Remembering Jon Barkan
by Tom Douglis/CHN Senior Writer
The news that Jon Barkan died Thursday, at the age of 39, hit like a sledgehammer straight to the ribs.
Jon loved college hockey like many of us do – passionately. But Jon turned this love and passion into meaningful public contributions to the game. All of us who love the game benefit today from his efforts.
• Tribute to Jon by CHN columnist Mike Machnik
• Inside College Hockey tribute page to Jon.
I first met John in St. Paul, Minn., at the 1989 Championship Finals. At the time, he was a senior at Northeastern University, writing hockey for his school paper, the Northeastern News. Although many of us would come to know Jon as a fully-grown gregarious, bigger-than-life adult, in 1989, he was more like a big, wide-eyed puppy. Graduating soon, Jon wanted a job in college hockey media, and had traveled to St. Paul on his own nickel just to meet more people. In the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel, among the Boston and Minnesota voices talking hockey, Jon’s voice stood out – not only for its New Jersey accent, but also because it was clear Jon was really happy to be there.
That year, I was 26, and the Chicago-based WCHA correspondent for Eastern College Hockey Magazine, published out of Boston. I decided to take the “kid” under my wing, the way I would have wanted to be treated when I was his age. I knew about a post-game party involving coaches and media members in one of the hotel rooms, and invited Jon to tag along with me.
At the party, we both met Jay Greenberg, the hockey writer from Sports Illustrated, and (the late) Tom Mees from ESPN. Meeting such national sports figures was pretty heady stuff – not only for Jon, but for me too. Barkan turned to me to say profound things along the lines of "I can't believe I actually talked to Tom Mees." He also said, "Next year, I want to host this party".
Indeed, the “kid” had found his calling. In 1990, one year later, Jon and I spent a cold, drizzly April morning carrying ice and cases of beer up to his hotel room at the Westin Hotel in Detroit. And that night, a who's who of the college hockey world –- writers, TV crews, coaches, NHL coaches and scouts, and all kinds of wide-eyed fellow fans – came to Jon’s party. Jon was, without a doubt, the happiest guy in Detroit that night, and the "Barkan Bash" was officially born. He would go on to host these Frozen Four parties for many years afterwards, and become something of a behind-the-scenes legend in the small world of college hockey.
But Jon was far more than a great party host. He was also a born storyteller who loved to write about our game.
When I became the editor of Eastern College Hockey Magazine in the summer of 1989, part of the deal of me moving from Chicago to Boston was that the publication would become College Hockey Magazine — a national publication. I wanted writers who shared my view of college hockey as a burgeoning national game, and one of the first people I hired was Jon Barkan.
We spent long days in a drafty makeshift 'office' of the publisher's house in Peabody, Mass. — writing stories, calling coaches, eating cold pizza and putting out our sport’s first truly national magazine on primitive early Macintosh computers. And we spent many nights in hockey press boxes around the country, sharing stories and living the (low-paid) dream of being college hockey writers. In those days before the World Wide Web and satellite TV, we felt very much like pioneers, knitting together a communications medium to unite the often-fractious East and West of our game.
Through it all, Jon was funny, profane, optimistic, opinionated and full of life. He was the kind of person you wanted to be around, because he radiated a sense of fun in everything he did — even at four in the morning when there was a magazine to finish.
I later moved on to USA Hockey to edit American Hockey Magazine, and Jon too moved on to become first a sportswriter for the Lansing [Mich.] State Journal, and later a hockey writer at USA Today and CNNSI. com. Both of us had achieved our dreams of becoming national level hockey writers. We had also become good friends as well as colleagues.
When I was getting married in Toronto in the summer of 1994, my wife and I held a reception at the Hockey Hall of Fame. And I was delighted to have Jon as a guest. One of the wonderful memories of that weekend was Jon's first face-to-face meeting with the Stanley Cup, which had just been won by his beloved New York Rangers. Hockey as a sport was riding a big high, and no one was enjoying it more than Jon. Jon stood reverently in front of the Cup in the Great Hall, and slowly touched his fingers to the silver surface. He turned to me, tears in his eyes, and said, "This is one of the greatest moments in my life. I'm actually touching the Stanley Cup."
Today, I'm the one with tears in my eyes.
I miss you, my friend.
And so does our game.
Tom Douglis is a senior contributing editor at College Hockey Magazine. He is formerly editor of College Hockey Magazine and American Hockey Magazine.