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The Rabble Rouser: An Interview With Adrian Dater

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Adrian Dater, Avalanche beat writer for the Denver Post, has recently caused some minor controversy in the hockey blog world with some very candid, critical comments about Todd Bertuzzi, Dion Phaneuf and (most recently) Derek Boogaard on his blog All Things Avs.  With the  Avs and Wild ready to face off in the first round of the playoffs, I figured now would be a great time to ask Adrian a few questions about the team and his blog.

My questions are in bold, his answers in blockquotes.

Sum up the regular season.  From your perspective, what theme or incident had the biggest impact on the team's performance this year?  Considering everything, did they underachieve or overachieve?

As simple and easy as the answer seems, I think it was the trade deadline that turned things around. Forsberg obviously has been great of late, but I think the Foote and Salei additions have meant even more. After they lost Brett Clark, they were lost in their own zone for a while. They couldn't get the puck out. Now they have two guys who can do that pretty well, but now they're a lot tougher than they were with Clark, too. They had the same record as last season, so from that standpoint they did not improve from year to year. But I think they did well to overcome so many injuries and get into the playoffs and win some tough games down the stretch, so from that standpoint it was a bit of an overachievement. And yet, some guys kind of underachieved too. Ryan Smyth has been terrible of late, Arnason was not very good this year and I didn't think Clark was very good before he got hurt.

There were a ton of injuries this season, and knowing how the Avalanche organization likes to clamp down on any and all useful information about hurt players, was it more difficult to cover the team this year than in the past?

It's always tough. As I said in my blog, I'm not asking for a detailed x-ray chart and a sit-down with the team doctor about every injury. But it definitely gets my red-headed temper going when I think they're either lying or trying to cover up and injury, and it makes me go after the next injury story that much harder and make life as difficult as I can for them over there. I just don't always buy their explanation that "it's going to give away secret stuff to the opposition." The other team always knows what the injury is. They spend hours going over tape and have moles in certain areas usually, so that doesn't wash.

Now that most of the lineup seems healthy and playing well together, what's your impression of team morale going into the first series against Minnesota?

I think it's pretty good. Everybody feels a lot better about the defense, and the power play is getting better. That said, I think everyone is worried about how their third line, or whatever you want to call their checking line, stacks up against Minnesota's, and everybody's always on pins and needles about Forsberg's health.  Theodore has earned a lot of confidence and respect, too, but I think he still needs to prove himself more to some guys before they have that real confidence from them, as a true playoff goalie.

Coach Q.  In your opinion, what scenario would have to play out for him to keep his job as Avalanche coach?  If the Avs tank in the first round, is he gone, or does it matter?  Is Francois Giguere probably waiting to see how the playoffs pan out?

It's a good question, but I think Q got himself another year, at least, by getting into the playoffs with an injury-ravaged team. A sweep won't be good and might change Giguere's mind, but I think he's going to give Q another shot.

The last time I interviewed you, you used some clichés about bloggers typing in their underwear from their mothers' basements and such.  Guys like Bob Costas and a slew of other journalists have continued to use similar language in the past couple of months to belittle an increasingly popular medium.  Over the course of this season, has your impression of sports bloggers changed at all?

I guess that has become a cliche, the whole underwear thing. The fact is, hell, I write half my columns and blogs in my underwear too! So don't take that as such an insult, bloggers. I have no problem with people pouring out their souls all day long on their own blogs and opining on me or the Avs or the new Beck album or the service at the 7-11 or whatever. I don't take too much personally that anybody writes about me, and if we old world media types take some shots back at bloggers, then they should take that in the spirit of fair game, and maybe even a compliment. One blog, Kukla's Corner, had someone take a shot at me over my name and spelled it the female version, and I fired something back, but I did it in a mostly tongue-in-cheek manner. There are some real good blogs out there, including on the Avs, and yes I check them out sometimes. This is a good one, and I like the guy who does In The Cheap Seats. I had no idea who the dude was, and sent him a note saying he had a good blog. Well, miracle of all miracles, it turned out the guy lives in Keene, N.H. That's where I grew up as a young kid and went to college! I couldn't believe it.  

Overall, my attitude on bloggers getting credentials to games and things like that is still a bit old world, though. I think, unless you're shelling out the bucks to get on the airplanes and stay in the hotels and spend the hours at the rental car desk bickering over the size of your Pontiac Grand Am and getting lost in East L.A. after a Kings game - as I once did - then you shouldn't just be able to get a credential to home games only, too, and call yourself a "sports writer." You have to do the work, so to speak. You have to put in the hours. If a guy wants to make that kind of investment and cover a team the right way, then I don't think you should get the same treatment as those who do.

For the record, the blog that took a shot at you is actually called Abel To Yzerman, a Red Wings blog that is part of the larger Kukla's Corner network.  Paul Kukla blogs for NHL.com in addition to running his very popular personal blogging network, but the guy who writes A2Y is named Bill Houlihan, a sailor with the US Navy.

At any rate, that little exchange probably did more to stoke the rivalry fires between the Avs and Wings than anything in the past couple of years.  In Blood Feud you quoted guys like Paige and Kiszla heavily to convey the fact that columnists can play a big role in team rivalries.  Do you feel comfortable playing an active role like that yourself or is it just a side-effect of the job?

