Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Meet Two of my Heroes: Kary Carkner and Pam Helmer

“I love playing hockey. I love watching hockey. I love people watching me play hockey. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE HOCKEY!! Did I mention that I love hockey?”

– Hero The Hero in Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream

As a new year quickly approaches, and I attempt to breathe some new life into The Voice of Sport (it’s been a little neglected since I became a dad two years ago), I can’t help but look back as I look forward. For instance, it is hard to believe that it was almost 6 years ago that I sent an email off to the Hershey Bears with an interview request for their captain, Bryan Helmer. A lot has changed since then!

Since that first interview, Bryan and his wife Pam have become great friends to my wife Dianne and myself. So has Pam’s sister Kary and her husband Matt Carkner. And it is their perseverance, passion, dedication to the game and more importantly, dedication to their family, which has inspired me to continue with my passion for writing and for creating music too. To be quite honest, I know I’m a better person because I have these wonderful people as my friends.

Pam, Kary and Hero
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
Which brings me to today’s topic – meet two of my heroes! While it was many months ago, it seems like it was only yesterday that Pam and Kary sent me an email asking if I could help them with a project they hoped to pursue… It was a small step towards the many big entrepreneurial steps that would soon follow! So, it was with a tear in my eye that I first read the recently published Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream.

Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream, written by Kary and Pam, and illustrated by another friend of mine, Steven Snider, is a truly remarkable read. With beautifully illustrated images, using a vivid colour selection, Kary and Pam’s story comes to life as the book’s hero, Hero The Hero, learns several valuable lessons on a journey to the North Pole to play on the greatest outdoor rink you’ll ever see. With a forward eloquently written by world-renowned hockey historian Liam Maguire, this book will entertain parents and children of all ages for years to come.

In many ways, Hero’s adventure mirrors the journey of Hero’s creators. The new authors are pursuing their passion and following their dreams, just as our young hero does and will do in future books. There have been many triumphs for the Carkner and Helmer families, but like all of us, some defeats too. And it was in tragedy, that Hero emerged and came to be.

Inspired to begin writing after the unexpected death of the hero in their life, their father, as well as the heroic resiliency of their mother, Kary and Pam have now embarked on a writing career that will surely flourish and help children of all ages discover the heroes in their family, neighbourhood and in the world around them.

When I have interviewed Bryan or Matt here at The Voice of Sport, they have always been very open and honest with their answers, which has allowed me to show a different side to professional hockey; hockey players as dads, as husbands, as fans of the game and as active members of their community. My conversations with Pam and Kary are always filled with laughter (lots of laughter!!) and thankfully, the same openness was present in our first interview together (the first of many!).

Pam and Kary at NY Islanders book signing
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
“I’m actually a little shy,” Pam admitted as we began to discuss the reaction to their new career. “But it definitely feels good to have people acknowledge us and acknowledge the book!”

“The best reaction has been our own children,” she continued. “My daughter, Rylan, after hearing the Be A Hero song (written by Pam and recorded by Skinner – available oniTunes), said, “Oh my gosh mom, I love it. That was so good! You’re a songwriter and an author? I’m sooo going to brag about you at school!”

“We’ve had a lot of people say, you should be so proud,” Kary added.  “They are just really happy and excited for us. I think a lot of people respect the fact that Pam and I are stay-at-home moms - we have inspired them!”

Having been part of the hockey world for several years and as a stay-at-home dad myself, I can tell you that Pam and Kary are more than stay-at-home moms. They are strong women that have been important contributors to their husbands’ hockey careers, they have been great role models for their children and they are very active in every community in which they have lived.

With the schedule for Bryan and Matt sending them out on the road for lengthy periods, there is a lot on their to-do list at times (Bryan is currently an assistant coach with the Hershey Bears after 20-seasons of pro hockey, and Matt is a defenseman with the New York Islanders). So, unlike most households, Pam and Kary have dealt with the added pressure of trades, free agency and injuries over the years, issues that can complicate their lives in an instant.

One of the toughest things for moms to do is follow their own dreams, but as they start this new journey of their own, Pam and Kary have lots of support at home.

“Both Matt and Bryan, are so excited for us,” Kary explained. “They see the passion, they see how much Pam and I continue to talk about it and how much work we’ve put into the book.”

