Not ready to drop PA Puck

With the 2012-13 season ending, I ponder the future of the online hockey magazine I started in 2011.
A record player
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PA Puck Screenshot - Blog Writing

In this screen shot from Pennsylvania Puck, a story about Hersheypark Arena’s original Zamboni.

This week, either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Boston Bruins will raise the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in triumph – and simultaneously lower the curtain on the 2012-13 hockey season.

Even when games aren’t being played, pro hockey teams are busy signing players and selling sponsorships and season tickets in advance of the next campaign. Players recuperate and rebuild their bodies for the coming season.

There is no off-season in hockey, in other words, even when you’re a bit player as I am.

One of my goals was to start an online hockey magazine, which I did in fall 2011. Pennsylvania Puck is the magazine’s name. I use the present “is” because the website is still accessible even though I ceased daily publishing at the end of February 2012.

Ever since, I have continued to post daily (even on vacation) to PA Puck’s Facebook page, which has a modest but loyal following that approaches 1,400 “likes.” Our series of how-to hockey and skating videos are more popular than ever, having topped 900 subscribers and more than 130,000 views on YouTube. Here’s the most-viewed one, featuring former Lebanon Valley College hockey coach Al MacCormack:

‘Hockey starts here’

I grew up a hockey fan in Maine, raised on the old North American Hockey League that inspired the classic movie “Slap Shot,” filmed mostly in Johnstown. In fact, the first hockey game I ever saw in person pitted my hometown Maine Nordiques vs. the Johnstown Jets, the model for the film’s Charlestown Chiefs.

When the Nordiques folded, I turned my attention to the expansion Maine Mariners, the top farm club of the Philadelphia Flyers. Our broadcaster was the now-legendary Mike Emrick, with whom I exchanged letters (OK, I was the instigator of that relationship) on a regular basis. Yes, I knew Mike before he was “Doc.”

So all of these years later, I’m married and living in Hershey and running a public relations business. And I’m thinking that hockey is growing in Pennsylvania and that there might be an opportunity to combine my passion for hockey and journalism in the form of this hockey magazine.

After all, our hometown Hershey Bears are an iconic franchise. Penn State is going Division I in men’s and women’s hockey. In Pittsburgh, Mario Lemieux’s greatest legacy is the youth programs that he inspired that are producing some of America’s top hockey talent.

Pennsylvania Puck’s tagline: Hockey starts here.

PA Puck Logo

I hired an employee to help me with the content and we officially launched on Oct. 1, 2011. Our intent was to offer feature stories – more of the behind-the-scenes, lifestyle variety – as opposed to game stories. For instance, I wrote a feature about the Bears’ high-end motor coach, which is thought to give the team a competitive edge.

We had plenty of room to improve, but we gave readers a high-quality product and, as they say in hockey, we played bigger than our size.

What we offered was free to readers. The plan was to make money off banner advertising. In addition to being editor and publisher, I was the ad sales guy. Or tried to be.

I am forever grateful for the small number of advertisers that we had; at the same time, I am haunted by those people who shook my hand and/or looked me in the eye and said they were going to purchase ads but never did. Not to mention the numerous other people – including many in the hockey community – who couldn’t even return a call or email.

But, hey, it is a tough economy and we were unproven and undercapitalized. I had to let my employee go and limped through the final weeks of daily publishing alone.

Still active on social media

And now here we are, some 16 months on. I continue to post to Facebook three to five times daily. (It’s not ideal, but our Facebook posts automatically go to our Twitter feed.) I share links to stories published by other outlets but also spend a good bit of time researching original content. PA Puck also has a presence on Pinterest.

Vius, the Philadelphia company that developed the PA Puck website (and Goulet Communications’ new website), has graciously kept our archived content online. It benefits Vius to show off such a great-looking site that it developed.

With the 2012-13 season ending, I ponder the future of PA Puck. It wouldn’t take a lot of effort to restart the website, but I can’t do it alone and don’t have the revenue to justify hiring a staff.

My latest thought is to try to find aspiring journalists who would be willing to contribute content in exchange for an opportunity to have their work professionally edited and published.

When I first started PA Puck, my son asked me what I would do if it failed. Failure isn’t an option, I confidently told him.

Of course, failure – at least in terms of dollars and cents – was an all-too-real option. At least at this point, what isn’t an option is giving up on PA Puck entirely.

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