Jason Botchford

Jason Botchford has passed away at 48. Botchford was one of the most prominent writers covering the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks for over a decade, working for The Province from 2005-18 and then joining The Athletic last fall. (Update: there’s a GoFundMe fundraiser for Botchford’s family here.) The Athletic put out a statement on his passing:

Patrick Johnston of The Province has more here, including some moving tributes from colleagues. Here are a couple of highlights from those:

Paul Chapman, deputy editor of The Province and Vancouver Sun, worked with Botchford for many years.

“When Jason joined us in 2005 as a news reporter, he immediately stood out,” he said Wednesday morning. “Aggressive, passionate and intense, Jason would attack every story he was given.

“He had a hunger to get the story and get details that no one else had. We recognized how well those skills would translate to the hockey beat and gave him the job covering the Canucks and I think it’s fair to say he changed the way the sport was covered.

…Jonathan McDonald served as sports editor for The Province for much of Botchford’s career.

“He was a gutsy, honest reporter who turned the hockey writing business on its head. He could be really difficult, but uniquely difficult. I remember once asking him to do a story and his response was, ‘That’s a stupid story.’ I didn’t know what to say. He was so brazen. He wrote something else that day.

“The next morning he called me and said, ‘You know that story you asked me to write? If you want me to write a story, just tell me to write the story.’ That was his funny way of apologizing.

…“I also want to acknowledge that there were few people as creative as Jason. The Provies is one of the greatest things we ever created at Province Sports and it was all Jason, responding to my challenge to come up with new, unpredictable content we hoped would connect with readers. It was uniquely his.”

The Provies is worth some discussion there, as that really was quite a new element for newspaper hockey coverage. The concept was that in addition to straightforward game stories and traditional columns, the paper would hand out “awards,” with some of those being for good things on the ice, some being for bad things on the ice, and some being directed at Twitter users, fans, and media. A good extended example is here, on the final games of Canucks’ stars Daniel and Henrik Sedin; it includes everything from “best love story” (on those players’ changing relationship with Vancouver over time) to “best numbers” (the shots for each team winding up as the Sedins’ numbers) to some media criticism of everyone from NBC’s Anson Carter (“best investigation” of why Carter, a former Sedin linemate, wouldn’t talk to Vancouver media) to Sportsnet’s Damien Cox (“best shots/chasers” for Cox’s changing tune on the twins).

Chapman told Johnston he’d spent 20 years going to professional development conferences where people talked about reinventing game stories, but “No one ever did, and then Jason came up with The Provies, a whole new way to read about the game. Despite every game being on TV and being discussed ad nauseum, The Provies became our best-read post every day.” And it’s easy to see why; the mix of analysis, humor (or humour, for the Canadian audience here) and snark made them a compelling read for many who’d already watched the game, something that’s not always true for a traditional game story.

And a lot of that was thanks to Botchford, both for the idea and for his unique and irreverent voice writing them; he wasn’t afraid to mix it up with media and fans or to offer strong criticism of players when warranted, both in those pieces, in his other work (which often included scoops, hard-hitting analysis and more), and in radio hits and on Twitter. That all helped him stand out in a beat writer crowd. Even his intro piece at The Athletic stood out:

Yes,​ I’m joining The Athletic but no​ I’m not​ going​ to​ spend the next 1,000 words telling you​ why.

Consider​ it my​​ first act of insubordination.

All of the great reasons have been taken anyway.

There were plenty of thoughtful tributes to Botchford on Twitter as well; here are just a few of those.

Our thoughts go out to Botchford’s family and friends.

[The Province/photo via CBC]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.