“One cool thing that happened recently,” she recalled. “Was that someone messaged me on Facebook asking about getting their copy of the book signed.  So, right away I wrote back and knowing they are into hockey, I said Matt would love to do that… They wrote back saying, ‘No, not by Matt, we want it autographed by you!’ It kind of caught me off guard.”

Bryan and Pam Helmer
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
In this part of the conversation, Pam shared something that really struck me about the teamwork that goes into a life in hockey and a life outside of hockey.

“It is kind of neat to see,” Pam said. “How I had to help my husband achieve his dream and along the way, I kind of put mine aside. But in doing that, I have realized a new dream. Now Bryan and Matt are able to help us, which is amazing!”

“It’s funny, I’ll be meeting people for the first time and they’ll already know everything about myself and the book because Bryan has already told them. I actually start blushing because I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s telling people about us!’”

With countless hours going into writing and creating the book, and now publishing it and making it available (for ordering info, visit, the reaction has been extremely positive. Not only to the story itself and the illustrations, but also the main messages that accompany the book via social media – Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

There is Hero as a character, someone that kids can be drawn to immediately, but it also allows the conversation to begin about everyday heroes and how to be a better person. Parents and kids can use the book to have conversations about heroes in the family or in their neighbourhood.

“People are really connecting with the goodness of the story – if goodness is a word,” Pam said with a laugh. “We tried to create something that was promoting the good that people do, promoting happiness, promoting every day heroes, and I think we did that. We certainly didn’t invent the concept of every day heroes, but we are really trying to highlight it.”

“People are constantly messaging me about the positive messages we are sharing on the Hero TheHero Facebook page,” Kary added. “They are sharing ideas, wanting to help share the happy, positive message we are trying to put out there. With everything that goes on in our lives and in the world, I think people look forward to our uplifting moments.”

“This all started out as just a script, a story without any illustrations, and we wondered if people would actually like it or actually want it,” Kary continued. “Now we know that they do, which is wonderful! We are getting emails and messages from parents saying that their child has already read the book 4 or 5 times in the first 2 days and they are talking about being a hero, talking about being a better person to get on Santa’s nice list, so we really have the feeling of ‘we did it!’”

Summertime Get-Together for Hero The Hero and TVOS
(Photo: The Voice of Sport)
As Pam and Kary prepared for the release of Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream, they also took a crash-course in the world of social media, with a few tips along the way from yours truly. With the world at our fingertips thanks to today’s technology, it was important for the two sisters to reach out and begin building a support system for Hero.

“It has been very interesting,” Pam said of joining Facebook for the first time. “My favourite part has been reconnecting with people from our past and seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s awesome to see how they are supporting us – we haven’t talked in years, but the connection has been made and that gets me all choked up.”

“And, another thing that gets me all choked up is seeing the addresses when we go to mail out books. I’ll know a person or know an address and think, hey, this used to be my postal code! It’s all the people we have met over the years and how they have supported us that has blown me away.”

As Kary explained, launching a social media component to Hero has made her more aware of how needed Hero’s inspirational messages are in people’s lives.

“It has definitely made me more aware of what is going on in the world,” she said. “So, I am trying to find uplifting things. I’m searching for good things for the Hero Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest. I’m the type of person that doesn’t watch the news, I don’t want to read bad stuff, so while I am spending more time on the computer now, it’s for happy things and I think that people are enjoying that positive message.”

Matt and Kary Carkner
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
Becoming authors and entrepreneurs (and even songwriters!) has provided a great teaching moment for Pam’s son Cade and daughter Rylan, as well as Kary’s sons Chase and Corbin. They are seeing firsthand, both from mom and from dad, how love and support, hard work and following your dreams can help you reach new heights.

“One of the best moments for me so far, was coming home from the printers with all the books,” Kary said. “Chase and Corbin came home from school and I gave them each a copy. They both immediately stopped what they were doing, read it front to back and then Chase read it again before he went to bed that night. He read it again the next morning too. I was surprised because he has heard the story at least 50 times, but he said, ‘I just can’t stop looking at it mom.’”

“He had been hearing so much about it and the day had finally arrived where it was all put together. Heading for school, both of them, on their own put a copy of the book in their book bag and said they wanted to show their teachers.”

In this part of the conversation, Kary and Pam both made a comment that will stick with me as my wife and I raise our daughter:

“Be the change you want to see in your child,” Kary said. “I think that I need to be what I want my kids to be.”

“Always remember,” Pam added. “We are our kids’ first teachers.”

