Interview: “Kicking Ice” Creators Stephanie Phillips & Jamie Jones

The sport of professional hockey has long been a male-dominated venture. That started to change with the establishment of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2007, and more recently the National Women’s Hockey League in 2015. This bold new initiative inspired author Stephanie Phillips to create the graphic novel, “Kicking Ice,” which tells the story two young girls who play hockey and grow up to play in the NWHL. The book is intended to inspire girls of all ages to discover the joys of hockey along with the possibility that now one day they too could play as professionals.

I recently spoke to Phillips and artist Jamie Jones.

Kyle Scully: Stephanie, what inspired you to write this graphic novel?

Stephanie Phillips: I’ve always been a hockey fan, I grew up playing hockey, first roller hockey and later in High School I made the switch to ice. I remember just kind of following the start of the NWHL and with the Olympic year approaching, my initial idea was just to do kind of a web-comic about girls and women in sports. It became very centered around what I know the best and kind of spiraled from there, but my own personal love for the league and the sport itself.

KS: What was the pitch process like with the NWHL?

SP: When I first spoke with Ominous Press, my initial concept was an ongoing web comic about women in sports. Ominous was quickly asked, what if we do a graphic novel? I thought, I do have some contact with the NWHL and it might be really cool since they’re still in their infancy to give them a way to have their own superheroes of a kind, Continue reading “Interview: “Kicking Ice” Creators Stephanie Phillips & Jamie Jones”

Interview: Tom DuBois, Blades of Steel box cover artist

If you grew up playing video games in the 1980s and 1990s, you definitely have seen artwork by Tom DuBois. He is an illustrator from Chicago who created many of the iconic covers that graced video game boxes. Remember Bayou Billy and Castlevania III for Nintendo, Lethal Enforcers for Sega Genesis, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time for Super Nintendo? All of those games, and dozens more, featured DuBois’ art on the covers. But most importantly for hockey fans, he illustrated the cover art for Blades of Steel, which came out for Nintendo in 1988. Recently, DuBois spoke with me about how he got his start in creating video game artwork, including Blades of Steel – and how working on that game got him in trouble.

Continue reading “Interview: Tom DuBois, Blades of Steel box cover artist”

Interview: Bruce Dowbiggin, Author of the Book “Cap In Hand”

If there are two things that Bruce Dowbiggin loves, it is sports and business – or more specifically, the intersection between the two. He is a former sportscaster for the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) and writer for The Globe and Mail. Dowbiggin was a part of the investigation that put Alan Eagleson, the corrupt former head of the NHL Players’ Association, in prison.

He has also written numerous books about sports and business. His latest work, entitled “Cap in Hand,” explains how parity and the salary cap are ruining professional sports in North America. Dowbiggin recently spoke with Sports Collectors Digest about his new book, why pro sports must change, and how soccer gets it right.

Sal Barry: Why would someone want to read “Cap in Hand”?

Bruce Dowbiggin: If you’re like a lot of sports fans, who wonder why it is that every season starts with eight to 10 teams that basically say “we’re not going to try and compete,” then I think you’re going to want to read this book. This is a book about how we got to where sports are today, to the point where it is that teams don’t care about winning, that teams are tanking. It’s all in the service of parity for the major league sports in North America. I make the argument that the usefulness of parity is over. We want a new sports economy, and it’s time that the people that run the leagues understood that.

SB: So, why write a book about the salary cap?

BD: I wanted to write a book about the 10 or 12 most-significant player contracts in history. I wanted to show the evolution from Babe Ruth to current contracts today. My publisher suggested that I put it in a bigger context. So, that’s where the idea came in, about how salary caps have done more harm to pro sports in North America than they have to help.

SB: Why is the salary cap the main culprit?

BD: As you know, in baseball, football, basketball and hockey, we’ve lost seasons or half-seasons. We’ve lost considerable amounts of time where leagues have locked out its players to get salary caps. Was it worth it? No, it wasn’t. Whenever there is a labor lockout, the owners and their commissioner are always talking about that somehow this is going to keep ticket prices restrained. That doesn’t happen at all.

