A legend to most, a mentor to all young journalists, the Professional Hockey Writers Association mourns the passing of legendary member William “Frank” Orr on Feb. 13, 2021.
Orr, a titan at the Toronto Star for more than four decades, was the 1989 recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award as a media honouree in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was 84.
Orr was the PHWA’s No. 3 card holder at the time of his passing, the organization’s second-longest living lifetime member. In 2003, he received a lifetime achievement award from Sports Media Canada and was inducted into the Etobicoke (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
Tributes poured in from around the hockey world on Saturday as news of Orr’s passing spread.
Past PHWA president Mark Spector recalled his time as a young Oilers beat writer, once phoning Orr for information the day before a game.
“He was somebody. I was nobody,” Spector tweeted. “Graciously, he emptied his notebook. He taught us all about decency and enjoying the job. And restaurants.”
Orr was famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of the finest restaurants in any city on any continent. He was equally remembered for his brilliantly funny one-liners.
“I didn’t know we broke any windows,” was often Orr’s response when big bill arrived at the table. Then he’d wrestle the cheque away from his dining companions.
A few other Orr favourites: “I’m not saying the Leafs are bad, but is f***-up hyphenated?” Or: “I’ve bet on horses smaller than that [Eric] Lindros kid.”
During a particularly conservative Ducks-Red Wings game, Elliott Teaford recalled Orr quipping: “It’s the dump without the chase.”
Orr’s legend spanned the ocean. Longtime PHWA member Lance Hornby shared a story of over-served Finnish writers spotting Orr at a bar during the 1989 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.
“Oooor! Ooooor! They kept yelling at our table, then came over to pepper him with a million questions,” Hornby tweeted. “It was like traveling with a rock star.”
Orr’s career began as a radio announcer in Chatham and Sault Ste Marie, Ont. He then served as sports editor with the Guelph Mercury and Cornwall Standard-Freeholder before joining the Toronto Star in 1961. At the Star, Orr covered everything from college football to horse racing, while his major beat was hockey – from junior to the National Hockey League and world championships.
Orr wrote more than 30 sports books and contributed to more than 60 additional titles. He also covered the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, as well as auto racing and figure skating – including 12 World and Olympic championships.
“As an American hockey writer in the 1970s, before social media, when I walked into a Canadian rink and saw a Frank Orr, a Red Fisher, I felt real awe: ‘Whoa. These guys write hockey IN CANADA!’,” tweeted fellow Elmer Ferguson winner Frank Brown. “They were the iconic print voices of hockey where it is the official winter sport.”
Scores of kids across Canada read the Star wanting to emulate Orr. Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons tweeted: “Growing up, everyone on my street wanted to be Bobby Orr. I wanted to be Frank Orr.”
Fellow Elmer Ferguson Award winner and TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie tweeted: “During the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs, 11-year-old me kept a scrapbook of all the articles written in The Star and The Telegram about the Leafs run to the Cup. I was as enamoured with the bylines of the reporters as the players they wrote about.”
When McKenzie, Simmons and others finally made it to the press box and rubbed elbows with Orr, they were treated like equals.
Former PHWA member Mike Zeisberger tweeted: “Sometimes your heroes disappoint. Not Frank.”
That’s why beyond his enormous accomplishments as a journalist, he was immediately remembered for his generosity and compassion toward young aspiring writers.
“The Man. Generous to young writers, great dinner companion, king of one-liners, with a soft spot for the everyday producers of prose on the hockey beat,” the Hall of Famer Cam Cole wrote. “Frank had a weak heart but a very big one. All his old media buddies can quote a few of his one-liners.”
Simmons tweeted that “one of the most important influences of my life has passed. … Thanks for all the laughs, the stories, the advice, the restaurant touts, the recipes, the emails.”
Cole also remembered being sick with food poisoning in Detroit, delirious while covering an Edmonton Oilers playoff game. Orr would wake his media colleague long enough to describe goals – “Kurri, one-timer, great setup by Gretz” – and Cole would write them down before passing out again.
“Every great man is unique, and there is no question that Frank Orr was one of a kind,” PHWA president Frank Seravalli said. “Reading all of the tributes come in from every corner of the hockey universe not only cemented his legend as a giant in hockey journalism, but showed that he meant so much to so many.”
Orr was preceded in death by Shirley, his wife of 57 years. The Professional Hockey Writers Association sends its sincere condolences to the Orr family.