My "Junior Writer" Eliza Lillian Rodger
(Photo: The Voice of Sport)
What else can I say here at TVOS about these two wonderful friends, these two wonderful families? As an avid reader, I am truly fortunate to have two more favourite authors and equally fortunate to say that they are friends of mine. Thanks to Kary and Pam, I am able to share my passion for reading and my passion for hockey with my 2-year old daughter Eliza. There is no better gift!

(If you follow The Voice of Sport on Facebook, you’ll know that the only hockey jersey I’m allowed to wear at home is my New York “Uncle Matts” jersey!)

For more info on Hero The Hero, visit the website at

Friday, December 5, 2014

How Matt Carkner Helped TVOS Have A Be A Hero Moment

As we celebrate Hero the Hero in our household, it's remarkable that I was part of what you could call a "be a hero" moment last night thanks to Matt Carkner. Now, Matt says I'm the hero of this story, but I say he is, so I guess we'll both be proud of our hero moment.

This story is a little long, but I do hope folks take the time to read it and maybe even share it... You'll see that it may only take a few minutes to be a hero to someone.

My wife and I bought tickets for last night's Sens and Islanders game so we could watch Matt play. Unfortunately, an injury kept Matt in New York (keep working big guy - we missed ya! But we'll catch you next time for sure!!).

We stumbled into quite a night as it turns out, with Alfie's retirement happening right before our eyes, but it was what happened before "the skate" that I'll always remember!!

We were in our seats by 6pm, with our supper and another copy of Hero in our hands. Even at that early hour, 50-100 people were at the Sens "tunnel" at the end of their bench, nobody was at our Islanders tunnel. Then a little girl arrived, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and she said, "Wow, Matt Carkner is my favourite player!" (she saw my Islanders #7 Carkner jersey).

She took off her Sens jersey so we could see her autographed #7 Carkner t-shirt.
She was waiting patiently by herself, hoping to see some of her hockey heroes, when we heard the ladies behind us say they had seen her there before and yes, she was a HUGE fan of Matt's. My wife Dianne and I joked that it's too bad we couldn't get her a message or a "hello" from Matt. Wait a minute... Could we? Should we??

Sent Matt a text with a quick explanation (thanks for the assist Kary!) and within a minute, a hello and picture came our way.

I don't usually do the "do you know who I know thing", especially with a kid - I'm proud of what I do but try not to show off... too much - hahaha!

I tapped the young lady on the shoulder and said, "You wouldn't know this, but Matt is a friend of mine, I sent him a text and told him you were a big fan and he sent along a hello just for you."

I've never seen eyes get so big!!!! "What? Wow!!!!"

She said, "Tell him I make the loom rainbows." - I sent him another text and told her that yes, Matt remembers you... Didn't know a kid's eyes could get bigger and brighter, but they sure did...

So, thanks again Matt for helping me feel like Santa! As I said to Dianne, that's probably the closest to "rock star status" I'll ever reach. I didn't get the little girl's name, but gave her one of my business cards so her mom or dad could email me and I'd send her a copy of the picture. I hope to hear from them!

So, keep an eye out Matt, you might be autographing that pic one day.

A legendary moment! A hero-iffic moment!!

Thanks Matt - I owe ya one!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Goodbye Mr. Beliveau

Mr. Beliveau was truly one of the greatest Legends the game has ever seen!

Winning championships and individual awards can make an athlete great. How they interact with their teammates, friends and fans can make an athlete a legend. Jean Beliveau is at the front of the line when it comes to legendary athletes - from any sport!

When you stop to consider for a moment, that Mr. Beliveau retired after the 1970-71 season, he was still one of the most respected and loved players the game has ever seen when he passed away. A truly remarkable man - the hockey world has indeed lost a Legend.

Was looking online for a picture to share and found his 500th goal and one of my favorites found at the Windsor Star's website, relaxing with his wife of 61 years, Elise Beliveau.

RIP Mr. Beliveau

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NHL Expansion Rumour Mill - Slow News Day?

With an abundance of “confirmed” and “done deal” expansion rumours swirling about in the past 24 hours, it would appear that the NHL has a new “silly season” – the month before training camps opens. Let’s face it, it is a time of year when news outlets, broadcasters and advertisers are starving for news.

Things are pretty quiet on all fronts; no trades, no signings, no conflict… Which means, no revenue generating opportunities. A perfect time of year to float a few ideas out there that isn’t really news but can be re-shaped into a newsworthy item. You hope that these stories stick, become conversation starters and generate revenue. It is a pretty basic, tried and true formula that works every time.