Read the full article at Sports Collectors Digest

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk

Interview: Michael J. Sokyrka, NHL ’94 Music Composer

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for The Hockey News about NHL ’94 for the video game’s 25th anniversary. One of the people that I interviewed was Michael J. Sokyrka, who composed much of the music for the different versions of NHL ’94. We had a great conversation, but because of the sheer amount of information that I had to cover, as well as space limitations of a magazine, I was only able to quote Mr. Sokyrka once in my article. So, I decided to publish our conversation here, as it gives a fascinating look at how video game music — and specifically the music for NHL ’94 — was made back in the early 1990s. 

Sokyrka is a musician and a music teacher. One day, he transcribed some blues riffs for two young students to learn, which impressed their father, Rick Friesen — who happened to work for a company in Vancouver called Distinctive Software. The company needed someone with Sokyrka’s talents to make music for video games. Sokyrka took the job, and several years later the company was purchased by Electronic Arts and became EA Canada. NHL ’94 was the first of several hockey video games that Sokyrka worked on. 

Sal Barry: Had you worked with computers much prior to joining Distinctive Software? 

Michael J. Sokyrka: I had zero computer experience at the time. The first time I saw a mouse, I thought I had to speak into it. Everybody [at Distinctive Software] seemed to be having a good time. I was hired on the spot. I walked out of there thinking, what have I done, I just took on a job, and I got my teaching studio, how am I going to handle all of this? Needless to say, for the first seven years or so, I worked two jobs. I’d start my day at Distinctive Software at 7 a.m., and then teach piano lessons, and my day would finish usually around midnight. Then on the weekends, I was gigging.

SB: Are you a hockey fan?

MJS: I’ve always been a hockey fan. Continue reading “Interview: Michael J. Sokyrka, NHL ’94 Music Composer”

Interview: Jeremy Roenick on NHL ’94

NOTE: This interview with Jeremy Roenick was originally published in the October 2013 issue of Beckett Hockey Magazine. Because very few of you probably saw it, and it was five years ago, I am reprinting it here, just in time for the 25th Anniversary of NHL ’94. 

Jeremy Roenick electrified crowds during his 20 seasons in the NHL with his hard-nosed, high-scoring style of play. He reached the 50-goal plateau three times and was the third American-born player to score over 500 career goals. When he retired in 2009, Roenick scored  513 goals and 703 assists in 1363 games. A year later, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and is currently a studio analyst for NHL games broadcast on NBC.

Yet, to a generation of hockey fans, Roenick is perhaps better known as being one of the best-ever video game characters to grace a TV screen. NHL ’94, released in fall of 1993 and currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, is considered the best video game from the classic gaming era. In the game, which used the names and attributes of real NHL players, Roenick was nearly unstoppable. His great speed and agility, along with one of the hardest and most accurate shots, make J.R. the biggest offensive threat in NHL ’94.

In the Genesis version of the game, a programming mistake — known as the “weight bug” — made lightweight players actually more difficult to knock down while also making them hit harder. This resulted in Roenick being a total wrecking ball in NHL ’94, with a better mix of offensive skills than Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky.

Movie-goers would also learn about Roenick in the 1996 film Swingers, starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. In a memorable scene, the  characters are playing NHL ’94 (although the cutaway shots of the game are actually from Electronic Arts’ previous hockey game, NHLPA Hockey ’93). When accused of playing unfairly, Vaughn’s character Trent replies “Y’know, it’s not so much me as Roenick; he’s good.” This cemented Roenick’s status as a pop culture icon and a video game legend.

Recently, Roenick talked with Beckett Hockey about his video game notoriety, games he played growing up, and what it’s like to be a cover athlete.

Sal Barry: The video game NHL ’94 celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. I’m sure you remember that game.

Jeremy Roenick: I do. Very, very well. The NHL ’94 game is the one topic that is mentioned to me most often to me in my lifetime. Continue reading “Interview: Jeremy Roenick on NHL ’94”

Interview: Jim Pappin, 2-Time Stanley Cup Winner and 5-Time NHL All-Star

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the honor of being the last team during the “Original Six Era” to win the Stanley Cup — and they have Jim Pappin to thank for the large part he played. The Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens four games to two in the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals. Pappin led all Maple Leafs in scoring during the playoffs, with seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 12 games. 

