Hailey Salvian is a small-town Ontario girl who loved hockey growing up. She was an only child, and so she spent many weeknights watching games on TV and weekends traveling to Junior hockey games with her dad.
During those games, she had no idea that one day she would follow her passion for a career in sports journalism, covering the NHL.
The road to becoming a sports reporter for The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website that covers sports in over 47 cities across North America and the UK, hasn’t been easy. In the ever-changing world of media, she was told by professors, superiors, and interviewers that there were no jobs in sports journalism. Unless, of course, you were a retired athlete or Olympian.
But that didn’t stop Hailey from working hard, taking the opportunities that came, and finally landing her dream job with the Ottawa Senators this year.
Hailey moved to Ottawa by herself to pursue it. She dove into the job, covering games, players and stories right alongside a host of sports news veterans who were 30 years in.
We caught up with Hailey to talk about her journey to landing her dream job, the challenges she faced early on, and what her new life in Ottawa has been like.
Tell us about your childhood in Fergus, Ontario. What was it like? Was sports always a big part of your life?
Fergus is a very small town, it’s the kind of place where you go to the grocery store and you’re always bumping into somebody that you know. Sports were a part of my life from as early as I can remember. I grew up watching golf every Sunday. You know when Tiger was wearing his Sunday red when he was in his prime winning championships? That was a big memory. Sunday football, Monday night football, and Hockey Night in Canada, they were all huge staples in my childhood. I remember always watching sports with my dad. I’m an only child so it was always my dad and me, my mom would watch too but she was never the biggest sports fan. There’s a little bit more now, but when I was growing up there really wasn’t anything to do in Fergus. So, my dad and I would always go and drive to cities nearby like Guelph, Kitchener, London and just go to the Ontario Hockey League games. There were a lot of great players playing in the OHL when I was a kid. We’d go and watch the Guelph storm, I believe Drew Doughty was on the team at the time and John Tavares was in the League… There were a lot of really great current NHL players in the OHL back then.
When did you discover your love of journalism?
I think I knew pretty early on that I always wanted to be involved in sports when it came to my career, it was just a matter of deciding what it was that I wanted to do. I mean at some point I wanted to be a teacher and I thought you know I’d be a gym teacher or coach. I would always coach basketball camp in the summer because I played basketball at a pretty high level. Then I kind of realized through those camps like I don’t have the patience to be a teacher (laughs). It’s a moment that I remember pretty clearly, I was watching TV with my dad – I think we were watching SportsCentre – and it was Jennifer Hedger hosting and I remember just watching and saying like “well why can’t I just do that? (laughs) I talk a lot, I love sports, and I could definitely try to do something like a sports broadcaster or sports journalist. So I realized very early on that was what I wanted to do with my life. And then I just really applied myself to get there. I’ve worked pretty hard to get to this point.
After you graduated, you worked in multiple roles in news media. What aspects of those roles did you like, and which ones did you not like?
I worked in news first and foremost. First with a newspaper, then I worked at CBC, and then I did some in-game hosting in Oshawa. I will say, these kinds of interviews are always really reflective for me. It’s just so funny that my first job in hockey was in junior and I grew up going to those rinks with my dad all the time… I don’t know if there’s a thing that I could point to specifically in Oshawa that I didn’t like. I just thought that was such a great first hockey job. Just seeing all the kids there with their parents really brought me back to my childhood and how special that was, so it was really cool to be a part of that experience for other young kids. You know, it’s such a small thing but you really make a kid’s night by just giving them a puck or a t-shirt. News was difficult in different ways; I think I covered some really difficult stories while I was at CBC, and though I did a lot of great stuff, it can get really heavy working in daily local news especially… in Toronto. There was that van attack at Young (Street) and Finch(Avenue). I was on the scene for that three days straight, and it’s really dark and really heavy and it can be difficult mentally to be working in that kind of environment and then go home and try to wipe the slate clean. Bringing home some of the things that you cover and write about and have to talk about, is probably the hardest part about working in news. But all of my experiences have led me to where I am now, so I’m just really grateful for the opportunities that I got along the way.
You’ve written about landing your dream job as a sports reporter covering the Ottawa Senators, but it wasn’t easy. Can you tell us about some of the adversity you faced along the way?
