Vultures Pounce on the Best

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 28) – Boy, how quickly in our tear-down society was it revealed that the incomparable TSN hockey panel jumped to conclusions in the Jarome Iginla trade watch.

Aaron Ward Tweeted early this morning (12:05 to be exact) that Iginla had been dealt to Boston while Calgary and Pittsburgh were putting the finishing touches on the actual trade. So friggin’ what! Is infallibility the lone measure of success in the media business? If so, reporting has transcended life.

Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger and Co. have been so reliable through the years, we’ve come to anticipate perfection. Ultimately, however, there is no such thing. If there were, marriages would have a 100 percent success rate and machinery would never fail. Why not offer a mulligan now and then to those that come closest to perfection?

Breaking stories has never been more difficult than in today’s Internet/Twitter/Facebook era. Such pursuit is fraught with peril in the unspeakably competitive media world; always has been. Everyone wants to be first with a story… and why not? Revealing information has forever driven the industry. Reliable reporting cannot be measured by impeccability; nor can the standard of achievement in professional hockey.

Pat Quinn never won the Stanley Cup as a coach but can anyone reasonably argue he wasn’t among the best at his trade? Neither Marcel Dionne nor Mike Gartner played on a Stanley Cup-winning team, yet both scored more than 700 goals in the NHL. Can a championship void diminish such accomplishment, given that only six shooters have been so prolific?

HOW DELIGHTFUL IT APPARENTLY IS TO SCORCH THE BEST IN THE BUSINESS.

During my early years covering the Maple Leafs for The Fan-590, I had a tremendous advantage over my reporting colleagues. Prior to social media and the advent of Internet web-sites, radio was the lone path to immediacy. When something prominent occurred, I would jump on the phone and report it live on the air. You wouldn’t hear about it on TV until the supper hour and you’d read about it in the newspaper the following day. Through a bit of hard work – and a ton of good fortune – I was able to come up with the odd scoop:

• Leafs acquiring Mats Sundin from Quebec prior to the 1994 NHL draft in Hartford (I just happened to be on the air with Dan Shulman and Jim Hunt when agent Eugene McBurney slipped a sheet of paper under my nose with the trade details, emphasizing in capital letters “THIS HAS BEEN MADE!!!”).

• Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher acquiring future Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy during the ’95 draft in Edmonton.

• That a decision by the Maple Leaf Gardens board had come down in May 1998 to fire Mike Murphy, prompting me to make the most regrettable phone call of my career to the unsuspecting coach, who had yet to be informed.

• Leafs calling a press conference for the following day – in July 1998 – to announce the signing of Curtis Joseph as a free agent (Maple Leaf Gardens director Brian Bellmore let that one slip in a telephone conversation).

These were wonderful moments for me in a far simpler media environment, but I also screwed up royally more than once:

• During rampant speculation that Leafs president Ken Dryden would trade defenseman Mathieu Schneider to Dallas for general manager (and former Montreal teammate) Bob Gainey, I was waiting in the hockey office at the Gardens. Leafs publicity director Bob Stellick came out to offer an update. As soon as I saw the white in Bob’s eyes, I rushed to a nearby pay phone to confirm details of the unusual swap. While I was on the air, Stellick was informing my colleagues that no such deal would be made.

BOB GAINEY “NEW LEAFS GM” – A ROYAL SCREW-UP, AND ALL MINE.

• After chatting on the phone with a Leafs player at the trade deadline one year, I was incorrectly told that Pat Quinn had acquired defenseman Adrian Aucoin from Vancouver. Without confirming the deal, I breathlessly went on the air to break the “news.”

It wasn’t easy to have egg on your face in the pre-Internet era, but I managed the feat more often than I’d like to remember.

In this day and age, being first with a hockey story is a remarkable accomplishment. The giants of our industry – McKenzie, Dreger, Pierre LeBrun, Nick Kypreos, Elliotte Friedman, Renaud Lavoie, to name a few – are masters of the scoop. No one outside the industry can imagine how difficult it is to quickly – and accurately – reveal information, yet these moguls do it with astonishing regularity.

As soon as one of them slips up, however, the vultures begin to circle – delightfully homing in on their prey. Nothing more, in my opinion, affirms weakness of character than the exhilaration of kicking another person when he or she is down. Sadly, it is part of our society’s DNA.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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