Championships seemed to follow Pappin wherever he went during the early part of his career. In 1964, he won his first Stanley Cup with the Leafs. In 1965 and 1966, he won back-to-back Calder Cup Championships with the Rochester Americans of the AHL. After his second Stanley Cup Championship in 1967, Pappin won another Calder Cup in 1968; that’s five championships in five seasons. 

Pappin was later traded to the Chicago Black Hawks, where he was consistently one of the team’s top scorers during the early-to-mid 1970s, and played in five NHL All-Star Games. 

Recently, Pappin was signing autographs at AU Sports, a sports card and memorabilia store near Chicago, and graciously answered a few questions about his career. 

Sal Barry: You led the Maple Leafs in scoring during the playoffs in 1967 — including four goals and six assists in six games during the Finals. What went right for you in the playoffs? 

Jim Pappin: If you work hard in the playoffs, you don’t have to work in the summertime (laughs). They always say, if you play hard and win the Championship, you get bottled beer instead of draft beer. It’s a good incentive. 

Continue reading “Interview: Jim Pappin, 2-Time Stanley Cup Winner and 5-Time NHL All-Star”

Greg Smyth Was One of Hockey’s Last Helmetless Players

Greg Smyth during the 1992-93 season. [Photo courtesy of the Calgary Flames]
Former NHL defenseman Greg Smyth passed away earlier this month after a long battle with cancer. He was 51 years old. While many remember “Bird Dog” for his tough play and willingness to drop the gloves, there is a little-known fact about Smyth that truly made him unique. For a short time during the 1992-93 season, Smyth opted to play without a helmet.

Continue reading “Greg Smyth Was One of Hockey’s Last Helmetless Players”

The Near-Miracle on Ice: An Oral History of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

Defenseman Moe Mantha and goaltender Ray Leblanc in the game against Sweden at the 1992 Winter Olympics. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
Expectations were not very high for the United States Men’s Ice Hockey Team during the 1992 Winter Olympics, but for a two-week span, the group of college players and minor leaguers captured the hearts and minds of Americans watching back home.

After the U.S. rocked the hockey world at the 1980 Olympics with its “Miracle on Ice” win over the Soviet Union and subsequent gold medal victory, Americans hoped for a repeat. It wouldn’t happen that decade, though, as the U.S. finished 7th out of 12 teams in 1984 and again in 1988.

While the U.S. team may have been projected to be a doormat at the 1992 Olympics, the team proved the world wrong. Led by goaltender Ray Leblanc, an unlikely hero between the pipes, the ’92 team was the U.S.’s “Near-Miracle on Ice” – a team that was unstoppable in its first six games, only to be halted by the tournament’s eventual champion.

Part I – The Long Road to Méribel

Narrowing down the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team to 23 players was a six-month process. [Photo courtesy of USA Hockey]
The 1992 U.S. Olympic Team was a bricolage of college standouts and minor pro players, with a few NHLers mixed in. Building the team was an ongoing process that started in the summer of 1991 and went until a few weeks before the Olympics started in February of 1992.

Bret Hedican | #24 | Defense
I had a really good junior year at St. Cloud State University. I was on spring break, of all things, and I got a call from my parents. They said USA Hockey called, and that they wanted me to represent the Americans in Russia for a tournament called the Pravda Cup. I was blown away. I never – not once – had been asked to represent the United States in any national tournament. I had four of the best games of my life. I gave everything I had, because I knew it was my chance of a lifetime. The coaches were Dave Peterson and Dean Blais, and they asked me to try out for the National Team. I left college my senior year to make the National Team, in hopes to make the Olympic Team.

David Emma | #10 | Forward
After I won the Hobey [Baker Award, as the NCAA’s best player], I went right to the tryouts.

Shawn McEachern | #15 | Forward
We had tryouts in the summertime. That’s the way it worked with the Olympic teams back then. You went to tryouts for the National Team, and then you played for the National Team. And then you’d play a season against some NHL teams and some college and minor league teams. And then, just before the Olympics, they cut it down. We traveled around for about six months with the National Team.

Keith Tkachuk | #17 | Forward
This was before I was a professional. Because I was so young, 19 years old, I wasn’t expecting to make the team. I guess I had a good tryout. I was already enrolled to go back to school that fall, but luckily, I made it, and kept on making it, and got to go play in the Olympics.

