Postmedia hockey reporter Wes Gilbertson has been covering the Calgary Flames for the last eight years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted both his communication with players as well as his ability to deliver creative stories.
Even as a kid, Wes Gilbertson loved hockey. Like many young Albertans, he spent his weekends at the local rink, where his passion for the sport only grew.
His connection to the newspaper industry also began at a young age, as he delivered papers for the Calgary Herald.
“I read the paper every morning as a kid, just the sports section, really. So, when I was on my paper route, I would be reading the sports section. I used to say, ‘Whoever was the last house on our route probably got a soaking wet sports section every morning that it snowed or whatever,’” Gilbertson said.
Looking back, Gilbertson has not strayed far from his childhood passions. He considers himself lucky.
“I don’t think a lot of people get to do what they say their dream job is, and that’s the job I’m doing right now,” Gilbertson said.
Gord Montgomery, a former sports writer for the Spruce Grove Examiner and Stony Plain Reporter, was a mentor to Gilbertson early in his career. Montgomery, who continues to keep in touch with Gilbertson, knew that his passion lay in hockey reporting.
“His goal was to be a beat writer for the Calgary Flames, and he’s living the dream right now. You could see he took pride in what he did,” Montgomery said.
After getting to know Gilbertson better, Montgomery learned that there was something special in the new reporter.
“Wes showed right away that he could write anything that he was asked to do, which really was impressive.”
In his eight years of being a beat reporter, Gilbertson admits his favourite part of the job has to be his all-access pass to live hockey games across Canada and the United States.
“You kind of pinch yourself when you’re in these stadiums, where people have paid hundreds of dollars, and it’s a game that people have been lined up for hours, hoping to get a ticket or spend way too much money than they thought they’d ever pay on a sporting event ticket because they had to be there,” Gilbertson said.
“I think those are the moments where you’re like, ‘Wow, okay, I’m just going to walk up to this door here with my press pass, and I’m welcomed to come in and watch this game that so many people wish they were at.’”
Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gilbertson’s day-to-day tasks are now more difficult. The relationship between media and players has become more restricted, making it harder for reporters to connect to their sources.
“Not being able to sit down next to a guy in the locker room and have a conversation and instead being one of 20 faces on a Zoom call. That part’s a lot different.”
Gilbertson’s ability to privately connect to a player has also affected the creativity he can put into his work. Before the pandemic, Gilbertson was able to chat with players individually and away from prying ears. Now, he is just one of many reporters sharing a Zoom call.
“For me to write something that not everyone is writing, I need a few minutes of a player’s time, so I can ask some unique questions,” Gilbertson said.
“It’s not just being a good writer or being a mediocre writer. It’s coming up with story ideas, it’s knowing to ask the right questions and then it’s writing the story.”
Todd Saelhof, the sports editor for Postmedia Calgary, has worked with Gilbertson for 14 years.
While Saelhof remains confident in Gilbertson and his creative abilities, he does believe that this pandemic has added challenges to Gilbertson’s work.
“I would have to say, for him to get that scoop, it’s not easy. He can’t talk to somebody on the side as much as he’d like to, so he’s not able to get an angle all to himself,” Saelhof said.
Saelhof also believes that Gilbertson has not yet adjusted to a life at home, as he has travelled with the team for the last eight years.
“He’s probably suffering a little more cabin fever than the rest of us because he’s used to being away a lot.”
Although adjusting to these new protocols has not been easy, Saelhof commends his writer’s work ethic.
“As far as I’m concerned [Gilbertson] is one of the best, if not the best sports writer in Canada,” says Saelhof. “You wish you could have a whole bunch of Wes Gilbertsons working for you.”
While the current conditions are not ideal, Gilbertson’s ability to connect with players and his restricted creative capabilities will eventually return to normal. At the same time, Gilbertson remains grateful for what he does on a daily basis.
“Jeez, I sit and watch hockey for a living. Not that many people that you know would complain about that,” Gilbertson said.
As for upcoming work, Gilbertson is solely focused on the Calgary Flames and this very different yet exciting hockey season.
It is safe to say that Gilbertson has come a long — but not far — way from his time delivering newspapers as a kid.