EDMONTON — Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was selected as the 54th winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup playoff MVP by a panel of Professional Hockey Writers Association members.
Hedman’s victory will go down as one of the closest Conn Smythe votes ever by the PHWA. The hulking Swede edged teammate Brayden Point by a slim four-point margin, receiving nine first-place votes (9-8-1) to Point’s eight (8-8-2).
Teammates Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy also received votes.
Hedman became the third native of Sweden to win the Conn Smythe, joining countrymen Nick Lidstrom (2002) and Henrik Zetterberg (2008). He scored 10 goals during the Lightning’s 25-game run, third only to Brian Leetch (11) and Paul Coffey (12) for most goals by a defenseman in a single playoff. All 10 of his goals were scored during the traditional four playoff rounds, with none coming in the bonus round-robin games.
Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Hedman logged more than 500 minutes of ice time in the playoffs and was only on the ice for 10 goals against, matching his own singular offensive production. Point netted a playoff-best 14 goals, including the Stanley Cup clincher in Game 6.
In the interest of full transparency, the PHWA has once again revealed each individual ballot for all 18 Conn Smythe voters.
TOTALS: Victor Hedman 70 points (9-8-1) Brayden Point 66 points (8-8-2) Nikita Kucherov 25 points (1-2-14) Andrei Vasilevskiy 1 point (0-0-1)
Voting was scored in a 5-3-1 points format and ballots were due with 10 minutes remaining in Game 6.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association is pleased to announce that the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild are the 2020 winners of the Dick Dillman Award, presented annually to honor the work of outstanding NHL public relations staffs in each conference.
After two consecutive seasons as runners-up, the Hurricanes broke through with their first-ever win, while Minnesota captured the Dillman for the second time in four seasons.
Traditionally, the award is based on the work of public relations teams during the regular season. This year, the Dillman selection committee also took the playoffs into consideration and noted how the staffs in Carolina and Minnesota dealt with unprecedented situations and handled them with exceptional professionalism.
“This season presented us all with unique challenges, with access altered and limited to ways we have never seen before,” said PHWA president Frank Seravalli. “While the doors to rinks closed, the Wild and Hurricanes were as available as ever. Before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, they went above and beyond their peers to provide access and information with a dedication and excellence that showed through when other teams went quiet.”
Minnesota’s communications department is headed by Aaron Sickman, director of media relations; and includes Megan Kogut, media relations specialist; and Emily Yang, publicist.
“We are humbly honored to be named a recipient of the Dick Dillman Award by the PHWA,” Sickman said. “This has certainly been a challenging season for everyone. We value the relationship our players and team management have with the media and enjoy helping them cover the Minnesota Wild and the great sport of hockey on a daily basis.”
In Carolina, the public relations staff continues to be led by Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications and team services; and includes Pace Sagester, manager of communications and team services; and Mike Brown, communications and hockey operations assistant.
“We are humbled and honored to accept this award on behalf of the Carolina Hurricanes organization,” Sundheim said. “With the challenges the world is currently facing, the PHWA is an even more vital organization for telling the stories of how players, coaches and teams are navigating these unique circumstances, and we sincerely appreciate the efforts of its membership in reaching out to do so. We are also thankful to work for an owner, general manager and head coach who recognize the importance of providing quality access to independent writers.”
The runners-up in the Eastern Conference were the Philadelphia Flyers, three-time Dillman winners, most recently in 2018. The Flyers’ staff is led by Zack Hill, the team’s senior director of communications. In the Western Conference, the runners-up were another previous Dillman winner, the Dallas Stars. The Stars’ PR staff continues to be headed by Tom Holy, vice president of communications and broadcasting.
The Dillman Award is presented in honor of the late, great Minnesota North Stars public relations guru Dick Dillman. The Dillman committee is chaired by Dillman’s daughter, Lisa Dillman, and features a voting panel of senior PHWA members.
Previous Dillman Award winners
2018-19: Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames 2017-18: Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars 2016-17: Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild 2015-16: Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames 2014-15: Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars 2013-14: Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks 2012-13: Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks 2011-12: Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators 2010-11: Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks 2009-10: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks 2008-09: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks 2007-08: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks 2006-07: Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks
EDMONTON — Since 1967, the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) has been counted on to vote independently on six major NHL Awards, as well as end-of-season All-Star and All-Rookie teams.
For the third consecutive year, the PHWA has revealed the ballot of each individual voter in the interest of full transparency.