Continue reading “The Near-Miracle on Ice: An Oral History of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team”

Interview: Randy Walker, Rob Lowe’s Hockey Double in Youngblood

Randy Walker (left) and Rob Lowe on the set of Youngblood in 1984.

Randy Walker had the best summer job a 16-year old boy could hope for. Back in the summer of 1984, MGM was filming the hockey movie Youngblood in his hometown of Toronto. Walker went with some of his friends to the audition because they wanted the free ice time, but he may have skated off with the best part – as one of the hockey doubles for the film’s star, Rob Lowe.

Remember that scene when Dean Youngblood scores a sweet wraparound goal and then gets clocked by Racki during the Mustangs’ tryout? Or when Youngblood gets crushed into the boards by teammate Derek Sutton during practice? Or when Youngblood streaks down the ice and flips a backhander over the outstretched leg of the Thunder Bay Bombers goalie? That was all Walker. Obviously, we see shots of Rob Lowe’s face – usually from the chest up – in those scenes. Walker was one of the people who made the hockey action believable. 

Randy Walker in 2018.

But as a double, Walker had other, less glamorous tasks that you did not see. Many times, a double must stay in place – sometimes even lying under a championship figure skater — while the crew sets up the lights and cameras and frame the shot. Then the real actors step in when the filming starts.

Today, Walker is a police dispatcher and 911 operator in Spotswood, New Jersey. He is a scout for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL and for the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL, and was a youth hockey coach for 16 years. Working on the set of Youngblood may have been his summer job from over 30 years ago, yet Walker remembers it like it was yesterday. He spoke with me recently so we could geek out over his memories of working on the greatest hockey movie from the 1980s.

Sal Barry: You were pretty young when you worked on Youngblood. How did you get the job?

Randy Walker: I was 16 and played on a really good midget hockey team called the Toronto Red Wings. We won the championship. And there was a Junior B team called the Henry Carr Crusaders. They were also champions in their league. I don’t know how, but the movie found this guy named Charles Rosart.

SB: You mean “Masher?”

RW: Yeah, we called him Masher. I don’t know how they found Masher, but he called our coach and Henry Carr’s coach and got all our numbers. He called us and told us to go to the Lakeshore Arena because they were shooting some movie. Nobody in their right mind would ever believe anything Masher said, but the thing that got us to go to the rink was that we were going to play shinny with guys on the [OHL] Toronto Marlies, like Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas. We looked up to those guys. We were midget players, and those guys were in major junior.

So, it was June, school’s out, and we were going to get on the ice and play shinny with the Marlies. We thought this was going to be for a hockey instructional video. Masher told us it was for a movie, and we thought he was full of crap. When we got there, the buzz started going around that it was a Hollywood movie.

Continue reading “Interview: Randy Walker, Rob Lowe’s Hockey Double in Youngblood”

Interview: Hockey Documentary Filmmaker Dale Morrisey

Dale Morrisey shoots footage for his new film, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”

Dale Morrisey is a filmmaker with a passion for hockey documentaries. His latest work, entitled “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans,” takes a long look at a long-forgotten NHL team. The Americans pre-date the “Original Six” Era and contributed more to the long-term success of the NHL than most would credit them for. At the same time, the Americans were a horrible team, struggling for years, first in New York City and then finally Brooklyn.

Morrisey, 45, was born in Oshawa and is, in his words, “a long-suffering Maple Leafs fan.” He previously wrote and directed documentaries “The Father of Hockey” (2014) and “Hockey’s Lost Boy” (2016). Recently, he spoke about his newest work, and why anyone should care about a team that’s been dead for over 75 years.

Sal Barry: Please explain the meaning behind your film’s title, “Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans.”

Dale Morrisey: That’s from Thomas Wolfe’s short story “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” which appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1935. The gist of the story is that it takes an entire lifetime to know Brooklyn, and even then, you wouldn’t know all of it. So, we played off of that, because the Brooklyn Americans area forgotten team, and only someone who was around back then would really know and understand who they were.

SB: The Americans have been gone for how long now?

DM: About 76 years.

SB: Why would anyone care to know about the Americans today?

DM: That’s a good question; I’ve been asked it a lot. Continue reading “Interview: Hockey Documentary Filmmaker Dale Morrisey”