Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Profile: Elliotte Friedman

Published in North York Post. [August 2007]

Cover story: Elliotte Friedman
This North Yorker gives us the play-by-play on how he went from roving reporter to CBC sportscasting star

Elliotte Friedman has covered almost every sport known to man in his 13-year sports broadcasting career rising from the ranks of lowly volunteer at The Fan 590 to ice-side reporter for Hockey Night in Canada. But its his current gig as the host of The CFL on CBC that's vaulted Friedman to the major leagues.

Friedman's is a story of working his way through the minors. His sports broadcasting odyssey began as a child in his family's Yonge and Sheppard home.

"As a kid, I used to sit in front of the TV and broadcast the games in front of my family," he says. "Much to their chagrin."

While his family may still tease him occasionally about his humble beginnings, Friedman has come a long way, climbing to the upper echelon of Canadian sports broadcasters.

Though the local-boy lived in downtown Toronto for several years, Friedman has come full circle by moving back to North York to a home that he bought in the old neighbourhood.

While he is glad to be back, the move wasn't for reasons of nostalgia.

"I have a lot of family in Thornhill and Richmond Hill. I don't want to move there though," says Friedman. "Instead, he moved to a condo in the Yonge and Sheppard area of North York, splitting the distance between his family and his downtown office.

Freely admitting that he "spends a ridiculous amount of time at the Yorkdale Mall because of their gym," Friedman also praises the patio at Safari Bar and Grill on Avenue Rd.

Although he has some difficulty identifying his favourite stores in the neighbourhood, Friedman explains that he can be found "walking around North York with my iPod on where I stop at any bookstore or used music store."

If he seems like he might be in a bit of a rush, it could be because he has been so busy trying to make his childhood passion become a reality.

Even during his days at York Mills Collegiate Institute, Friedman was calculating. He knew he'd have to make all the right plays to realize his dream career on a very crowded playing field.

When it came time to choose a university to attend, Friedman had already made up his mind - The University of Western Ontario.

Technically an English major, Friedman spent much of his time building up credentials for a career in sports journalism.

"A big reason why I went to Western was their reputation of sending their students out in the biz," he explains.

In his first two years at school, Friedman spent his time writing for The Gazette and working for the school's radio station CHRW 94.7 FM. Once he was offered the sports editor position at the student newspaper, Friedman was forced to decide between print journalism or radio. He chose the former.

Reflecting on his time at Western, Friedman is clearly thankful for the opportunity it gave him. However, he admits that it came at a price. "I neglected my studies at Western, but I learned so much more in the newsroom that I would have in the classroom."

Clearly a hard worker, Friedman graduated with high hopes that his work at Western would help him find a job. However, he was greeted with a harsh reality. "When I graduated in 1993, all of the newspapers had a hiring freeze in place," he says.

After a gruelling year freelancing for various publications, Friedman knew that he wanted to stay in the business but that he also had to change.

In 1994, Friedman returned to his radio roots by volunteering at sports radio station, The Fan 590. He describes his early experience there as "a lot of behind the scenes stuff. I cut tape, I wrote scripts. After awhile I started to get opportunities to do broadcast work."

Showcasing his dedication to sports broadcasting and a tireless work ethic, The Fan eventually hired Friedman on full-time. The aspiring sports writer had completed his shift into sports broadcasting. However, it wasn't as seamless as he hoped.

While doing the play-by-play for the 1994 Canadian Open tennis tournament, Friedman made a faux pas.

"The match was just wrapping up," he explains, "and I said Andre Agassi has just won in 'straight sex.'" When he walked into the production booth after the match the entire crew was laughing.

"But it was an honest mistake and something that every sports broadcaster will have to go through," says Friedman.

"The big question is how are you going to react - do you sulk or do you get over it and say tomorrow is another day."

Friedman got over this early mishap and carved out a reputation as a devoted sports broadcaster versatile enough to cover a wide array of sports. Catching the eye of fledgling sports specialty channel The Score, he was brought on as their man to cover the Toronto Raptors beat in their disasterous 1997 season.

"It was a real eye-opening experience," remembers Friedman.

"I remember being nervous my first day, just as a white Jewish guy going into a locker room full of guys that are coming from a different world. But I quickly found out that if you were always around the team and they can see that you're working hard, the players will treat you with respect."

There were a few bad apples though. "Ninety-five percent of the athletes out there are good guys and five per cent ruin it for everyone," he says.

Thankfully the Raptors turned their fortunes around, led by superstar Vince Carter, and the country began paying attention to the often-ignored team. The increased interest in the franchise and its players meant Friedman found himself in the national spotlight as well. It was no surprise then that in 2002 CBC contacted the rising star with an offer that he couldn't refuse.

"When Hockey Night in Canada calls to say that they're interested, what do you say - no?" he asks rhetorically. "It's a huge honour and something that I could never expect to get."

Although Hockey Night in Canada viewers may have been asking who was this new ice-side reporter, Friedman is clearly proud that he has paid his dues. "Indy, NBA, CISU, MLB, NHL, OHL - you name it, I did itg," he says.

His experiences shone on the brightest stage in Canadian sports and landed him his own pre-game show segment titled, The Headliner, where Friedman examines a range of on and off-ice issues affecting the game.

CBC brass were quick to notice his poise and insight, and last year they offered him the hosting gig for CFL on CBC.

It was finally his platform, his show and yet another dream come true. Every Saturday night during the season Friedman takes the mic with co-hosts and former CFL greats Sean Millington and Greg Freers to get fans ready for the game ahead.

Friedman will also play hometown host this year as the 95th Grey Cup game comes to the Roger Centre on November 25th.

It will be a highlight for sure but Friedman admits, the stories that touched him most involved more than just simply who won and who lost ... most of the time.

"I remember Game 3 of the 2001 World Series when George W. Bush - back when everyone liked him - walked out onto the mound at Yankee Stadium to throw the first pitch. The crowd was going wild and it was just such a big moment with the game happening in New York so soon after 9/11. You just got goose bumps."

"But then again, my first night on Hockey Night in Canada was just crazy. I remember getting chills when they played the theme song and it was probably the most nervous I have ever been in my career," he says.

"What can I say? I wake up every day and say how lucky I am to do this."

Link to story at Post City Magazines here.

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