Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with hockey historian Dr. Mike Commito.
Commito is the team historian for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves and he writes for the LA Kings. In addition, he wrote the book, Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice, which looks at historical moments for every day of the year. He’s also the Director of Applied Research & Innovation at Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ontario.
In my interview with Commito, we looked at his experiences with the Wolves, the Kings and some of the work that he’s completed for various publications including VICE Sports and Sportsnet.
Josh: In May 2018, you were named Team Historian of the Sudbury Wolves. In terms of your role with the Wolves, what are some of the projects that you work on as a Historian?
Mike: In my role as Team Historian my duty is to make the club’s history accessible and engaging for the fans. Chiefly, I write articles profiling former players or interesting traditions the team has. In the year that I’ve been in this role I have written 19 stories that have ranged from player features to the history behind the stuffed wolf the club uses to celebrate goals. As much as the history remains my focus, the team has been great in letting me explore a range of topics that has included some work on current players and even their mothers for a special Mother’s Day piece we have in the works.
Josh: Do you tend to focus one or two particular decades of Wolves’ history? Or is your work more spread out?
Mike: The Wolves have been in the OHL since 1972 so I try to focus my efforts across the board. I believe that my role as Team Historian is to bridge the gap between the generations of fans the club has. When you go to the Sudbury Community Arena you could encounter a fan who has memories of Mike Foligno sitting next to their son or daughter, who may have watched Jamie Rivers in the ‘90s and are now taking their kid to a Wolves game to watch Quinton Byfield. That’s three generations of Wolves fans watching a game, so I try to highlight the history across those eras and make it accessible and engaging for all the fans. We’ve done a lot of work highlighting the high-flying teams in the 1970s, but I’ve also had the opportunity to profile players and moments from the ‘80s and ‘90s, along with more recent history such as the Wolves’ 2007 playoff run.
Josh: Who was your favourite all-time Sudbury Wolves player?
Mike: I moved to Sudbury when I was 15 years old so I never had a favourite Wolves player growing up, but my favourite moment with the team was during the 2007 run to the OHL championship final. The town was electric in that deep playoff run. All of the games were sold out and my buddies and I could only manage to get Standing Room Only tickets, which were two or three rows deep around the railing at the top of the arena. When the Wolves skated out onto the ice before a game you could feel the electricity coursing through the building. It was vibrating. To this day I have never experienced a live sporting atmosphere quite like playoff hockey at the old Elgin barn in 2007.
Historian Work Outside Of The Wolves
Josh: For your historian work, do you tend to focus just on the NHL? Or do you look at other leagues across the globe?
Mike: Before I got into hockey history, I actually researched the history of black bear hunting and management in Ontario for my PhD in environmental history, which is to say that I think I have a pretty unique way of looking at history because I’ve studied it from different perspectives. For the most part, a lot of my work right now focuses on the NHL because of my work with the Kings and my role with the Wolves has really shifted my interest in junior hockey. That being said, I don’t necessarily restrict myself to just researching stories from the NHL. When I was writing for VICE Sports I had the opportunity to write some stories about international hockey and Slap Shot, and a few years ago I got to highlight some of Kenora, Ontario’s rich hockey history for Sportsnet. If it’s an interesting, bizarre or funny moment in hockey history, I’m all over it.
Josh: From your research, which were your favourite players to look at?
Mike: I’ve had the opportunity to research a lot of players in my hockey writing career. My book Hockey 365 has 365 different hockey history stories, one for every day of the year, so there were a lot of different players that came up during the course of the research, but those were short stories so I didn’t get to get too in-depth. My favourite players to look at or research usually end up being great interviews for one reason or another. The first real hockey interview I did was with Darryl Sittler for the 40th anniversary of his 10-point. As a Leafs fan, it was a real treat to talk with Darryl but it was great to talk with him about his incredible 1975-76 season, which included that 10-point game, a 5-goal game in the playoffs, and winning the Canada Cup. My favourite part about talking to him though was learning that he ate Swiss Chalet the afternoon before the game, which was a changeup from his usual gameday routine. Who knows, maybe that’s why he scored 10 points that night. So whether it’s a player I’m really familiar with or someone I’m interviewing for the first time, my favourite ones always end up the ones in which you learn something you didn’t already know in your research or they share a story with you that you otherwise wouldn’t have known.
Josh: You write quite a bit of content on the LA Kings, what has been your favourite post to write on them?
Mike: My Wayne Gretzky story, hands down. Gretzky doesn’t do a lot of interviews these days so when the Kings and I lined up an interview with him for the 25th anniversary of when he passed Gordie Howe for the all-time goal-scoring record we were ecstatic. Talking to the Great One was a surreal experience. It really made me realize how incredible my hockey journey has been so far. It was not that long ago I was just trying to break into the hockey world by blogging and carving a place out for myself on Twitter to taking Wayne Gretzky’s phone call in my office. Definitely my highlight of the season. What didn’t make it into the Kings story was that I actually missed Gretzky’s first call because I was in the middle of a work meeting. Thankfully we did end up connecting later in the day and I ended up writing another story for the Globe and Mail about how I screened the Great One’s call.
Josh: Which era of Kings hockey do you enjoy analyzing the most?
Mike: Honestly, if I can find an interesting or funny story regardless of the era I’ll pitch it to the Kings and they’re pretty great at letting me run wild with some of those ideas. This past season I’ve written 12 stories for the team that have ranged from some stories from the 1970s all the way up to more current profiles of members of the coaching staff like Marco Sturm. Obviously the ‘90s resonates for me because that’s when I would have grown up watching hockey. Even though I wasn’t a Kings fan as a kid, I still remember Gretzky’s LA era, especially the 1993 series against the Leafs but let’s not get into that.
Josh: Do you have any advice for Puck77 readers who are interested in writing for a team like the Kings one day?
Mike: Just keep at it. Persistence pays off. My passion is writing about hockey and I continue to work hard at it daily. Even though I have had some highlight moments this past year with my writing, I know that I can’t rest on those achievements and need to keep finding creative ways to bring the game’s history to life. I think the other thing I would say to aspiring writers is market yourself as broadly as you can. This is something my former supervisor always stressed to me. Although I was building up my skills as a historian, he knew that I had marketable skills in communication, research and writing that could be applied to other areas. The same goes for writing. I may be a hockey historian now but I try to take the research and writing skills I have and apply them to a variety of topics. It helps you shake things up and helps you showcase your range.
Thank You Mike
Thank you Mike for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to interviewing you again in the future.