“As hockey writers, we are tasked with holding teams, players and the league itself accountable, so it is only fair that the hockey world can hold us to the same account when it comes to determining the winners of these prestigious honors,” said PHWA president Frank Seravalli. “This is a task that our members take incredibly seriously, spending hours in the rinks, researching and soliciting sources to ensure that we get it right.”
Ballots were distributed to 153 of the PHWA’s 300-plus members, plus an invited panel of 18 international broadcasters, for a total voting bloc of 171.
Ballots were distributed to 174 voters and 171 were returned. Three voters failed to submit a ballot: A.J. Mleczko (NBC), Chris Ryan (NJ Advance Media), and Craig Simpson (Sportsnet).
One voter, Marc de Foy (Journal de Montréal), omitted votes for the Selke Trophy, nullifying his votes for all trophies.
Two voters, Stu Cowan (Montréal Gazette) and Aaron Portzline (The Athletic), did not submit any selections for All-Star Goaltender, nullifying their votes for all positions on the All-Star teams.
Additionally, one voter, John Wawrow (Associated Press), listed a defenseman (Adam Fox, NYR) among his selections for forward on the All-Rookie Team, nullifying his ballot for the All-Rookie Team.
Each individual vote can be viewed at the links below:
When sportswriters formed the National Hockey League Writers Association in 1967, it’s doubtful they anticipated that members would someday need to know how to storm a castle.
On Feb. 4, 1987, the organization’s president Scott Morrison (Toronto Sun) and a platoon of writers pushed past security and into the Toronto Maple Leafs post-game dressing room in violation of owner Harold Ballard’s edict that no media was allowed.
“Scotty was like King Arthur leading the charge,” recalled Toronto Sun writer Lance Hornby.
Ballard has closed the dressing room when the NHL had decreed that he had to grant the equal access to female reporters. Opposed to women in the dressing room, Ballard concentrated on “equal” being interchangeable with “the same” He ordered that no one, male or female, could interview players in the dressing room.
Even players were miffed that they had to do interviews in the hallways.
“It was brutal,” Morrison said. “There would be a lot of nights on the road where you would be in a barn like St. Louis Arena and [Maple Leafs public relations director] Bob Stellick would have to drag guys out of the room wrapped in a towel and nothing else. They were in filthy hallways in the bowels of arenas. The wind would blow through. Players were tired of it. None of us were getting any one-on-ones. We weren’t getting any traction complaining to the league.”
At the Cyrano bar in Toronto, Morrison met with the sports editors of all of the Toronto newspapers, plus the Hamilton Spectator. The battle plan was drawn up.
Not sure how anyone was going to react, writers steeled themselves like they were preparing for a street brawl.
“I remember saying to the late Tony Fitz-gerald before we went in, ” Hornby said, “I’ll see you on the other side.”
They pushed through the door in two waves: Morrison led the writers and then the radio and television people, not knowing exactly what was happening, formed the second attack force.
As everyone fanned out to conduct interviews, players began to laugh. “They thought it was a hoot,” Morrison recalled.
According to Hornby, Salming asked: “Is this Christmas?”
Not everyone thought it was funny. Ballard had his assistant wheel him down to meet the invaders. He was cursing and waving his cane. “He swung it at a Toronto Globe and Mail photographer,” Hornby said.
Now 33 years later, veterans of that skirmish say the most amazing aspect of the charge of the writer’s brigade, is that people kept the plan secret. “That’s really hard to do in Toronto,” Hornby said.
Later, Morrison said he “semi-apologized” to Stellick “for putting him in a bad position.”
Stellick had always been sympathetic to the writers’ position, but couldn’t do anything about it. But Morrison felt strongly that the writers had to do something bold.
Stellick had wondered why this Los Angeles-Toronto game on a Wednesday had drawn so many writers. Each paper had three or four people at the game. The press box was full.
“Stellick told me, “I couldn’t figure it out,” Morrison recalled.
The daring raid on the Maple Leafs’ dressing room didn’t immediately fix the problem. It was back to interviews outside the dressing room, with more security, at the next Toronto home game. “But it got the league’s attention,” Hornby said.
Morrison said NHL public relations director Gary Meagher, who was sympathetic to the writer’s cause, helped facilitate a meeting with NHL president John Ziegler at the draft. It was agreed that the league would change the bylaws to prevent Ballard, or any other owner, from using them to deny access.
The NHLWA, later renamed the Professional Hockey Writers Association, was formed with the idea that unity would give writers more strength in dealing with the NHL on problems. That turned out to be true, particularly in the early years of the organization.