I think the biggest thing was just people saying “there are no jobs in this industry” or “you’re never going to make it”. There’s been a big push to a lot of the on-air talent at certain places being former athletes or former Olympians. I remember very vividly somebody saying to me “ Are you an Olympian that I don’t know about? Guess not .. you’ll probably never be on television, at least not at this network.” That’s difficult to hear when you’ve been dreaming since you were a kid to be in sports and someone sits you down and says it’s never going to happen. Even my real estate agent was trying to hire me because they knew there were no jobs in sports. (Laughs) It was tough just being told all the time that ‘this isn’t going to happen’. But, I had such a great support system, my mom and dad specifically. They always told me “don’t let people deter you from what you’ve always wanted to do.” As I went through University, I had such great professors, they would reinforce “you know maybe one person in this classroom will get a real job in sports” they would kind of reinforce that narrative, and say “there are jobs for the people who really work for it.” So I always said to myself that “I want to be that one person and work really hard to become that.” I didn’t really let any of that noise affect what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.
What are 3 of the most memorable moments in your career so far?
When I was an intern at CBC News, it was my last day and they wanted to get me out in the field. It was that also – sens fans will probably hate this – the day after Auston Matthews made his NHL debut scoring four goals against the Senators. Wayne Gretzky was doing an event at an LCBO launching his whiskey, and so I got assigned to go there and they basically said like “go and ask Wayne Gretzky about Auston Matthews.” So my final day as an intern, I was still in University and yeah, I just got sent out to casually talk to Wayne Gretzky. That was probably the most memorable thing for me.
Another one would be probably just getting to the NHL. My first day of training camp was really special for me… just, you know, being there. Probably the most memorable moment so far was when I brought my dad to Pittsburgh this year. When I was in high school my dad, mom and I used to go to Pittsburgh every year to go to Penguins game because I was a big Pittsburgh Penguins fan before I got into the industry. So this year the Pittsburgh game was on my travel list, so I was already going to the games for work, so for Christmas I bought my dad an extra ticket so he could come with me to Pittsburgh. That was really special for me because I wouldn’t be in this position without my dad; he taught me everything and he supported me through all of this. It was really special for me to pay it forward to my dad. He was wearing a ‘Borocop’ T-shirt for Mark Borowiecki and he went down on the glass to watch warmups because that’s what he loves to do, and Borowiecki saw my dad in the ‘Borocop’ shirt and had no idea who he was, went over got someone to take a picture of them and then gave him a practice puck. And then my dad started banging on the glass saying “I’m Hailey Salvian’s dad”. It was really, really sweet. After the game Mark kind of came up to me and was like “I met your dad!”(laughing) My dad still talks about that trip and how fun it was and you know “Mark Borowiecki gave me a puck” so just being able to pay it forward to him is probably the most memorable part of my career.
Tell us your approach to finding a good story in sports. What do you think are some of the conditions that help a story, or a player, connect with an audience?
Well, I think anytime you can have a personal relationship or some kind of connection with the player it helps. I don’t mean being ‘friends’ obviously, you have to be unbiased and you know you have to be partial, but I think if you can get a good connection with somebody and they trust you with their story, I think that’s where you’re always going to get the best stuff. I wrote a story about Mark and Tara Borowiecki at the trade deadline this year and you know the anxiety about “You’re about to have your first child and you might get traded” you know mentally and emotionally what it’s like for a family to go through that, that was a really great story for me. That was probably one of my favorite things I wrote this year just because they trusted me with that story because you know it wasn’t always “hey mark what’s going on with the power play? what’s going on with the penalty kill? why didn’t you score yesterday?” It was like “how’s your wife? how’s the dog?” (laughs) and you kind of just lay that foundation for them to trust you for a personal story like that.
I also think being able to find a good story takes a lot of creativity. You really have to just start thinking outside the box, thinking bigger picture. Thinking about how you can make this different. That’s the thing with the athletic, it really forces you to think better because you can’t just sit at a game and say “Ok well the Sens lost so I’m going to write a story about why the Sens lost.” We have a paywall, so we really have to think more creatively, a bit more critically, because people are paying for our content and we can’t give them the same things that are out there for free. So a lot of brainstorming, a lot of thinking of different ways to approach things and a lot of relationship-building. If you don’t have those relationships with people it’s just not going to work the same, so I think those are probably the big ones.
The Senators drafted Tim Stuetzle with the #3 overall pick and Jake Sanderson with the #5 overall pick in the recent NHL Draft. With two picks in the top 5, fans were understandably excited about these selections. Can you tell us a little about these players? Who are they comparable to, what kind of game do they play and when could fans expect to see them in the Senators lineup?
