Interview with Author and Hockey Writer Alan Bass

Alan Bass and I have known each other since 2007, when we both started writing for a sports website called Bleacher Report. We quickly became friends, though the relationship was, and still is, a severe case of love-hate, considering he is a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, while I root for the New York Rangers. In the summer of 2008, that intensity led us to create an online hockey radio show for the Youcastr Network, which has since dropped its programming of all individual shows. From July to November of that year, we broadcasted weekly, interviewing a wide array of people such as New York Rangers radio announcer Kenny Albert, Tampa Bay Lightning radio announcer Dave Mishkin, Toronto Maple Leafs television announcer John Bowen, and members of the Philadelphia Flyers broadcast team for both television and radio, Jim Jackson and Keith Jones, as well as their pre-game anthem singer Lauren Hart. We were also able to land interviews with then-current Rangers goaltender Steve Valiquette, and later, Colin Wilson, future center of the Nashville Predators. In retrospect, it is hard to believe how much time we actually spent doing these shows, even though they were only around an hour long each, and working on individual episodes, which were difficult in themselves to produce, because we had to talk through Skype, since we live almost two hours apart from one another.

When the radio show ended, Alan continued to write for Bleacher Report for a few more years, and I moved around to other blogs, before finally settling in on this one. He then got himself an internship with The Hockey News, and from there, the creativity kept on blossoming. It was in early 2010 when he first told me his initial idea to write a book on the 1967 NHL Expansion, and I offered my encouragement and said I would help him if he needed it. The topic was definitely an interesting one, as it was never written about previously. Little did I know, those early drafts and revisions that I got a chance to read through would actually turn into a finished product that would be published in 2011, titled, The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk that Changed the NHL Forever. This book, as I can personally attest to, was meticulously researched and mapped out, and will prove to be the definitive work on this great, important, and now, almost forgotten era of hockey history. Brad Kurtzberg, author of Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, said the following about the book, “Alan Bass has captured the history of the biggest turning point in NHL history. [He] brings both the highlights on the ice and all the important maneuvers behind the scenes to fans, including what happened and why. Full of in-depth analysis and interesting and never before heard stories, this book is a must for any hockey fan.” Below is our interview:

GC: What inspired you to write a book about the 1967 NHL Expansion?

AB: It seemed to disturb me for years that although expansion in 1967 was one of the largest events in NHL history, there had yet to be a book written on it. Even before researching the topic, I knew how great of an effect it had on professional hockey, especially on the NHL as a whole. Hockey was really just a regional sport before they expanded the game in 1967, but once they did so, it turned into a national spectacle—even if it’s not quite at the level that baseball and football are at just yet.

GC: What was the most difficult part about writing such a book? What was the most fun?

AB: The most difficult part of it was grasping an understanding of the event on such a level that I could tell the story almost from first-hand knowledge. Obviously I’m much too young to remember the events, but I knew many of my readers would not be, so I needed to make sure I had as much research as humanly possible. That’s why I took so much time to speak to former (and current) media members, former players, former executives and coaches, in addition to others who were involved in NHL organizations. I performed dozens of interviews just to get the stories and behind the scenes aspect of the event, in order to capture how extraordinary it truly was. And just about the entire process was fun. Researching the event, reading newspaper clippings from the 1960s, speaking with those who were directly involved with the event, and actually writing the book itself—it was all a blast. I’ll tell you what wasn’t fun: editing! I’m not much for editing my own work, simply because of the repetition, but editing a 230-page book about 15 times was simply horrendous. But the entire process of getting this book together was fantastic.

GC: You probably learned a lot along your journey, but what stands out more than anything else?

AB: What stands out to me the most was how much the NHL seemed NOT to want to pursue expansion, even when they were actively involved in doing so. It seemed that they only expanded because they felt they had to, regardless of their personal opinions about the act itself. Harold Ballard of the Maple Leafs was surely against it, but then again, there wasn’t much that he liked, other than money. But when all was said and done, even though two of the teams that were added no longer exist (Minnesota North Stars and Oakland Seals), expansion was clearly a success. It helped grow the game like the league had never seen, and finally put the NHL on par with the other three major professional sports leagues in the country.

GC: Out of all the interviews you conducted, which was the most interesting, and why?

AB: There were a few…Stan Fischler was a joy to talk to, just because of his experience and his passion for the game, though I was a bit concerned when he mentioned that the Bobby Orr [Stanley Cup-winning] goal in 1970 was the “phoniest goal in the history of sports.” He does have a point though, but everyone should read the book to find out what it is! Jiggs McDonald was a broadcaster for the Los Angeles Kings from day one, and he amused me with so many incredible stories from his time with the team, in addition to information about Jack Kent Cooke, the team’s original owner. Lastly, speaking with Ed Snider of the Philadelphia Flyers was really an honor. Growing up in Philadelphia, he’s a man I’ve looked up to my entire life as the archetypal professional sports owner. Think of it this way—here’s a man who started a franchise in a city that had a horrendous history of hockey, turned them into a Stanley Cup-winning team in just seven years, and ultimately one of the most successful NHL franchises in history (second-highest winning percentage behind the Canadiens, in addition to being the second-highest valued team of those that expanded after 1967).  Anything he says, you know you’ve got to listen, and it was a pleasure doing so.

GC: There are always rumors that the NHL wants to expand to even more teams than 30. What are your thoughts on this? Wouldn’t contraction at this point be more reasonable than another expansion?

AB: Rumors are always swirling around everything, specifically in sports. The NHL is not currently looking to expand, nor do I think they will look to do so in the upcoming decade. The only professional sports league that has more than 30 teams is the NFL, and any league is nuts if they believe they can compete with Roger Goodell. Contraction, however, is a different issue. Do I think that the league has 30 financially healthy teams? No. But is it really helpful to contract teams? I’m not too sure about that, but it surely doesn’t look good public relations-wise if the league shuts down franchises that it granted just a couple decades ago. No sports league has an even playing field when it comes to money, because every franchise is run differently and various markets respond differently to everything. The NHL needs to find a way to get a more even keel for all 30 teams. You’re never going to prevent the Montreals or the New Yorks or the Philadelphias or Torontos from dominating the market financially. But there are ways to balance the playing field immensely and make sure that the Floridas, Tampa Bays, Dallases, and Phoenixes are able to fairly compete.

I would like to thank Alan for taking the time to conduct this interview! You can check out and purchase his book from Amazon by clicking here. I would also like to thank him for giving me an acknowledgement in the book, that reads, “Greg Caggiano, a close friend of mine, also helped keep me sane throughout my initial research and later work in the book. He was a person that I could bounce ideas off of, in addition to ranting and babbling incessantly to until I realized he wasn’t even listening. But I thank him a great amount  for being there to help me out and lift me up when I hit rough patches.”

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