Nashville Predators senior vice president Gerry Helper started as a public relations person with the Buffalo Sabres in 1979 and recalls the “PHWA had a fair amount of influence at that stage.”
In 1979, the NHL had grown from 17 to 21 teams by annexing World Hockey Association teams.
“If you think back about how fans got their information, it was through the writers,” Helper said. “So the writers carried a lot of clout. If the PHWA said, we need x amount of phones in the press box, the league and teams really worked to make that happen.”
In the early years, making sure women were allowed into the locker room, and treated appropriately, were always significant issues, even as late as the 1980s.
To put this issue into perspective, consider the PHWA didn’t allow women to join the organization up until the mid-1970s. Robin Herman (New York Times) was the PHWA’s only female member when she became the first woman to enter an NHL dressing room at the 1975 All-Star Game in Montreal.
“It was a sideshow for all terrible reasons,” said 2019 Elmer Ferguson winner Frank Brown, who was working at the game. “Which players were going to wear a towel and which ones weren’t? Was there going to be a scene at the doorway.”
Brown said Herman would have much preferred to just do her job without the spotlight.Her groundbreaking locker room appearance didn’t instantly transform the NHL dressing rooms into a female-friendly place.
Helene Elliott (Los Angeles Times) began working professionally at the Chicago Sun Times in 1977 and then went to Newsday in 1979 before moving to the LA Times in 1989. How difficult was it for women?
“Very,” Elliott says bluntly.
She said there were dozens of times when she had to overcome impediments to do her job.
“For a long time, the NHL let teams set policy for locker room access,” Elliott said. “There was no blanket edict from the league. That created a lot of problems. There were so few female sportswriters that we used to give each other tips. We would say such and such team is friendly, or say this team is going to be really tough, or avoid so and so or so and so will be really helpful.”
Duhatschek, a PHWA vice president for a decade, said Morrison did a lot of “the heavy lifting” formalizing access rules, including how female journalists were going to be treated in the NHL.
According to Duhatschek, NHL PR executive Gary Meagher was a PHWA ally in trying to firm up access policy.
“Those two worked together to do a lot of good in terms of developing policy and putting in firm rules,” Duhatschek recalled.
Their work was much needed. “People like Harold Ballard and Phil Esposito were not very welcoming to women,” Duhatschek said.
Duhatschek said the situation improved dramatically when Gary Bettman became the first NHL commissioner. “The foot dragging on policy stopped,” Duhatschek said. “Back then, he was very helpful to the Professional Hockey Writers Association.”
Elliott has an important place in PHWA history, because she is the only woman ever to serve as the organization’s president and the only woman to be honored by the Hockey Hall of Fame with the Elmer Ferguson Award.
She was president when PHWA members voted to stop accepting a $10,000 fee from the NHL for voting on NHL Awards. The money was partially used to fund a scholarship. The Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) had been pushing the PHWA to stop taking the stipend.
“I thought it was the right thing to do to stop taking the money, but it got really, really ugly,” Elliott recalled.
Not every member agreed with that decision. “It was hard,” she said. “A lot of us were told by our employers that we could not continue to be members if the (PHWA) continued to take money from the league.”
Even beyond the money, voting has long been a contentious issue. Some news outlets do not allow their sportswriters to vote because they see it as a conflict of interest. Some writers believe we shouldn’t vote because trophy race finishes can impact player bonus money. Some team executives believe writers shouldn’t vote on the awards because they didn’t play the game.
The voting procedure changed dramatically in 2003-04 when the PHWA expanded the pool of eligible voters.
Prior to then, each NHL city only had two votes. Writers would split votes. Some writers would vote only for the Hart Trophy or Norris Trophy. Another writer would vote on All-Star teams. Some highly qualified voters received no votes at all.
The problem with that process was that too few people were determining winners. If people forgot to vote, 60 votes would drop to 58 or 57. If someone left an obvious choice off his or her ballot, it could have a significant impact on the outcome.
It also meant some highly qualified voters – national coverage reporters – received no votes at all.
Plus, it was possible, under this system, that a center could win the Hart Trophy and not be named 1st team All-Star center because different groups were voting on those two honors.
Team officials preferred the old system because it had geographic balance. Every city received two votes. It seemed fair to old school executives.
But the PHWA approached the NHL about accepting that a qualified voter is a qualified voter regardless of where they live. The PHWA group argued that increasing the number of voters diminished the impact of outliers.
