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Matthew Blittner with his books
Like J.R.R. Tolkien writing The Lord of the Rings or The Godfather films, Matthew Blittner has completed his trilogy, self-publishing three books on the hockey teams in the greater New York area.
First came Unforgettable Rangers: Games and Moments from the Press Box, then Unforgettable Devils: Games & Moments From The Press Box, Ice & Front Office, followed by Unforgettable NY Islanders: Games & Moments from the Press Box, Ice & Front Office, which came out in February 2020. That's three books out in a little more than a one-year period.
From his Brooklyn, New York, home, quarantined and waiting for hockey to restart, Blittner shared how it all came together.
“I'm a young, aspiring hockey writer,” he began. Blittner covers the Rangers, Islanders and Devils for Stan Fischler, and has worked with the MSG Network, and contributed to The Hockey News, among many different publications. Currently, he has an Instagram live talk show, with a weekly guest, to talk sports while under lockdown. (See https://www.instagram.com/mattblittner/)
Growing up, the Rangers were the only team that his family could agree on, as it was primarily a baseball clan, loyalties divided between the Mets and Yankees.
Blittner didn't become a hockey fan until he went to college. “Then I went all-in. I became a fan during the '11-12 hockey season and I became a reporter at the start of the '16-17 hockey season.”
All-in describes his three books, and also refers to his desire to learn. He recognizes that he doesn't have the built-in knowledge of, say, “The Maven” Stan Fischler, but that doesn't mean he can't educate himself beyond watching old footage on YouTube or the NHL website and station.
The idea behind each book is to talk to media members primarily about unforgettable moments covering the teams, and that includes ex-players who serve in that capacity, but it's a loose definition, from broadcasters and print journalists to public relations and office staff.
“I definitely am learning. Most of the historical moments that all these people, regardless of which book it is, that they're talking about, I wasn't alive for, let alone be around to consciously see anything. I wasn't around in the '70s or the '80s. I was born in May of '93,” Blittner said.
His coverage of the teams gets richer through the new knowledge.
“If you want your takes on things to be taken seriously, and to get people to read your stuff, you have to think, ?Alright, what is going to get more people to read and take whatever I'm writing seriously?' Because there's a lot of writers and a lot of broadcasters out there,” Blittner said, listing many of the established media with each team. “There's a lot of people who are well-established. So if you're picking up tidbits from those people, it also, in a way, makes you sound smarter because you're no longer just some person who is writing a thought, but you actually have the authority of someone who has the respect and are able to put that into words to try to back up whatever it is that you're saying.”
Having three books under his belt at such a young age is a plus, though he recognizes that the level of trust that a reader or viewer has is subjective, and it's “for people who read whatever it is that I write to determine if they want to give me credibility.”
He didn't set out to write a trilogy.
“It just evolved,” Blittner said. “Originally, the idea was one book. I was covering the Rangers. I wanted to do a book for the '94 anniversary, the 25 years, which was last year. Then that book was well received, so then I thought, ?Well, I do cover the other two teams ... maybe I can do one on one of them.'”
Steve Cangialosi, the Devils play-by-play announcer, suggested Blittner that team's book be second. “He convinced me to do the Devils one first just because I would have access to the Devils people quicker because they were going to be in the off-season before the Islanders were.”
Finishing the job was a no-brainer. “Once the Devils book came out in the middle of September, I said to myself, ?Well, it wouldn't feel right if I didn't do the Islanders one, just to complete it all.' The Islanders were the first team that I ever covered, so it brought everything full circle.”
Grateful to everyone who took the time to talk to him, with some of the interviews lasting an hour, Blittner did note that “in terms of the actual nuts and bolts, it was basically a one-man show.” Better “graphically-inclined” friends did the covers, but Blittner did all the interviews, transcribing, writing, and layout, and relied on a few friends and family for editing.
“Family” applies to the people he works with, too. “I've gotten to learn from a lot of great people,” he said. “You're brought into this family of hockey media, and they're all just great about sharing.”
He also learned to be careful about promises.
Blittner gave an interview about the Devils book and mentioned maybe doing an Islanders one down the road. “I never intended for everything to go so quickly,” he chuckled.
The next project? “I'm going to keep that one close to my vest.”
Leandre Norman is working on a French language “authorized” biography Henri Richard, in co-operation with the Richard family, to be released this fall by Editions de l'Homme.
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