The Man Behind The Moniker: Getting To Know Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski

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Greg Wyshynski is the creator and editor of Yahoo's Puck Daddy, the most popular hockey blog in the world. Up-to-the-minute news, comprehensive link dumps, and cynical commentary are just a few of PD's renowned features. The Checking Line's Adam Pardes was fortunate enough to catch up with Wyshynski before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals to find out more about the man himself.

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What I wanted to do was find out some more about you as a person, because when you go on Wikipedia, which is how you judge the notoriety of celebrities…

There’s nothing there! There’s like three things there… I don’t quite know how that happened. There’s more about the 50th most important character in World of Warcraft than there is of me, and I don’t know how that happened. It’s like, where are you people? Don’t you see that you have to build and build and build a Wikipedia page! [Laughs.]

I figured I’d see if I could get some questions answered for people who are interested. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Probably I would say a broadcaster before a writer… obviously something involving sports. I used to call games when I would play them on Nintendo. When I played NHL 93 or NHL 94, I’d turn down the sound on the TV and then you would do the play-by-play or turn on sports talk radio in back of me. So the broadcasting aspect is probably what I was most drawn to, and gradually that probably became writing after a while. The conditioning of becoming a writer was my father bringing home the paper every day from New York. He used to bring home the Daily News, he used to bring home the Post, he used to bring home the Star Ledger from Jersey.  Just the repetition of opening the sports page and reading it and understanding it... gradually you go from being entertained by something to trying to figure out the bones of why the story works, and why was this written, why was this not written, and that aspect of it really started to fascinate me in high school, so that’s kind of where it all came from.

Did you play hockey or any other sports when you were a kid?

I played sports… poorly; unfortunately I inherited my father’s uncoordination. Ice hockey was not a thing where I grew up in Jersey; we were in central Jersey. It was there, it just wasn’t big, and it certainly wasn’t anything that my family was getting me into. When I played hockey, it was mostly deck hockey or roller hockey and that kind of stuff, and that was infrequent. By no means do I pass myself off as having been a player. But I played a lot of baseball growing up, I played a lot of football growing up, around the neighborhood. I tried to play high school baseball, but found out that when you’re a pitcher, and the other pitchers throw really, really fast and you don’t, then you don’t necessarily get to be where you want to be. And also when you’re dreadfully unfit to play sports, when you’re not a pitcher and they want you to run the outfield, it doesn’t work out so well. My athletic career was not all that it was cracked up to be when I was a kid.

Was your dad a big Devils fan? Is that what got you into hockey?

My dad actually was an Islanders fan.

I’m sorry.

[Laughs.] No, it’s alright. When I was born, and then got into sports, he used to live in Flushing and we grew up in New Jersey and when I started getting into hockey, he sort of changed… he changed his stripes. He became a Devils fan because he knew I was a Devils fan. And then he wasn’t an Islanders fan anymore, he just became a Devils fan. It was weird because there were relics in my basement of the four Cups, like cartoons from the Daily News, and pictures of Kenny Morrow and shit like that. He definitely just became a Devils fan and that was a real connection for me growing up… me and him going to games and sitting in the cheap seats, and watching people get into fights at Rangers games and Flyers games.

Is that what attracted you most to the sport?

Oh god yeah. And that’s the thing, and I think it’s one of the things that translates into why the blog works, is that my entry into the sport was more as a fan, and that certainly is the approach of the blog. You enter from the point of hockey culture, versus X’s and O’s on the ice kind of thing. We’re able to bring that into it, but the main entry point is through hockey culture – and that’s where I felt love. When you’re a kid growing up in New Jersey, or even New York or even Philly, it felt like life or death when your team would play those other teams. And that’s what I loved, I loved going to the games and sitting in the cheap seats and feeling the electricity when half the building was Flyers fans, or half the building was Rangers fans, and you’re a Devils fan and you’re trying to fight for your home turf. And the next day at school, depending on what happened the night before, you’re either gonna get shit from the Rangers fans or you’re gonna give shit to the Rangers fans. That kind of importance in the old divisional format is what really attracted me to the sport. And I feel bad for fans in non-traditional markets that don’t have that experience. There was no rival for the Thrashers, you know what I mean? If you’re a Thrashers fan, you go into school and the only person giving you shit is an [Atlanta] Hawks fan, because people care more about basketball than hockey at that point. That was definitely my entry point, was more of that kind of that experience.