In days gone by, it made sense to limit the number of voters. You didn’t receive much information about what was happening in other NHL cities. In today’s technology world, a New York sportswriter knows as much about Los Angeles, Arizona and Vancouver as he or she knows about their old team.
Today, the PHWA has almost three times as many voters as it had in 2002-03. The results have shown that this voting system, with a larger sampling of quality voters, works effectively.
Not all of the PHWA history is as serious as voting issues and bold protests. Not every issue needs to be debated with passionate rhetoric. Duhatschek tells the story of how an off-hand suggestion by a part-time writer led to a change in NHL Awards.
In the early 1980s, Jack Newman was the Sports Information Director of the University of Calgary. He also worked as a stringer at Calgary Flames’ games for the Canadian Press. That earned him the right to join the Calgary chapter of the PHWA.
“He said to us, ‘Why don’t we have an All-Rookie team?'” Duhatschek said. “He said baseball had one.”
Duhatschek told Newman he didn’t know the answer, but he would take the suggestion to the national meeting.
“I told our secretary-treasurer Don Wilno and he said: We never thought about it, but it’s a great idea,” Duhatschek said.
The NHL All-Rookie team was introduced the following season, in 1982-83. Newman was in the PHWA for a short time. But he had a lasting impact.
TORONTO (June 29, 2020) – Frank Seravalli, President of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, and Chuck Kaiton, President of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association, announced today that Tony Gallagher will receive the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism, and Rick Peckham will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster.
Tony Gallagher is the first writer to win the award for a body of work exclusive to the Vancouver market. He became one of hockey’s most influential voices in Western Canada in a career at The Province that spanned from 1970 – 2015. He was recruited by The Province out of the University of British Columbia in 1968. He was hired full-time in 1970 on high school sports before making the jump to hockey, covering the WHA’s New Westminster Bruins and then the WHA’s Vancouver Blazers. By 1976, Gallagher graduated to become the paper’s lone beat writer on the Canucks. He was promoted to general columnist in 1987, where he continued to break news and stir the pot, and covered nearly 25 Stanley Cup Finals – including all three Canucks appearances.”
ST. LOUIS — Jan. 22, 2020 — The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) announced today the winners of 10 Midseason Awards, as the hockey world descends on the Gateway City to mark the halfway point of the 2019-20 NHL campaign.
The PHWA’s Midseason Awards have proven to be an accurate predictor of the NHL Awards show in June: Six of the eight traditional Midseason Awards winners went on to claim the trophy last year in Vegas.
“We’re proud of the work our PHWA members put in throughout the entire season, crunching numbers and speaking to sources to gather the best ballot possible,” PHWA president Frank Seravalli said. “The Midseason Awards are the latest example of that, beginning an evaluation process in January that will conclude in early April when the real ballots are submitted.”
Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award recipient and former Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) president Kevin Allen announced on Thursday he is leaving USA Today after 34 years with that outlet.
During his time with USA Today, Allen covered 33 Stanley Cup Finals, 10 Olympic Games and many of the sport’s seminal moments such as Mario Lemieux’s return from retirement, Wayne Gretzky’s retirement, the debuts of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin as well as the “Easter Epic” between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals.
“For more than three decades, Kevin Allen has been the voice and conscience of hockey in America,” said PHWA president Frank Seravalli. “He is a titan in hockey media, as connected and well-respected as any reporter in the history of the game. But what stands out about Kevin, in addition to his unparalleled run of service to the PHWA as president, is his resolve to continue covering the NHL at the same high level over the last number of years as his other duties multiplied at USA TODAY. He was just thrilled to be at the rink when he could.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) is mourning one of its most accomplished members in Russ Conway who passed away at the age of 70.
A long-time sports editor and writer with The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass, Conway began covering the Boston Bruins in 1967. His landmark investigative coverage of the National Hockey League Players Association’s corruption under executive director Alan Eagleson garnered a Pulitzer Prize nomination in beat reporting for Conway in 1992.
“Russ Conway personified the power of journalism. He kept absolute power in check, leading to the single biggest hockey story of his generation,” said PHWA president Frank Seravalli. “His dogged reporting, development and depth of sources and comfort in asking uncomfortable questions brought down once seemingly impenetrable institution. Mr. Conway punched well above his weight class working at a mid-sized American suburban newspaper, reminding us all that it’s not the outlet, but the pursuit of the truth that matters above all.