not have had the courage to approach sports media the way I have without Botch as a role model and a personal mentor.