(Photo courtesy of the Rochester Americans)
By Michael Lewis
A friend of mine died Saturday.
I hadn’t spoken to him in some four decades, but I still considered Hans Tanner my friend.
Hans, who? — you might ask.
The man who covered hockey way, way, way back in the day for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Hans was a gentleman, a good guy and a great journalist.
He passed away Saturday at the age of 85.
Hans was Mr. Hockey in Rochester, covering the Rochester Americans for the first two decades of their existence. He did his homework, had his sources and knew the game through and through.
I always considered Hans a mentor.
For someone right out of college trying to find his place in the business, I will always be grateful to Hans by leading by example and pointing out the subtleties of the craft to a 22-year-old.
His writing style wasn’t complicated and that is not intended to be a criticism. His game stories were easy to read, punchy and to the point, which is needed to to retain the attention of the reader. If you make it too complicated you can lose the reader — quickly.
And, one other thing — he accomplished it by using a typewriter (if you don’t know what they are, ask your mother or father. Hmmm, better yet, you might have to ask your grandparents). It was before computers were introduced to the newsroom in the late seventies.
During the offseason, Hans would work the desk and he was patient with the young writers on the staff, including me.
I remember when he did a quick rewrite on a lead of mine and improved the copy. I never liked seeing my work rewritten, but when an editor makes it better, you can’t argue at all. Moreover, I saw what Hans did and filed it away as a learning experience.
After writing about the Amerks for 20 years, Hans left the newspaper in 1976 to pursue another love, perhaps his first love — as an antiques dealer in nearby Geneseo. In fact, he worked antique shows until a few months ago.
Lary Bump and Rudy Martzke picked up the beat for a season.
Rick Wheeler, another hockey aficionado, came on as the hockey writer and wrote about the team for six years before he was promoted to assistant sports editor and a slot man.
With the hockey schedule at the time being the exact opposite to soccer on the calendar, I was offered the hockey beat and grabbed it.
I must admit, I was intimidated following two legends in Tanner and Wheeler.
The first year I covered the team, the Amerks captured their first Calder Cup (the American Hockey League’s championship) for the first time in 15 years. Needless to say, I felt guilty because here was someone covering the team for the first time and the club wins it all while a couple of veteran writers were shutout.
I wrote about the team through 1985 before returning to the New York area to work on the Gannett Westchester-Rockland newspapers.
Kevin Oklobzija replaced me on the beat and he forged his own legendary path himself by writing about the Amerks for 31 years.
The paper has had only a handful of hockey writers since 1956 — that’s 61 years — which is incredible, considering the transient quality of the newspaper business.
Hans Tanner started it all.
You can thank Hans, for that and for so many things.