GLENS FALLS -- No one much cares how easy it is for a reporter to their job.
You learn that pretty early in this business, around the same time they hand out those digital voice recorders. (Wait, we actually have to buy those on our own?)
So if you're not inclined to read about how the sausage gets made, you may want to stop right there. No offense taken.
But when results on the ice change as dramatically as they have for the Phantoms between the last two seasons and the first 11 games of this year, it makes everything different, even the way the team is covered.
Think of this day exactly one year ago.
The Phantoms played their first game since firing Greg Gilbert and promptly lost their 10th straight. Little did we know that was only the first double-digit skid.
Pat Maroon was off in purgatory somewhere in Jersey waiting to be traded under murky circumstances that still aren't all that clear now.
About the closest thing to a feel-good story was Denis Hamel's comeback with the Phantoms, and in those early days, no one had any idea it would turn it out like this.
The Civic Center was a miserable place to work, be it a player, reporter, or heaven help them, those that had to market the team.
What do you ask a player that lost for the 20th time in 21 games? What insight could anyone possibly have?
During a similar streak at the end of the previous season, fumbling to come up with something sharp, I asked then captain Jared Ross if he was frustrated. After flashing me a murderous look, he gave a cool, professional answer.
Dumb question, I know. But when the root of it is that your athletes aren't as good as theirs by a mile and everyone knows it, what's there really to ask?
In that kind of toxic environment, it's impossible to get to know the personalities around the team. And that drives the best reporting, especially at this level.
The difference between the AHL and the major leagues is you have more access and time to really tell good stories. As a reporter, you're not one in a crowd, you're Tim or Joe or whoever.
Sure, we write about why the power play stinks and who's in goal that night. But I've also sat in the stands and watched film with Joe Paterson, devoted half a podcast to Logan Stephenson's affinity for piano bars, and drove a player back from practice once.
Maybe that happens in bigger markets and leagues, but I can't imagine it's as frequent.
I like to think that not only are those the fun stories to pursue, but the most memorable for readers. When the well is poisoned as it was this time last season, however, those angles become impossible.
Sometime early last season I did a podcast about concussions and life on the road with then-trainer and artful storyteller George Sporing. Innocuous stuff, I thought.
A few readers ripped me for delivering fluff in the midst of a losing a streak. They had a point, I suppose, but the alternative of spending 30 straight minutes on air myself bashing the team didn't seem anymore likely to please an audience. (I mean, you have heard my voice, right?)
After practice Thursday, I spent about 10 minutes chatting alone with Kevin Marshall about Syracuse and the state of the team's defense. I used maybe 90 seconds of it in my game preview.
But I learned plenty about what he's going to try and do Friday night and it will change how I watch the game. Hopefully that ends up with you getting a more insightful story Saturday morning.
Does a conversation of that length and ease happen anytime last season? Not a chance.
There will still be tough losses and times when the last thing the team wants to see is a reporter in the locker room. But when a loss is just another chapter in a longer story and not the entirety of the narrative, you can treat it as such and move on.
There is, however, one boomerang effect of covering a winner I never imagined. The crickets.
When I was slogging through stories on the Phantoms' historic ineptitude, even the most basic blog entry sparked a spate of comments. My email inbox filled with a daily outpouring of rage and regret and ruminations.Writing seemed like a conversation with the fans.
These days, I'm tempted to write and post an empty blog entry and label it Greg Gilbert just to see if I can draw a reaction. I know that guy who submitted 72 straight "Fire Gilbert" comments is out there somewhere.
I guess the sound of contentment is a little less noisy. But if that's the price for finally getting some quality hockey here, I'll pay the toll.
Not that anyone cares about a reporter's job anyway.
One big dog
If you were standing outside the doors to the Phantoms' locker room Thursday, you'd be forgiven to think the rodeo was back in town.
Phantoms defenseman Matt Walker brought his giant, and we mean giant, Great Dane to the Civic Center. Harley, as he's called, can easily put his paws on the shoulders of his 6-foot-3 owner. I've covered horse races with smaller animals involved.
The Phantoms' liberal pet policy comes from the top. Coach Joe Paterson is known to bring one of his three into the office on a quiet afternoon. Hamlet, his chocolate lab, made an appearance just last week.
For a photo of Harley, visit my Twitter feed (@PSPhantoms).
Phantoms defenseman Blake Kessel couldn't wait to get to his computer after practice Thursday. He had a pretty important game to check out.
Earlier in the day in Sweden, his sister Amanda was playing forward for the United States Women's National team against Canada in the Four Nations Cup. The catch? His girlfriend is a defenseman for Canada.
Chalk this round for Team Girlfriend. Canada won, 3-1.
The two teams are favorites to meet again for the gold medal.
Former coach honored
The name John Stevens may not mean much to Adirondack fans. But he's an important part of the Phantoms' franchise history.
The one-time Philadelphia Phantoms player and head coach will be inducted into the AHL's Hall of Fame this January. Stevens won a Calder Cup as a player and coach with the Phantoms during his 10-season tenure with the team that ended in 2006. He's one of only 16 people to accomplish that feat, including another former Phantoms coach,John Paddock.
Stevens, who also played for Hershey and Springfield in the AHL, later coached the Philadelphia Flyers.
Inductions will be at Caesar's in Atlantic City on Jan. 30 during all-star weekend.
Providence Reds defenseman Zellio Toppazzini, longtime Cleveland coach and player Jack Gordon, and Rochester defenseman Joe Crozier are the other honorees.