I think we’re skipping the birthday cake for this one. It’s a ceremonious time at the Faceoff Circle offices (read: my laptop), but as of right now, I’m being food-conscious as one of many general lifestyle changes that have come in the past few months. Maybe if I get a long walk in tonight I’ll grab a kid-sized cone from Baskin Robbins, or something.

The Faceoff Circle turns two years old today, having launched ceremoniously, but with no significant plan, on August 4th, 2017. This seems like as good of a time as ever to address where I’m at personally, professionally, and with this website, so let’s just dive right into it.

Where I’m at, Personally

I’m feeling pretty good right now, and that’s something I feel very proud of and want to build off of while I can.

Those of you who follow me extensively know that I’ve spent a large chunk of my life battling with anxiety and depression and that it’s hit me particularly hard in the past three years or so. The good news I can give is that it’s getting a lot better – while not every day is perfect, I’ve felt relatively “normal” for a few months now. It’s long enough for me to think that this isn’t just the mood equivalent of a short adrenaline rush, and more of a result of a process.

My medication has found consistency and I don’t feel much any real side effects any more. I’ve severely cut back on drinking, which wasn’t really a true vice for me, but still an amplifier and a crutch on bad nights. I’ve learned more about when to give myself space, and when to back away. Getting out more, for work and for fun, has helped a lot.

Of course, it’s nice to be “back” to be being something closer to the ‘myself’ I’m most comfortable with, but it obviously isn’t as easy as picking up where I left off. Physically, I have to get back in shape – I’m not quite as active as I used to be, and stress ate myself to the biggest I’ve been in about eight years. That’ll take me about a year to shift back to a place where I’m comfortable, so long as I stay focused, and I think I can.

My bigger worry is interpersonal – my down points have led to many situations where I have not been the friend, peer, relative, mentor, or whatever else that I wish I could have been. I’ve got a lot of bridges to mend, a lot of listening and mistake-learning to do, and a lot of proactivity to re-introduce to myself. I hope that those that I may have let down are willing to give me an opportunity to do that. Some already have, and I’m grateful for that. Others probably won’t, and that’s okay too. At the end of the day, it’s about what everyone else is comfortable with – I don’t want to be anyone’s burden anymore, if possible.

Basically, I’m happy to have my mind under control again, and don’t want to look back to the dark place. But I also feel that it’s important to clean up some of the mess I made along the way, and I think I can.

Where I’m at, Professionally

I don’t think this comes as any surprise to anyone paying attention, but my focus within the hockey industry has begun to shift.

Earlier in the calendar year, I partnered up with the OJHL’s St. Michael’s Buzzers to bring them into the analytics era, at a scope that we didn’t believe to be attempted at this level. The partnership was successful, we did rather well down the stretch, and more importantly, the work being done was overlapping with and moulding into the team’s philosophy and identity.

I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun working than I did last season at St. Mike’s. So when the opportunity was presented in the offseason to mutually go all-in on this, I didn’t hesitate to commit to it. This year, I’ll be continuing the expansion of the analytics side of things, while helping in various other organizational facets, from scouting to tech to even getting my first bit of coaching experience at a showcase tournament a few weeks back.

It’s never been more clear to me that this is the type of work I want to be doing. I’ve told friends and peers in the past that the “Hockey” part of “Hockey Journalist” was the most important part to me – that I enjoyed writing, but I truly cared most about the sport, and that the journalism part came as the easiest way in for a young teenager over a decade ago.

Right now, the hockey writing industry is more than a little closed in – full-time jobs are few and far between and the “second-tier”, “development” gigs aren’t close to a living, despite demanding significant hours and attention. This site has given me some extra income while I get myself sorted – and I truly appreciate that – but even with a 24/7/365, all-in commitment to coverage, I don’t think it could truly become a job-replacement.

Combine that with the bridges I’ve burned by, well, being known in the hockey media social circle since I was 12, with all the positives and negatives that come with that, and I don’t think my chances of making it are super high at the moment. Maybe down the line, but as it stands, I don’t think anyone is coming to me with a full-time job offer, and I don’t think this site is going to suddenly add thousands of paying members.