Were there any specific people or writers that influenced you?

Oh yeah, for sure, for sure. Sometimes in a what-not-to-do way. I was able to notice the difference between the writing in the New York Post and the writing in other papers, and to not necessarily write the way the Post wrote, no offense to Larry Brooks intended. But the biggest influence in my writing was Roger Ebert, to be honest with you. Ebert was the first guy that I read that (a) just oozed intelligence, and it really gave you a sense of a base of knowledge that you need to approach a subject. But the thing he really did that I loved was that he was incredibly cynical without being dumb about it. And his negative reviews were always more entertaining than his positive reviews, because he would just take a scalpel to a movie. I always was really fascinated by that; you can be negative, but it’s more impressive to be negative and to explain why you’re negative, or why something doesn’t work, or why you should demonize something. And I think that just blends into the cynicism of the site sometimes, that tradition of what he used to do.

Many people would be surprised to find out that you’re a pretty decorated print editor, when and why did you switch into the blogosphere?

I worked at a newspaper for nine years. I got hired to be a sports reporter for them for high school, and then gradually, or actually kinda quickly, moved up to being the sports editor. We were a chain of community newspapers in suburban D.C. and we won a lot of awards; it was great. There’s always a certain competition editorially with other papers to get scoops and to do better work, and we did really well and I was really proud of that. But at the same time, along with that, I wanted to do other things. You can only write the same field hockey article so many times, right? I started writing hockey on the side for a website called Trolley Tracks, then a magazine called Sportsfan magazine, and then for The Fourth Period, then AOL, and then Deadspin, and then Yahoo, so that sort of parallel career was happening at the same time that I was working at the paper. There did come a point where I had to choose whether I wanted to do one or the other, and that point was when Yahoo went to hire me. It was a tough decision, cause if you ask anybody who’s made that jump, leaving newspapers it almost feels like you’re cheating on your girlfriend, right? You’re in love with that medium, and I still get the Washington Post every morning and I love newspapers. It was one of those things where you felt like if I leave this, I’m never going back, and I don’t think I am, so it was a tough call. At the end of the day, it was an easier call because I loved Yahoo and I loved what they were doing, and I knew it was going to be a really great opportunity for me. But at the same time, you’re working for a community paper, the economy sucks, you feel a loyalty to try to see everything through, and it kinda felt bad that you had to leave, but so many other people leave – the newspaper industry is so transient that every year it felt like you’d hit the reset button and you’d have new friends. So at the same time, it’s everybody leaves – you don’t necessarily have to feel so bad about leaving yourself.

That makes sense. When you started Puck Daddy in the Spring of ’08, did you ever dream that it would become the sensation that it’s become today?

I anticipated it’d be popular, I anticipated that it’d be well-read, but I didn’t anticipate the community aspect of it. That’s the one thing that I am really blown away by, is the sense that every day the same people come back to the site and comment. If you look at the other Yahoo blogs, if a story doesn’t get really big promotion on Yahoo Sports or Yahoo.com, their comments are only sometimes in the single digits, and almost every post that we write has comments in the 30’s and 40’s, and it’s because the same people come back every day and spar with each other and they make jokes about the mistakes that we make, and that kind of thing. And that’s the one thing I didn’t anticipate; I was hoping it would happen because in its purest form, we try to replicate what they do on Deadspin on Puck Daddy, which is every hour you come back to the site and there’s something new and compelling there. Because there’s always something new, you come back and you want to get involved, and you want to send in scoops and that kind of thing. I would say half the stories that we do come in on reader tips. That’s just people being motivated to make the site good and being appreciative of what we do, and wanting to be part of it, and that part I didn’t see coming. I’m blown away by the fact that it continues to grow.

How big was the team when you started?

It was me and Leahy. Well, me first and then Leahy and that was it. Then over time we picked up the stragglers. [Laughs.] Sean was the guy that I wanted to be my lieutenant because his blog Going Five Hole is great, and I knew he and I were simpatico as far as comedy, as far as insight… and he was getting courted by AOL FanHouse, so I told him don’t go there, come with me. I think he feels good about it since that doesn’t exist anymore [laughs], he made the right call.

