Sunday, 17 February 2013

Derek Van Diest: A day in the life of an NHL Sports Writer

NHL Sports Writer for the Edmonton Sun, Derek Van Diest 

By: Candice Marshall

“I like the anonymity. You can walk down the street and no one knows who you are. When you write for a newspaper, your profile is a little more discreet,” said Derek Van Diest, NHL Sports Reporter for the Sun Newspaper in Edmonton, Alberta.

He’s right.

I am sitting at a downtown restaurant waiting for the reporter of the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey team when I see a tall figure crossing the street. It’s Van Diest. He slips into the restaurant quietly, and walks towards me, arms outstretched for a hug. “So good to see you!” he smiles, sitting across from me. Local patrons seem undisturbed around us, and it isn’t until the interview is underway that they begin to listen in to our conversation. Van Diest’s caliber is not to be dismissed simply because he is a quiet man at the onset of meeting. In fact, with over 1900 Twitter followers, and constant updates throughout each NHL game he covers, Van Diest has earned his spot in the limelight. This man knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the game of hockey.

Van Diest got his break covering the Oilers in San Jose in the 2006 playoff game after a lock out. Prior to that, he had logged in 15-hour days at the Sun freelance writing and web editing. “The reporter at the time had to turn the trip down so I volunteered to go. Over the next few games, Terry Jones, Robin Brownlee, and I worked together. The newspaper loved the synergy between us and kept me on to cover throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs that year. We made it to game seven before losing the Stanley cup final. I loved it!” he said. The following 2006-2007 season, Van Diest became the second NHL Sports Writer for the Edmonton Sun specifically focusing on the Edmonton Oilers. (Coverage is also done by Sun reporter, Rob Tychkowski and columnist Terry Jones)

However, we aren’t talking about the Oilers or covering the latest NHL stats today at our meeting; we are discussing the challenges that Van Diest faces while on the road (and at home) and how he manages his hectic schedule. We wanted a glimpse into “a day in the life” and healthy lifestyle obstacles a sports writer faces for our fans on Weigh to Goal and Van Diest gave me the full guts and glory. “I never feel pressure when I’m writing (and tweeting updates). I love my job. I have the freedom to make the decisions as to what to write about and what to say about the game and the players. I like to be the decision maker. It’s the media’s job to sell the game and report the facts as accurately as we can,” he said.

This doesn’t mean that Van Diest escapes media scrutiny now and then: “People tweet their opinions on my posts all the time and not always are they in agreement to what I’ve put out there. The beauty of sports is that it is subjective; there is no right or wrong. You can’t take it personally. You need to be confident in what you’ve put out there because once you’ve put it out there, it’s out there and you can’t take it back,” he said.

A typical day on the road starts off with a 6am flight (Diest is up by 4am to get to the airport in time) to follow the team (Oilers) to their next game destination. Then it’s from the airport to the arena in time to catch the pre-game practice for both teams. There’s a short 4 hour break (time to write the pre-game stories and send off to the editor), and then it’s back to the arena for 6:30pm for the game. “I’m writing throughout the game, following up with interviews in the dressing room after the game, and then wrapping up a second or third version of the same article to send off to the paper after that. I usually don’t get out of the arena until midnight and it’s up and at it again the next day,” said Van Diest.

So where does he fit in a few Zzz’s when the average night’s sleep is four hours while on the road? “That’s about it. I catch up when I get back home as I don’t have to get up as early. Also, on days where there isn’t a game, getting up at 9am is way too early. I catch up then. I usually exercise in the time frame between the practice and the game. I have to exercise or else I won’t have the energy to do what I do,” he said.

Currently, Van Diest is training for a triathlon that he has competed in for the last few years with his mother Myriam. “I hate the running part!” he laughs, “I can cycle and swim all day long, but running? I just don’t like that part.” His training process will become more intense over the next few months but that hasn’t deterred him in any way, “It’s a nice way to spend some time with my mother and I enjoy doing it,” he said. He added, “Eating on the road also has its ups and downs. You’re always eating on the run so grabbing something quick and convenient is something I have to really watch out for; I try to eat as healthy as possible but sometimes it’s not always easy. I do my best.”

By now, Van Diest is receiving messages for another interview and informs me that he has to leave. Before doing so, he looks out the window for a brief pause, and then turns his gaze to me. “It’s not always glamour and glory. Sometimes the days just blend into each other and I’m so focused on who is playing who and the details that I don’t pay attention if it’s Tuesday or Wednesday. I have my phone with me even on my days off so it’s not always easy taking a weekend to head out on a trip somewhere.” With that said, he maintains that the perks of the job far outweigh the challenges, “I get paid to watch hockey. I get to travel all the time. Like really, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

True enough!

Keep on Keeping on Derek!

Van Diest (pictured here) competes in the
"Coronation " triathlon in Edmonton, AB, in 2013
*Watch for our follow-up on Van Diest in May 2013 as he prepares for a Triathlon with his Mother, Myriam.


Derek Van Diest - was born in Santiago, Chile and moved to Canada with his family when he was six years old. He chose a career in Journalism at Grant MacEwan College at the age of 22 and following graduation spent seven years in Medicine Hat, AB, working for the Medicine Hat News. He returned to Edmonton to take a one year contract freelancing with the Edmonton Journal. After that, he began working for the Edmonton Sun and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta running their website. It wasn’t long before he began working for the Sun full-time as their Web Editor and Freelance Writer. Soon after, he assumed the position he is in today as the Sun’s NHL Sports Writer. Van Diest has been with the Edmonton Sun for seven and half years now and plans on continuing for many years to come.

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