The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) is proud to announce Michael Russo as the inaugural winner of the Red Fisher Award, which recognizes to the top overall beat reporter from the 2016-17 season, as voted by his peers.
Russo, who recently joined The Athletic Minnesota after a 12-year run at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, narrowly edged out finalists Aaron Portzline (The Athletic) and Larry Brooks (New York Post) in an incredibly close vote.
New York Rangers president and four-time Stanley Cup winner Glen Sather made a surprise call to Russo on Wednesday morning to break the news.
Sather is a close friend of legendary Montreal Gazette beat reporter and columnist Red Fisher, the namesake of one of the highest honours in hockey journalism. They first met in 1974 when Sather played for the Canadiens.
“Wow. This is a total honour, it’s very humbling,” Russo said. “I have such respect for Red, every time I would see him in that Montreal press box. On the press passes there, it says ‘please wear in coat pocket’ and Red was always so well dressed and wearing a suit, he was my first real introduction to acting professional in the press box.”
Established in 2017, the Red Fisher Award celebrates the lifeblood of the Professional Hockey Writers Association: the beat reporter. Unlike the Elmer Ferguson Award, which is more of a career achievement, the Red Fisher Award is meant to recognize the traveling beat reporter who has shined in a given season with daily excellence in writing, reporting, breaking news, breadth of contacts and knowledge of the sport.
Russo and Sather traded stories about Fisher, who is a noted curmudgeon.
Sather said he phoned Fisher, who is 90 and living in an assisted care facility in Montreal, and was greeted with the standard: “Why are you bugging me?”
“He’s a beauty,” Sather said, laughing. “He’s a character. It’s a shame there are not as many characters around the game now in dressing rooms.”
Russo relayed that he had the pleasure of sitting next to Fisher at the 1999 Stanley Cup Final in Buffalo. During the national anthem, Fisher complained to Russo that there were no cupholders on the press box seats. When Fisher opened up his laptop, his Coke went flying off the press box balcony, spilling on fans below.
“I told you we needed a cupholder,” Fisher deadpanned to Russo.
At the height of his tenure, Fisher was one of the most powerful and influential figures in hockey. Fisher blanketed the National Hockey League for 58 consecutive seasons (1954-2012) and is the PHWA’s No. 1 card holder as longest-serving beat reporter. He chronicled 17 of the Canadiens’ 24 Stanley Cup championships, capturing three Canadian National Newspaper Awards, along with becoming the second media honouree in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985.
Russo, 43, began his reporter career in 1990 with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, for whom he covered the Panthers until 2005. He then spent the next 12 years covering the Wild for the Star-Tribune before joining The Athletic.
Russo said he jokingly quotes Fisher with rules for hockey journalists learned from Fisher’s books: “I don’t talk to rookies,” was one of them. Sather said Fisher broke that famous rule to report on Wayne Gretzky and others.
PHWA president Mark Spector called Fisher “the father of hockey writing as we know it today.”
“On behalf of the entire Membership of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, I would like to extend congratulations to Mike Russo, the first ever winner of the Red Fisher Award for excellence in hockey beat coverage,” Spector said. “The inaugural vote fittingly contested three of the finest hockey writers in the PHWA. Congratulations, Mike. May you write hockey as long as Red.”
Congratulations to PHWA members Jonathan Bernier, Bruce Garrioch, Mike Harrington, Chris Hine, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Jason Mackey, Sarah McLellan, Dave Molinari, Arthur Staple, Eric Stephens and Adam Vingan who were also nominated by their peers for the 2017 Red Fisher.