The term “unsung” is usually bruited about in reference to hockey players.
But as we approach the Stanley Cup Final, unsung has been redefined and reserved for a woman.
The NHL’s Nicole Buckley excels behind the scenes making sure each NHL event is spectacular and unique in its own way and unfolds without a hitch – regardless of the obstacles.
As the NHL’s Coordinator of Event Communications she has been a rising star since signing on with the league in 2010. Not surprisingly, since then, the league has jumped far ahead of the curve when it comes to building unique events.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and COO John Collins have been the significant architects behind the lucrative and transcending outdoor games, starting with the Winter Classic.
The January 1st game blossomed into this past season’s popular Stadium Series and the better-than-ever Heritage Classic, which takes place annually in a Canadian venue.
The opinion of the hockey fan is virtually unanimous in agreeing that the games have been “a must-see event” either on television, or – at least once, in person.
“You have to be at these events to understand how the game becomes a gathering point for a community, the way a community lights up around hockey,” Collins explains.
The outdoor games have garnered plenty of publicity while creating a unique perspective for hockey fans.
Meanwhile, so much happens behind the scenes to ensure that the event goes off without a hitch.
That’s where Nicole’s work intensifies. And while much of the first part of the season was dedicated to the coordination and precision execution of the outdoor games, Buckley’s responsibilities don’t end there.
She helps spearhead the herculean effort of the NHL staff to prepare for all the other NHL events including the mother of all extravaganzas – the Stanley Cup Final.
Additional events include: the NHL Entry Draft, the NHL Combine, the NHL Awards, the preseason player media tour and the league’s annual All-Star Weekend.
Prior to her NHL stint, Buckley did marketing for Heineken leading up to, and during the 2009 U.S. Open.
At the league’s Avenue of the Americas’ Office, she began work on media credentialing, which is no small feat. While media requests for credentials once came by phone, fax, then email, now the NHL uses a backend system that manages most of the submission process.
“Each event presents its own challenge, and they are various,” Nicole notes. “For me, often it’s the space limitation that venues have. Sometimes based on the capacity of media that wants to attend these games; its really negotiating seats in the press box, seats in the auxiliary area, and where do I net out at the end. That’s my biggest challenge, trying to accommodate everybody, making sure we have the proper space to handle everybody.”
Once all requests are submitted, it’s in her hands to accommodate and facilitate all the requests.
“For example for the two outdoor games in Yankee Stadium last winter, we had over 340-plus media members,” said Buckley. “While in Los Angeles (for the Kings versus Ducks outdoor game in Dodger Stadium) that same week, we also had more than 300 members of the media.”
Meanwhile the league’s biggest event, the Stanley Cup Final, is always the toughest to coordinate given the vast amount of media members attending, and that it’s a series – sometimes seven games.
“Crews change throughout the series,” adds Buckley. “We have more international media than any other NHL event. Going off last year’s Stanley Cup Final, there were over 500 people who were credentialed.”
Most NHL press boxes cannot handle the vast throngs of media that turn out for the Cup, and so typically a section in the upper bowl of the arena is converted into an auxiliary press box. Buckley then has to coordinate where each member of the press sits and produces a seating chart so that the media knows its seating location once journalists enter the arena.
After the initial credentialing process ends and the event arrives, Buckley then has a busy day beginning before most wake up.
“I get to the arena early in the morning and everyone goes through the whole plan for the day,” Buckley continues.
Nicole also works hand-in-hand with the teams, coordinating the schedule of the day, which includes managing and scheduling the players and coaches to meet the media after game-day skates while providing timing sheets for the clubs, so that they have an updated schedule for events that day.
Buckley reviews all the signage that is posted within the arena so that the media can seamlessly make its way to any destination, including: the press box, auxiliary press box, work areas, the media dining room, the home and road dressing rooms and the post-game interview and press conference area.
Her preparations are so meticulous that “once the media enters the arena, I don’t want to say the event runs itself, but it sort of runs itself,” Buckley chuckles.
Ubiquitous almost to a fault, Buckley is always present and available if a media member has a specific need. She also preps the NHL game-night staff on what will be distributed during the game, including, but not limited to the starting lineups and scratches, intermission stats or a timely press release.
“I try to catch a little of the game,” she allows.
“Post-game, it’s to the interview room to coordinate with both teams. Who’s coach is going to go first, which players will speak to the media in the locker room, or which will come to the podium. I also get in touch with the transcription service that we hire, to do all of out post-game transcriptions (which the NHL distributes to the media via email).”
After the playoffs, she coordinates the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, and then with a quick turnaround, prepares for the NHL Draft in Philadelphia, which takes place only three days later.
Her favorite time? “During the game, because that’s when you see the fruits of your labor. During the game it’s a quiet time for me. The media is working and the teams are doing their thing. That’s when I look around and say, ‘This is pretty cool.’”
During the off-season Nicole will take some vacation and spend time at the beach, but since her department also handles player development, and so she must help prepare for programs sponsored by the NHL including their Rookie Orientation Program, the Player Media Tour in September and an occasional Research and Development Camp.
“Summertime is quieter,” she insists, “but we’re still going. Always planning for the next event.”