Six months have now passed since the release of Denver Post writer Adrian Dater's excellent book Blood Feud, a summary of the once-infamous, now-defunct Avalance/Dead Wings rivalry of the mid 1990s. I read it and enjoyed it, and the reviews have been generally positive.
Adrian took some time out of his busy schedule covering the Stanley Cup Finals in Ottawa for the Post to sit down with Dear Lord Stanley (I assume he sits while typing). What follows are his thoughts on writing the book, the future of rivalries in the NHL and the sometimes-heated relationship between bloggers and trained journalists.
Dear Lord Stanley (DLS): Describe your overall experience writing Blood Feud. It is your first book, correct? Was the process as painful as many first-time authors describe?
Adrian Dater (AD): No, it wasn't too bad for me. I enjoyed writing it, as most of it was from my own memory of things. But obviously I did a lot of interviews for it, and went back into the library and dug up a lot of old newspaper stories, and researched a lot of other things about the two cities. There were times when I struggled over certain areas, but mostly it was a pretty smooth process for me. I'd just take a couple hours a day for a few months and crank it out.
DLS: Which areas did you struggle over specifically? Any particular reason why those areas were more difficult to complete?
AD: I guess there's no real subject where I struggled, as much as what I was saying there were times when the writing was a little tougher on certain days or times. I wrote some of this book while doing my "day" job of covering the Avs, so it got a little stressful at times. And then the publisher pushed the deadline up on me by about a month, which rushed things a bit. I guess one of my struggles was how to start out the book. Should I lead off with the Draper hit, which I did? Or what about the March 26 game? Or, maybe some other big game? In the end, I think I made the right call, going with the hit on Draper as where to begin the story.
DLS: You've said in an earlier interview that Patrick Roy and Marc Crawford declined to speak about the Wings-Avs rivalry. Did you have trouble convincing anyone else to share their memories?
AD: Roy and Crawford claimed they were too busy to talk, and that's too bad because obviously their insights would have made it a better book. I covered those guys for many years with the Post, and we had a few run-ins over the years - some of which I document in the book. So, they might have been worried I was going to do a hatchet job on them or something, I don't know. I don't think I did, but I presented a couple of warts on the lives and careers of both men. Most of the other people that I really wanted to talk to for the book, I got. I never talked to Steve Yzerman, however, but let's face it, Stevie Y. was never much of a talker anyway. Most everybody was happy to talk, although it took a long time to get Kris Draper to open up.
DLS: Of those you interviewed for the book, whose recollections were the most enlightening?
AD: I'd have to go with Mike Vernon's. I thought he was very insightful on the night of the March 26, 1997 game, of which I dedicated a whole chapter about. Scotty Bowman was very good, and was kind enough to write the foreword to the book. I had a really good, long talk with Darren McCarty, too, and got some good insight into his family background (most people didn't realize that Craig McCarty was not his biological father). It was good to talk to people like Brendan Shanahan, Kenny Holland and Jimmy Devellano, too. The Wings were all very accommodating to me. It was some of the Avs I had trouble with!
DLS: Did any of the Wings ever express concern---at least initially---that you, being an Avs beat writer for the Post, would write a biased book?
AD: They didn't say that specifically, but I did kind of go out of my way to reassure them that it would be a balanced book, and that it would not be a one-sided book on behalf of the Avs. I think Scotty Bowman was a little concerned at first, but it wasn't long before he opened up. Same with Kris Draper. He was the last interview I did for the book - but he starts off the whole story. So, it was worrisome for a while with him.
DLS: Your book has been out for six months now, and has been fairly well-received among fans and hockey bloggers. The reviews on Amazon.com have been generally very positive. What has been the reaction among your colleagues in the press? Has Blood Feud been successful in your mind?