What’s your favorite part of the job now?

It’s still the writing. There’s a lot of other stuff that goes along with the gig like the planning, the travel, the radio thing that happened this year is another layer of responsibility, but there’s nothing better than sitting down and rolling with a story like this morning. On the site we had a story on the fact that the team will be called the Winnipeg Whiteout… it’s a preposterous name, why would they possibly think that? [Laughs.] When you’re given a story like that and you just have fifteen different jokes in mind, and insights in mind, there’s nothing better. The structure of a story, and crafting it, and massaging it, and making sure that it reads right, and making sure that you’ve got everything in there that you want, is still the best part of the gig. The problem with the gig is that you only get like an hour to do it, you know? When you do the longer form stuff, that’s when you stay up until 2:30 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning to just bang it out cause otherwise you don’t have time to do it. But the writing part I think is probably still my favorite thing.

How much time do you have to cruise around the internet and check out other blogs?

The most important part of the blog I think is – and this was another part of the mission statement – is we’re gonna bring in as many other voices as we possibly can. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for ESPN, or The Sporting News, or if you’re a Blogspot blog and you’re just writing once a week about the Bruins… what you’re saying is important. The shit that you’re saying is important, and you have insights that other people don’t because you follow the team. So I read as much as I can… one of the benefits is the fact that we do a headlines post every day, and that’s got just a shit-ton of links in it, so you’re almost forcing yourself to go and read everything, but I try to read… every hour I’m reading something. Twitter has kinda fucked with that process a little bit in a sense that you’re now on there as a newsreader, and you’re trying to see where conversations and things like that are going in real time, but I’d say 60% of my day is reading other stuff.

What’s the best comment or fan mail that you’ve ever received?

[Laughs.] It’s from players, retired players. It’s always nice to hear that someone that’s played the game and been on the ice and been a professional thinks that you know your shit. When Daneyko would say we know our shit… a guy named Reid Simpson, who used to be a goon in the league, unsolicited wrote in about fighting one day and had been like [in a deep, abrasive voice] “you guys are speaking the truth and you should always speak the truth!” And we’ve had just random guys that used to play email in and be like “I really dig what you do,” and that’s always really fun. And then the other thing, and this happens a lot to our credit, people write in and talk about the blog being part of the daily routine, like “I’m at work and this is what gets me through work” and that kind of thing. It makes you feel like you’re making a difference, like the entertainment value that you think you’re putting out there is actually entertaining someone, so that’s good.

I know you guys get a lot of harsh responses too, what’s the best insult you’ve ever gotten?

Well, the most annoying one is “slow news day,” when they say that on a post. The first of the post of the morning was about some goof-ass song that we found on YouTube and they’re like [sarcastically] “slow news day??” And it’s like no, the day just started, there’s gonna be ten more posts. [Laughs.] The stuff that you get that you don’t like is when you realize you made a mistake, or you realize that you didn’t explain yourself well enough, or you left a loose end. And it happens, and I think in a lot of ways we rely on the readers to call us on a bullshit when it does happen. Every day there’s an example of some grammatical error that we made, but when you’re called out on a mistake and you realize that it was a mistake made because you were sloppy, or you didn’t think it through, then that’s what you hate. You like getting it, but you hate getting it, you know?

Who’s the most entertaining player that you’ve ever interviewed or spoken with?

[Laughs.] Uh, Bobby Hull. Old, curmudgeonly, funny-ass guy who you could just hear the beer in his voice. He just had the best stories to tell about back in the day, and about the Blackhawks, and about when he won the Lady Byng. He was fantastic; the old school guys are always the best. I’m hoping that some of the guys that are in the league today that don’t talk, or are guarded, when they get older their brain will just degenerate to the point where they’re more open-minded about speaking about these things. I think he was probably my favorite.

Is there a most boring player that stands out?