Well, I don't know that anything I really say or write plays an "active role" in anything to do with the actual rivalry between the teams. Sure, it gets some fans riled up, but to me that's fun! I hate reading stuffy, boring sports writers who take everything so damn seriously about the GAME they're covering. Jesus, you read some writers, and you think you've just read the minutes from a city council meeting, not a game between competitive athletes, with trash-talking fans from both sides.

I like mixing it up with the fans once in a while. The misconception a lot of people make about me is that I'm really wrapped up in the outcome of the game, that I'm part of the Avalanche and really want them to win.  You know what I usually do when I'm home? I'm usually reading the New Yorker or watching something on the History Channel. But when it's time for the game, I like to have a little FUN, and if that means writing like a fan sometimes, then so be it. I think anybody who's read me seriously over the years know that I still treat the profession seriously as a job and I'm not in the press box cheering or anything, and usually write in a more sober-minded way in the actual paper. But with the blog thing, yeah, let's mix it up a little. At least I know you're out there. And I'm very opinionated and always will be, so occasionally you're going to bump heads with people who disagree.

Speaking of blogs, your own online opinion outlet, All Things Avs, has caused a few stirs and ruffled a few feathers this year.  What do you seek to accomplish with it?  Do you have any specific goals for the site?  How much leeway do your bosses give you?

Well, I've had a couple of blogs taken down by the bosses, including a notorious one about ESPN last year. I had no idea anybody would care what I wrote on a blog about some topic like that, but it made some news in a hurry. My overall point in that manifesto was that I didn't like a lot of the ways ESPN has changed the world of sports and journalism, and that they rip an awful lot of us print guys off, and on and on. But I named a few names, and I regretted that and apologized to them "personally." At that late hour I was writing, I just named some of the first names off the top of my head at ESPN. So that was pretty dumb of me. I actually liked the people I ripped! I mean, I used to work with Rachel Nichols, back when she was named Rachel Alexander, when she covered hockey at the Washington Post. And there I go ripping her. Why did I do that? I guess I learned that you better be careful when you click "publish" on those blogs. I also ripped Bill Simmons, and I had just finished his Red Sox book and loved it. He's a damn good writer and very funny. So, lesson learned on that one in a lot of ways. It was late, I was super cranky and had a keyboard at my disposal. Stuff like that can happen.

Another blog was taken down when I went on a little riff about the bad late-night TV I was watching. But I also mentioned what I was eating and drinking at that moment, which was shrimp and a gin and tonic, after a game. I think the suits got a little over-sensitive about that one and I disagreed about them taking it down, but oh well. I mean, yes, I have a drink sometimes after a game. Last I checked, that isn't against the law, unless you've had 10 or 15 and are behind the wheel. I was at home, and stopped at one.  I just call it as I see it, though. I'm that kind of writer. I try to be really open about myself, too. Some people hate that, but they don't have to read the blog then.

So far you've loudly and unabashedly dissed guys like Dion Phaneuf, Kris Draper and now Derek Boogard in your blog, simultaneously pissing off Flames, Red Wings and Wild fans.  It's been suggested that you're just trying to boost traffic at the Post web site and/or sell a few more copies of your books.  What's the truth?  Why all the venom?

Well, of course we're all trying to boost traffic. Why do a blog and put it out there, right? But I'm not trying to just rip guys as a stunt to get attention. I believed what I wrote about Phaneuf at that moment, although I backed off calling him a punk. Probably not the best word, but as I said, I grew up calling everybody a punk, and everybody calling me a punk. It was a term of endearment to my generation. I also wrote that I'd probably want Phaneuf on my team if I was a coach, but none of the angry Flames fans seem to want to remember that. Boogaard? He's almost too easy of a target, so I kept it brief.

Sometimes I drop a mention of my books in the blog, but I don't do that nearly as much as some guys in my profession do, and I usually try to keep a mention in the context of the thing I'm writing about - not just some gratuitous plug. The bottom line with me is, I'm a guy who grew up a cynical, rabid, passionate Boston sports fan, and that's just how guys like us are like a lot in print. I don't want to compare myself to Bill Simmons at all as a writer or person or anything, but that smart-aleck kind of thing he's got going on is something I've certainly been accused of myself. And there are a TON of guys from back there, like we are, who are just like that when it comes to our sports and commentary, etc. It's just how you're born there. I mean, you have no idea how bad I would sit in front of my little 12-channel, black-and-white TV growing up in New Hampshire and just cursing the Red Sox up and down over a loss, or Steve Grogan over a big interception or whatever.

Has your criticism of specific guys on your blog impacted how other teams and players react to you in person?

No, not yet. But I imagine somebody from Calgary will mention my Phaneuf blog at some point when I'm up there next. No big deal. It's all in fun. They can call me any name in the book and I won't care. I can take it. I dish it out, so I have to take it.

Finally, were Foote and Forsberg worth the money/draft picks/stress?  The team has played better with them in the lineup, but are they too much baggage overall?

You just know Foppa will miss a game at some point. But overall, it's great to have him around again, and Foote will be around a while I think. I don't see any negatives having them back. It was a great thing for the team and fans.

Thanks to Adrian for entertaining my questions, and for being such a lightning rod this season.  Following the Avalanche this year has been a lot of fun if nothing else, and---love it or hate it---Dater's writing has been a big part of that.