40: Breaking the Ice

40: Breaking the Ice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hooked on Hockey

Breaking the Ice

A smile is a powerful weapon; you can even break ice with it.

~Author Unknown

“Can you go into the Calgary Flames dressing room and do a post-game story?” I stared at the phone and cringed because I had been dreading this call for months.

It was make it or break it time. So I did what any enterprising young reporter would do; I lied through my teeth.

“Sure, no problem,” I told my assignment editor. “I can do that.”

I started shaking in the second period and by the end of the game I was filled with such terror I thought I was going to pass out. The Flames did their part by winning that night, but by the time I met up with my cameraman outside the dressing room door I was a trembling, sweating mess. Being the lone woman in the group I stood out like a sore thumb and more than a few smirks and eye rolls were tossed my way by all the male reporters waiting to get into the dressing room.

The doors swung open and we charged through like a massive cattle drive heading for the barn. Caught up in the wave, I kept my eyes firmly glued to the red rug on the floor. Not daring to look up, I followed the microphone cable that was attached to my camera and it led me to a pair of naked feet. Looking up quickly, I found myself interviewing Jim Peplinski. Once the scrum was over the herd was off again and the microphone cable led me over to another pair of feet. This time as I glanced up, I looked into the bemused eyes of Lanny McDonald, whose trademark mustache was twitching as he looked at the stressed out woman with the shaking microphone. Soon the herd departed again and glancing wildly around the room I noticed goal-tender Mike Vernon in the corner. After collecting a few more good clips I ran out the door. We shot a fast standup extra for the story at ice level and then drove the videotape to the airport to make the last flight to Toronto. My first hockey post-game report was winging its way to TSN and my job prospects were flying along with it.

The mid to late eighties were glory years for hockey in Alberta. Calgary was beginning to make a serious run for the Cup but the spotlight was shining on the Edmonton Oilers. When Gretzky and the boys came to town the Calgary Saddledome exploded like a three ring circus. Everyone wanted to talk to the Great One and heaven help you if you ever missed his pre-game press conference.

But one day, TSN didn’t need any extra Gretzky clips. They wanted Mark Messier, the tough guy everyone called The Moose. In the early days of his career Messier was a man of few words and let his fierce, physical play on the ice do the talking. He was 205 pounds of muscle, aggression and to put it bluntly, he scared the living daylights out his opponents — and me. Whenever the media wanted to talk to Messier we were always told he was in the trainer’s room. A few of us would try waiting for him but one by one the reporters would disappear and then finally give up all together.

On this night, TSN was willing to wait. My cameraman Brad sat down near an empty player’s stall and I hid out in the stick room. One hour passed and no Mark Messier. The team bus left. Messier was still with the trainer. We weren’t leaving and neither was he. Finally the weary PR guy came up and yelled, “Get your camera ready — Mark’s coming out!” I ran towards Brad and grabbed the microphone. With my eyes fixed on the floor I could hear Messier approaching and you could tell right away that he wasn’t happy. The feet were getting closer and I started to panic, praying that Brad would get the camera going before The Moose exploded into the room. As Brad fiddled with the camera and fumbled in his bag for a white balance card, the large pair of irate feet arrived in front of us.

“We’ll be right with you Mark.”

“Let’s just get this over with!” Messier barked.

Finally after what seemed like an eternity we got the camera rolling and I snapped my eyes up from the floor to stare at the seething face of Mark Messier. He was clearly not impressed and I swear I could see steam coming out of his ears. But something had caught my eye and I don’t know if it was from nervousness, tension or exhaustion but as I looked into Mark’s eyes I suddenly burst into laughter. Not just little snickers but huge embarrassing gasps and guffaws. Now it was obvious Mark was angry. My cameraman looked at me like I was mad, and the PR guy just about had a nervous breakdown.

“What’s so funny?” Mark asked through clenched teeth.

I settled down a bit and gasped, “I’m sorry Mark but . . . .”

I pointed down towards his kneecaps. One of the toughest guys in the NHL, the man known as The Moose, was wearing Frosty the Snowman boxer shorts. Mark glanced down at the cartoon figures dancing across his shorts and I watched the sneer change to a smile as he started to chuckle.

“Yep, they’re something, aren’t they?” he said proudly.

Now everyone was laughing, even Mark. I apologized, pulled myself together and did the interview.

A few weeks later, the Oilers were back in town again. We had just finished our pre-game interviews with the Flames and all the media had gone out to the stands to watch Edmonton’s morning skate. One by one the players came out on the ice, stretching and doing slow laps. Messier arrived and began to skate. As he glided by he looked up in the stands, nodded his head and said, “Hi Teresa.” My cameraman gasped and all the male reporters sitting near me were in shock. One of the top players in the NHL had acknowledged a rookie female sports reporter. With one simple gesture, I was now part of “the club.”

Years later, I was sent to New York to follow one of the Rangers’ playoff series. Over time my confidence had grown and I wasn’t such a novelty anymore. But the New York media were a tough bunch and this group was acting like a pack of jerks. Mark Messier was now the captain of the Rangers and my cameraman and I waited patiently beside his stall. Finally he burst through the door and strode up to the assembled media. With elbows flying, the pack of New York media hounds physically shoved us to the back of the scrum. Winded and shocked, I pushed back into the fray trying to get my microphone near Mark. As he began answering the first question his eyes scanned the assembled media. To my surprise, he suddenly stopped and yelled, “Hey, Teresa. Get up here!”

His arm shot out through the New York journalists, parting the way like Moses and the Red Sea, allowing my cameraman and me to walk right up to the front. All the reporters had stopped taking notes and were now standing with their mouths open.

“Who is she?” I heard one of them mutter.

Satisfied he had things the way he wanted them, Mark looked back at all the reporters and said with a smirk, “Okay, we can start again. Teresa, did you have a question?”

I will always remember the kindness of Mark Messier as I struggled to make my mark as a sports reporter. There were so many times when I questioned my sanity and willpower to keep going. But with a simple gesture, one of the toughest guys ever to lace up a pair of skates validated what I was doing and served notice to the male dominated world of sports that women could do the job and be accepted for their knowledge and skills.

Looking back on fourteen phenomenal years at TSN I still have to laugh. Who knew it would be a pair of Frosty the Snowman boxer shorts that would break the ice?

~Teresa Kruze

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