There’s a few of ‘em that haven’t really been all that good. And again, when I say all that good, it’s cause sometimes you’re trying to get something out of them for the site, very specific, and they don’t grok to it, they’re very guarded. There’s a couple of guys that start off like that, but you then can get ‘em rolling a little bit… Stamkos is a guy who’s extraordinarily dry, but if you talk enough to him and ask him the right things, you’ll get something out of him. Kesler’s the same way; Kesler’s extraordinarily low key and laid back, but you hit on the right thing and then he’ll start talking too. I don’t know if there’s anybody who I’d call the worst but… well, okay. The worst guy that we ever had was on the radio show the other day, it was Gino Odjick of the Canucks. He was on the radio show a day after they had some reunion of the ’94 Canucks team to watch either Game 1 or Game 2, and he must’ve had a good time the night before, because he was on the radio show and he was terrible. Just long gaps, and “UHH,” and it was the only interview that Pizzo and I have ever done where after the interview there was just this awkward silence, and we were both like “wow, that was terrible.” You never want to confirm what the audience is probably hearing at that point, but we were both like “yeah, that didn’t work.” [Laughs.] If I had to give a name, it’d be that one, the most recent one.

Is there anything a player has ever said to you that has really surprised you?

Again, I think I’d have to go back to the most recent conversation that surprised me, which was when we had Cliff Ronning on the show, and it was the product of a good question, it was “why were you so good at the EA NHL games back in the 1990’s, why were you so fast?” And he told us a story about how he went to school with the founder of EA Sports Canada, and revealed that it was a private thing between them that he was so good on the game. I was like “WOW!”

I saw that on Twitter, it was really funny. [Laughs.]

A lot of the best surprises have come from Dmitry’s interviews with the Russian players, and I think that’s comfort with the language, and their ability to feel a little more open with him than they would be with a guy like me. He’s gotten really great stuff out of Datsyuk, and he’s gotten really great stuff out of Semin… obviously Semin calling Crosby "dead wood" way back in the day was a surprise. He gets better stuff out of those guys than I get out of anybody that speaks English.

And pretty much everyone in the country relies on him for their blogs, too.

For everything, I know. [Laughs.] “According to Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy,” and he loves that, let me tell you that. [Chuckling.]

Did you have a favorite player growing up? A favorite player now?

My favorite player growing up was Claude Lemieux. I’m always drawn to villains, and I loved the notion of him being completely indispensable for certain teams even though he was a complete dick. And I always loved the sort of dastardly things he’d do, but again it would counterbalance with scoring the definitive goal against the Flyers in the playoffs and that kind of thing; I always was fascinated by that.. The first jersey I ever had with the name on the back was Claude Lemieux. But I love Stevens, too. And now… it varies. I really enjoy watching Sid, I really enjoying watching Ovie… Lucic was a favorite player of mine, but I kinda soured him a little bit – he’s too inconsistent. There’s a lot of different guys that I like, I don’t know if I would necessarily have a favorite player right now.

Do you find yourself being more objective about the sport now that you write for a living?

As far as not playing favorites? In the case of the Devils I have to be. One of the things I wanted to do as a writer was be perfectly clear where my allegiances lay, because I would always hate reading writers that cover hockey or any sport and not knowing, because then you read it and you’re like “that guy’s a fucking Rangers fan, no wonder he wrote that!” So I wanted to be clear about that, with that out there though, you have to now go overboard with Devils stuff. Occasionally I’ll have fun with it, like the Kovalchuk thing. When they traded for him was fun, where I could be like “plan the parade” and shit like that, and it was just goofy fun. That is the one team where I pull punches on – well, not pull punches on because I am critical of them – but not to go overboard with my coverage for them because I know that people would be like “this isn’t a Devils blog.” I could easily write a Devils blog every day, I could write “10 Best Defensive Right Wingers” and shit like that, but it ain’t gonna happen cause there’s other things to write about.

You have an N-J-D-F-A-N Virginia license plate, that’s pretty serious allegiance to the team. What would be your dream Devils line?

I guess Parise would be one wing, Verbeek would be the other wing – I love Shanahan, but I’m a bigger Patty Verbeek fan – in the middle, they’ve never been big on centers… I guess by default, and for the sheer joy of having seen him play, I would go with Stastny, Peter Stastny. And then on defense, Stevens and Rafalski. And then obviously Craig Billington in goal. Kidding, of course, probably Brodeur in goal.

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I'd like to thank Greg for taking the time to speak with me, and also for his candid and extensive responses.

For all of your hockey needs, make sure to follow Adam on Twitter!

2 Comments

Phil T's picture

SLOW NEWS DAY

Phil T's picture

jk, great read