So with that in mind, I have an opportunity to chase something more aligned with my childhood dreams, and a clearer path to accomplish it, so I’m going to chase it.

To be upfront: My long term aspirations are in hockey operations at the professional level. Ideally, in a role of significance, where I can make tangible impacts on the direction of an organization. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the NHL – in fact, I quite like the sound of working at a level that doesn’t get the biggest fish in the pond, and finding ways to make the most of the challenge. I’m extremely interested in any available opportunities to work my way up the ladder, and I’m extremely willing and hopeful to pick the brains of anyone who might be able to give advice or help out with that. I know that this is a long road and that I’ve got a lot to learn, but I want to venture forth and absorb that information along the way.

I’ll also be working on several technical skills over the next little while – be it the X’s and O’s strategy, the ins and outs of various CBAs and Regulation Documents so I can understand how the leagues around the world operate inside and out, the art of scouting to make my reports as refined as possible, and I’ll probably be trying to pick up a programming language or two so I can spend less time gathering data for my ideas and more time analyzing it efficiently.

The Future of this Platform

That brings us to the site. I’ve said all of the above – that I’ve got a personal journey ahead of me, and that I’ve got a new professional ladder to climb. So that leaves this site – what’s next for it?

Probably a lot more, as crazy as that sounds.

I still see a lot of value, both personal and professional, in writing about the game that I love and that makes me eternally curious. I like getting my opinions and research out there, and I like getting feedback on it. I feel that my public work can still be a living resume, and I find that I have some of my best ideas regarding the game while writing public work, since these involve scenarios that are not as likely to occur to me privately yet, and because there’s a pressure to put out something that stands up to public attention.

I think that working on the site helps instil a sense of routine and keeps my days structured, which I definitely need. My goal moving forward is to not waste a minute – I want to be invested in my work or in myself (which can include “free time”, but not wasted time) constantly, and staying active as a writer and researcher accomplish that.

So you’ll probably see a bit more consistency in articles. You’ll see more “in-betweens” on the site’s Instagram Profile, that I finally started using last week to put out a few paragraphs on hockey topics when I didn’t have an article’s worth to say, but didn’t want to try to compress every thought into a 280-character tweet. I’ve been back and forth with the idea of maybe putting the microphone on my desk to good use and doing something in audio-form.

And of course, the bigger projects will continue. They’ll probably even get even more attention – things like the Marlies tracking project didn’t get quite completed over the course of last season as games started to overlap and the systems built to do them were slapped together, but the technical and practical skills learned in the process should make things significantly more efficient heading into this year, making it easier to absorb and process findings and make them available for subscribers.

Speaking of subscribers, we’ll do the same deal as we did last year – for the next week, if you want to support the site, you can for just $20 a year. That will give you an ad-free experience, access to any of my bigger projects and the associated data, and the ability to comment on them. I’ve also added a ‘lite’ tier that does the ad-free and comment access thing, but doesn’t give access to the rest – for those who want to support what I’m doing a little, but either don’t want to spend the full $20-25 or don’t care much for the data.

Those membership fees will go to keeping the site running, to upgrading various bits of tech that I use while working, to books I’d like to pick up to learn a little bit more about how to operate, and maybe a couple of hot chocolates at your favourite minor hockey rink.

Summing This All Up

I’m considering this a fresh start for my life, of sorts. It’s not a completely clean slate, and it’s going to be a lot harder to get myself where I want to be than it was when I sat in the same room with a fresh mind and a list of goals on a cold night in November 2011.

But what’s there from that moment is the drive, the eagerness, and the confidence that this can be done if I make a general plan, stick to it and be open to listening and learning. I’ve messed a lot of things up over the past few years, and some of those might not be fixable – but I’m also blessed with plenty of running track, a lot of lessons accumulated, and the knowledge that I’ve come out of “rock bottom” before. This isn’t rock bottom – this is a situation that could be better for some reasons out of my control, and some that were within it, but still a pretty good starting block.

If you’d like to reach out to me about any of what you’ve read above, you can contact me via form, via Twitter, via LinkedIn, and via Email.

I hope you’ll all join me for the ride, because the car is started and it’s in gear. Now it’s just a matter of not letting up on the gas, following the map, and getting to the destination.

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