Tim Stuetzle is a really dynamic offensive forward. He’s currently rehabbing an injury: he fractured his hand in mid-October, but he projects to be a number one centre in the National Hockey League. There are some questions about if he’s a winger or centre, but everyone I’ve spoken to says “he’s going to be a top-line centre in the NHL”. Really creative with the puck, really good puck skills, he’s an excellent skater. NHL central scouting had him ranked as a 10 out of 10 skater. In terms of comparable, that one’s a bit tough… but I think he compares and projects to be your first line, a go-to centre who can probably play really high up the line of lots of minutes with someone like Brady Tkachuk and when this team’s contending, that’s going to be a really, really important pairing between those two. Jake Sanderson is who some people consider being the best defenseman in this draft. He’s not a huge defender, he’s not a huge offensive guy, but he’s a defenseman with some good offensive instincts. People rave about his gap control and his defensive play. He’ll run you over if you try to get into the offensive zone (laughs) and that’s just such an important player to have. The Senators have a lot of offensive defensemen like Tomas Chabot, Christian Wolanin, and Erik Brannstrom: those are really good-skating, puck-moving, offensive players and Jake Sanderson projects to be a top pair or top 4 pair defenseman who can really just shut you down and generate offence through his defensive play.
In terms of when they’ll be able to play, I think the Senators would like to see Tim Stuetzle play this season. Jake Sanderson might need a year or so, he is currently playing at the University of North Dakota with three other Senators prospects, so he’s definitely in good hands with Brad Berry at North Dakota.
What are some other Senators picks in the 2020 Draft that you feel fans should be excited about?
They also had another third-round pick in Ridly Greig. He’s another player who’s skilled: he’s a guy that I think fans are really going to like. He plays a similar style to Brady Tkachuk in the sense that you know he’s never going to give the team you’re playing against the ‘shift off’. You know he’s always going to be there. He’s a little bit like ‘throwback pesky sens’ (laughs). I thought it was pretty funny on the draft call with him, after he was picked, someone asked him “is it fair to say you’re like Brad Marchand from the Boston Bruins?” and he said, “uh, skill-wise… maybe but just not as greasy”.
I think Ridly is someone to keep an eye out for. I know he maybe wasn’t what everyone was looking for at the bottom of the first round but he is still a first-round pick and he should be a pretty good player.
What do you think of the Matt Murray acquisition – do you think it was a good idea for the Senators to lock him up long-term or should they have waited to see how he performed after a bit of an off-year for him statistically in 2019-2020?
No, I like the Matt Murray signing. With the questions around Anderson’s health, the Senators needed a number one goaltender. Marcus Hogberg really only has under 30 games in the NHL to his career and you don’t want to rush his development, you don’t want to impact his development at all, so I think having Matt Murray locked in for that term is great. Obviously, the Senators see something in Murray to give him that kind of a deal, so if the Senators believe that he’s going to be a number one goaltender in this league again, I do think it’s a good deal and obviously, we have to wait and see what happens, but I think Matt Murray has the potential to be the goalie he was in his first two years in Pittsburgh. If he can do that, then I think it’s a great signing for the senators.
What are your thoughts on the Senators’ decision not to give a qualifying offer to Anthony Duclair? As of now, Duclair has yet to sign with anyone, do you think that there is a chance he could be back with the team next year?
My colleague Pierre LeBrun has reported a few times that he doesn’t believe that the door is closed for Anthony to circle back to the Senators, whether or not Anthony wants to do that still remains to be seen. I think Anthony is a great offensive player but I think there was obviously a breakdown between the two sides and what the Senators value him as and what Anthony values himself as, and that’s always difficult. So Anthony’s decided that he’s going to represent himself and work on the open market at what he believes he deserves. I think we’ll just have to wait and see if he lands somewhere and if he circles back with the Senators it’s definitely going to be something that we continue to watch.
What should fans realistically expect from the Senators this season?
I mean I don’t think the Senators are going to be a contender right away this year, but I do think that they’re going to take some steps in the right direction. You’re going to see some young players get in the lineup. I think you’re going to be able to watch Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Alex Formenton, and Logan Brown. They’re not going to be Stanley Cup contenders this year certainly, but you’re going to get a chance to see some really talented, skilled young players and really get a glimpse of the future of the Ottawa Senators.
Do you think the team should select a captain before the season – if so, who would you think would be the player best suited for this role?
From what I’ve heard from the Senators coach DJ Smith it seems like they don’t want to rush a young player into a leadership role before he really needs to have it, so I don’t know if we will see a captain this year, but I do think you can’t go wrong with either Thomas Chabot or Brady Tkachuk. I do think that Brady Tkachuk has the means to be a really great captain in the National Hockey League, I think he’s got a great personality. He leads by example, he’s a hard worker but Thomas Chabot is too, so I don’t think you can go wrong with either player. I would be surprised if we saw captain names this offseason just because DJ has spoken so much about how he doesn’t want to rush a young guy into that kind of a position, so I think we’ll maybe wait one more year, that’s what I expect.