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Jason Bell Behind the Bench
Free Press
Sawing logs and making deadline
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Sawing logs and making deadline

Good day to all,

Waking up quite early this morning (6:35 a.m., to be exact), I immediately started a mental checklist of things that needed to get done on Day 1 of the shortened week. Dropping off my chainsaw for servicing at a small shop on Main Street on my way to work quickly buzzed to the top of the list. I was more than just mildly nervous about owning a chainsaw – I’m fond of my fingers and toes – but made the big purchase two years ago.

I’m not a power-tools guy. I’m barely a tools guy. Don’t ask me to distinguish between a Phillips or a Robertson screwdriver. When doing projects at home or at the cabin, I alternate between using the little X one, the square one and the straight-edge one. I also have a wide assortment of bits for my electric drill, although it’s rarely charged when I need it most.

But the moment I bought my chainsaw, I must admit I immediately felt my testosterone level soar. I love owning it, storing it in plain sight of company and, more than anything, lending it out. “No chainsaw? No problem. Take it. Keep it for as long as you’d like.” I don’t like using it anyway (again, it’s the whole preservation of limbs thing). Plus, I never remember how to get it started. I’ve already told the guy at the small-engine shop I need another tutorial to get the thing going. And my tree-felling execution basically sucks. But it’s come to my attention from management (my better half, Allyson) that there are a few dead trees in the yard that need to be cut down over the next couple of weeks. Pray for me.

Jason loves owning a chainsaw, using it not so much. (Joe Bryksa / Free Press files)

Anyway, back to my checklist. Indeed, it’s been a hectic Tuesday as I juggle the writing of this newsletter with some long-overdue staff scheduling and the rest of my daily responsibilities. I set a noon deadline for Behind the Bench, knowing full well I was going to watch it come and go. I found myself thinking about a famous quote by the late Douglas Adams, an English author who wrote the beloved science fiction classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy. Adams said, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

In the newspaper biz, allowing deadline to sail by is simply not an option. Making deadline is sacrosanct. It’s right up there on the list of ‘How to be a journalist.’ Not as high as ‘Don’t make stuff up’ or ‘Don’t steal someone else’s stuff.’ But it’s up there.

My track record of filing either before or immediately on deadline is relatively solid. I wasn’t exactly battle-tested early on in my career, working for weekly papers in the Interlake and then at the Brandon Sun (where, owing to an afternoon delivery, we could file stories by the wee hours of the morning). A looming deadline wasn’t of much concern while working in the news department of the Free Press, either, unless I was wrapped up in an evening assignment that necessitated a late push.

Sports writing was another matter entirely. I’d never felt pressure like doing a Winnipeg Jets game story with a 10:30 p.m. deadline looming. I’ve shed actual blood, sweat and tears at deadline. Really.

Typing like a madman through the second and third periods – we call it running copy — racing down the stairs to the dressing room or media room for comments from players and coaches, returning to the press box and then frantically putting the finishing touches on what you hope still resembles the English language before clicking the ’SEND’ button.

Puck drop at Canada Life Centre is about 7:05 p.m., so getting a story to the night editor with time to spare wasn't usually an issue, although a game that went into overtime or a shootout heightened the angst level considerably.

Time-zone issues were the bane of my existence. It wasn’t bad when the Jets played in Vancouver or San Jose, for example. Those were far too late for our production side, so my only deadline was how swiftly I could file for our website. But an 8 p.m. Central Time start in Alberta or Colorado? Brutal. Just early enough to squeeze a bare-bones ‘gamer’ into the paper.

The Avs and Jets were locked up 2-2 in overtime and evening editor Darron Hargreaves waited in the newsroom with growing impatience. (David Zalubowski / The Associated Press files)

I remember one night in Denver in November 2016 during my first of five seasons covering Winnipeg’s NHL team. The Avs and Jets were locked up 2-2 in overtime, it was probably 10:45 p.m. at home, and evening editor Darron Hargreaves waited in the newsroom on Mountain Avenue with growing impatience. Then this happened.

Yep, Nikolai Ehlers, who had set up a pair of goals for the visitors, spun and inadvertently fired the puck between goalie Michael Hutchinson’s legs and into the Jets net for a 3-2 Colorado triumph.

It took me a few seconds to process what had just transpired and to figure out how to present the ridiculous ending to readers — precious seconds I didn’t have. I pounded in a new top for my story and fired it off to the night desk before dashing down to the bowels of Ball Arena (then called Pepsi Center) to speak with the man whose misfire cost the Jets a point. I sent Darron some quotes as fast as I could, and he weaved them into the mess that I’d created earlier. Somehow, he made ‘chicken salad out of chicken s---,” as we say in the industry.

With piles of practise, I believe got better the last few seasons at keeping my anxiety in check with a fast-approaching deadline. Admittedly, however, the pressure got to me a couple of times this past winter, and I really felt its weight on March 27, my swansong. Mark Scheifele’s OT winner lifted the Jets to a 2-1 win over Arizona Coyotes and a good time was had by all that night. All but me. George Costanza of Seinfeld figures out the secret to success is going out on a high note. I went out with a whimper.

One of the good things about my twice-weekly note to readers is my self-imposed deadline can be renegotiated. I have the freedom to change up its mailout time, depending on my workload — as is the case today — the absence of a compelling topic, or, simply, a lack of motivation. I haven’t yet wrestled with the latter but can safely assume the odd day will come.

Not unlike the aforementioned Seinfeld, I’ve just realized this latest missive is kind of a ‘show about nothing.’ They can’t all be gold, Jerry. Gold.

Jason Bell

— Sports editor Jason Bell

Jason Bell

OUR COVERAGE

Oil Kings take command: The Winnipeg Ice surrendered a late goal to Edmonton and then fell 4-3 in overtime to the Oil Kings, who now lead the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference final series 2-1. Mike Sawatzky has the story.

Thumbs down: CFL players voted against the league's latest contract offer but continue to practice, reports Jeff Hamilton.

Brady Oliveira is focused on playing the "Brady brand" of football that has gotten him this far. (John Woods / Free Press files)

His time to shine: As a youngster, Brady Oliveira pictured himself as a star with the Blue Bombers, and now he's got a chance to fulfill his dreams, writes Gavin Axelrod.

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Proper landing spot: The Winnipeg Jets feel they can provide Barry Trotz with everything he wants for his next job, reports Hamilton.

 

ONE GREAT PHOTO

 

Linebacker Les Maruo and his Bombers teammates are practising but still don’t have a contract with the CFL. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

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