Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - Updated: 3:14 pm
Hockey fans from around the world turned their attention to Pittsburgh Feb. 13. That evening’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Edmonton Oilers pinned two of the National Hockey League’s biggest stars against each other — Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
Nearly 100 broadcast, digital and print media outlets requested credentials for the game, including a five-student journalism class from North Catholic High School. Owen Hixon, Dylan Bott, Kade Contrael, Madison Thome and Madison Arnold, who are part of the Junior Excel Hockey Academy, spent a real-time day in the life of a sports journalist at PPG Paints Arena.
“The world of journalism and sports communication is always evolving,” said Penguins Vice President of Communications Tom McMillan, a former sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “How people consume information is vastly different, so game stories and articles look a lot different than they did 20 years ago.”
The students were tasked with writing their own game story as an assignment for teacher Michael Palcsey’s class. The busy day started at 10 a.m. when the class arrived at the arena, greeted by McMillan and Penguins Vice President of Facilities Rich Hixon. They watched the team’s morning skate and attended head coach Mike Sullivan’s news conference.
Shoulder-to-shoulder with many veteran journalists, Thome posed one of the first questions to the Penguins’ bench boss. Thome, a North Catholic senior, plays for the Pens 19U Girls Elite team with Arnold. Thome is originally from Alabama, and has played for junior hockey teams in other cities.
“I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if I didn’t move up here,” she said.
McMillan and his staff of Sam Kasan, director of content, and Jason Seidling, director of media relations, held a lecture and question-and-answer session to further detail the daily grind of the sports media world and the duties that aren’t always part of the general job description. For example, Seidling talked about the whirlwind afternoon when the Penguins acquired Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann from the Florida Panthers Feb. 1. He raced to the airport to assist the new players with their bags, which he helped carry into the arena so they could be dressed and ready for the 7 p.m. game.
There are more than 700 NHL players, McMillan said, but only 40 or so media professionals in the league. In essence, it’s harder to make it as a reporter, broadcaster or communications director.
Before a tour of the arena, the students received some classroom-like instruction from Palcsey, who is also North Catholic’s assistant principal of academic affairs, as he taught the importance of story structure, Associated Press style and general journalism terminology.
“People need to know the facts of a story or event,” he said. “As writers, we need to be factual and credible to the public. That’s our duty as writers.”
The Penguins beat the Oilers, 3-1, behind goals from Teddy Blueger, Bryan Rust and McCann. Crosby is now 5-0 against McDavid.
Shortly before midnight, the students took their bus back to Cranberry Township with a 14-hour day in the books. It truly was a day in the life of a sports journalist for a class of student-athletes.