Allow me to expand on my silly season theory:

The annual trade deadline is one of three silly seasons the league enjoys – this first one is the wonderful time of year when fans get to be silly. They can help decide who the buyers and sellers are and hockey insiders are quick to add fuel to the engine of the rumour mill machine. Who is a hero and who is a zero? Find out tonight at 6pm! Fans and news outlets alike can enjoy the first silly season of the year; it is a most magical time! Fans can dream about a better team and news outlets can see real revenue as fans make purchases to see the latest “insider” news.

The second silly season is the most expensive – the July 1st free agent frenzy. This is the exciting time of the year when there are no wins or losses to cloud judgement – every owner feels they have a realistic and legitimate chance at winning the Stanley Cup during the upcoming season. They spend their allowance with gusto. Don’t forget, today’s free agent signings are tomorrow’s deadline trades and buyouts – how exciting! The owners help to create silly season #1 with their actions during silly season #2. It’s perfectly silly!

Which brings us to late August / early September… For the most part, rosters are set, players are settling into their new communities (if they have a family) and the NHL goes into a calm before the storm period of time. In just a few weeks, there will be more news than fans can handle. So, in the meantime, why not get everyone talking about something we all know is coming. Something that won’t raise the ire of league officials, but will certainly entice fans to purchase your newspaper, watch your television show or listen to your radio station/podcast…

Everyone has been quick to play catch-up on the report out of Vancouver that a Las Vegas NHL team is a “done deal” according to “sources” - of course it is, said no one!!

Look, we all know expansion is coming and there is the very real possibility that relocation will occur as well. But, this story is just recycled news tossed out there for people to consume.

When it comes to expansion, it is always the usual suspects when discussing new NHL markets – Toronto, Seattle, Quebec City, Kansas City and now (apparently?) Las Vegas. Yes, the league needs to and will add at least two new teams at some point, but all indications are there is no rush in the New York office to start the bidding.

No doubt that Toronto and probably Seattle will be awarded expansion franchises in a few years. They are very favourable and attractive markets for the league and as they stay in the news, the market becomes more desirable. A second team in Toronto is a license to print money – there is no way the league allows one person to relocate a team there and make that kind of money all by themselves. Everyone will want (and expect) their cut of team #2 in Toronto. And, as interest grows in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is quickly becoming a hotspot for expansion as well.

In Quebec City, you have an owner in waiting and a small but eager fan base ready to welcome back the Nordiques. Those fans will still be there in a few years, so the league can wait for an existing market to stumble. Vegas or Kansas? Well, they are option 4 and/or 5 in my opinion. Could happen… Might not… Other dominoes will fall before those markets come into play.

So, was the Vancouver writer making up the Las Vegas story? Not exactly. Sources are a mysterious thing. A close connection can provide what they think is confirmed information and if you are keeping the bottom line in mind as a news outlet, you have to decide if you will take the chance on “breaking” this news. The good thing is, attention spans are short. If it doesn’t happen, very few will remember. If it does, you can point to your breaking news story and say, “See, we were the first to tell you!”

Here’s a personal example about sources – it’s been a while, so I’ll tell you about my breaking news.

A few years ago, I was told by someone very, very close to one of the top people in the Senators organization that a house cleaning was about to happen. No, it was not a former player I was speaking with… I was meeting with someone in the community about a separate project that was very connected to the movers and shakers in Sens land…

The news: Bryan Murray and Corey Clouston would be gone. Pierre McGuire would be in as GM and Bob Hartley was the new coach. Done deal!! 100% this is going to happen. Take this news and take it to the bank I was told.

What did I do with the information? I discussed it with a few key people – do I break the news? Luckily, I received great advice – sit on it for 24 hours. On their advice, I wrote articles in preparation… When the news broke, I’d be the first one out there with a story – what a scoop for TVOS – thanks Mr. X!!

Funny thing happened though on the way to breaking news. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk cancelled his planned trip to Ottawa and it (obviously) never happened. My source was shocked – he thought it was a done deal.

So, as we all stumble over ourselves to discuss where the new NHL expansion teams will land, keep this in mind – it’s a slow news day/week/month. Until it actually happens, we can expect a silly season in late August / early September, filled with rumours and speculation about expansion possibilities. It's good for business.