AD: Yeah, most people seem to like the book, and that's been nice. The players who have read it liked it, too, including Joe Sakic. Adam Foote thought I had a little too much of the Wings' perspective in it, actually, but he liked it. I'm a tough critic of myself, so of course I'm actually kind of sick of it. I also have a couple of errors in it, which bug me to no end. I got the name of the Detroit Free Press sports editor wrong, and also got wrong the name of the paper that Chuck Carlton used to write for when he covered the Wings. That pisses me off to no end, but if there's another edition, we'll get them fixed. But overall, I think I accomplished what I set out to do with the book, which was give a detailed, historical and inside account of a great, great sports rivalry. So, that makes it a success to me.
DLS: If you were to write Blood Feud again, what would you do differently? Is there anything you included that you would omit in hindsight, or vice versa?
AD: I probably would have had more on Pierre Lacroix if I had to do it over again. He's a fascinating character, but there's not a whole lot on his personality in the book. Part of the reason is that he was still the GM of the Avalanche when I was writing it, and my paper - which I needed permission from to be able to write the book - didn't want me writing too much about people I still might have to cover on a daily basis, for conflict-of-interest reasons. But then he retired as GM soon after the book was done. So, I wish he'd done that a little sooner. I probably would have had a whole chapter just on him. Getting more from Patrick Roy would be something I'd want, and maybe more on Stevie Y. If I were to omit anything, I might omit the page or so I spent detailing the departure of Eric Lacroix from the Avalanche. I thought hard about whether to keep it in the book, and decided to do so in the end, only because that was part of a crazy, crazy year for the Avs. But I know it was a bit painful for Pierre Lacroix to see that about his son in a book. Then again, it happened, it's part of history and you can't always ignore things just to spare peoples' feelings.
DLS: It is generally accepted that the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry is now dead. Do you think, in this day and age considering the "new" NHL and the declining influence of newspapers, that a rivalry such as that will ever be possible again?
AD: That's a good question, and tough to say. The media is so big and vast now, that having the kind of rivalry where two newspapers are going at it back and forth from different cities might be unrealistic. They might get lost in the shuffle, their voices drowned out by their own 24-hour websites and the millions of other babbling baboons on sports TV and talk radio, along with bloggers and the like (no offense). But I do think that a vicious and great rivalry is still very much possible. All it takes is two very good teams going for a top prize, and you've always got that potential. And we've seen, with the Colorado-Detroit rivalry, that the cities don't have to be close together geographically or even in the same division. As long as they keep meeting in the playoffs, as they did, it's possible.
DLS: There seems to be a growing debate among traditional newspaper journalists and up-and-coming sports bloggers about who should have access to the press boxes of major league teams. Teams like the Capitals have already granted access to several blogs. Teams like Ottawa have rejected them wholesale. Do you think some bloggers have a place alongside beat reporters when it comes to covering sporting events? Or do you believe bloggers should be excluded from press boxes and locker rooms?
AD: That's another tough question, and one that was actually talked about quite a bit at the Stanley Cup Finals among all the "mainstream" media. I think I'm on the side of anybody getting a credential who diligently "covers" a sport, and that means someone who travels to different cities to do it. That creates a problem perhaps to many bloggers, but to me, if you're going to get a real credential in the press box to a real big-league event, you've got to put in the hours, the time and the money getting the job done - not just sitting in your underwear and delivering sermons from the mount. To me, there are starting to become too many self-proclaimed "experts" in this business who like to think of themselves as serious journalists who deserve credentials to all the big events, but too many of them have never really done the job. But if you have a blog that has an established proof of very high popularity, and if you are totally dedicated to the sport and want to be at a game to do a better job, then I'm OK with that.
DLS: Finally, in your completely non-biased, journalistic opinion, who won the fight between Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon?
AD: Hmmm, tough one, but I'd probably give a slight edge to Vernon. He opened a cut to Roy with a suprise left hook, and won the wrestling match. Roy landed more actual punches, though, and nearly ended the fight early on with a big right hand that staggered Vernie.