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Eastwood learning the media ropes in the NHL Playoffs bubble

Eastwood, a Cuse grad and Toronto Six player, is working as a correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times

Lindsay Eastwood

Lindsay Eastwood is at the very beginning of her professional career. She hasn’t even suited up yet as a professional hockey player for the NWHL’s Toronto Six. And she’s still working on a master’s degree from Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.

But as far as first gigs out of college go, her current one is pretty good. Eastwood is doing some work for the Tampa Bay Times—covering the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs up in Toronto.

“I’ve been joking around with a lot of people and telling people that I’ve peaked, because it’s just so unbelievable,” Eastwood laughed. “I couldn’t ask for a better gig.”

Eastwood is working as a correspondent covering the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Tampa Bay Times. The opportunity to cover the Lightning came up a bit unexpectedly, through one of her teammates with the Six, Sam Ridgewell.

“All through university they tell you, ‘It’s all about networking,’ and that is in fact true,” Eastwood joked.

Ridgewell, knowing Eastwood is an aspiring media professional, told her she has a cousin who works at the Tampa Bay Times, and that they were looking for a sports writer in Toronto. With so much up in the air due to the pandemic—the Canada-U.S. border is still closed, and Florida is currently experiencing one of the worst outbreaks in the world—they were looking for someone local to the area to be on site and help cover the NHL playoffs.

It came up at just the right time for Eastwood. She wrapped up her playing career at Syracuse University in the spring and had been searching for gigs in sports media to gain some experience while she works on her master’s. But with the pandemic hitting and most leagues pausing and shortening their seasons, open positions have been hard to come by.

“I was kind of getting disheartened this summer; I want to work in sports media and there’s no jobs and, you know, it was tough. So, I was getting a little discouraged,” she said. “I didn’t even think hockey was going to come back this summer. It’s pretty special and I’m not taking anything for granted, that’s for sure.”

She says she’s acting as the “eyes and ears on the ground” for her colleagues at the paper, since she can actually physically be in Toronto to cover games.

“I have one article published now, which is pretty cool, but otherwise I’m just the eyes and ears for them at the arena,” Eastwood said. “It’s a lot different watching a game in person [versus] on a broadcast; you miss a lot. So when Victor Hedman got injured in the last qualifying game, I was able to tell them, ‘Oh, he’s heading off the ice. He’s getting looked at. Oh, he just tested it out.’ And they got to know that right away, instead of hearing it on the broadcast a couple of minutes later.”

The NHL is utilizing a bubble format to carry out the playoffs, to mitigate the risk of players and staff contracting COVID-19. There are five different groups with varying levels of access; Eastwood is listed under Group 5, which has no contact with players, staff or anyone in the other four groups.

“We just come in a certain door and we go up to the 300-level,” she said. “We have our own section, and we watch from up there.”

Still, getting to be there in-person to cover the playoffs is incredibly exciting for Eastwood.

“I say it was like that moment when, if you’re in the United States, you first turn 21, or in Canada you turn 18 or 19, and you walk into the liquor store and you can buy alcohol because you’re of age,” she said. “It’s like, O.K., I shouldn’t be allowed to do this, but I am. I’m here and I’m allowed, and I’m credentialed. That was the feeling I had when I first walked into the arena and sat down in my seat.”

Eastwood’s game-day routine is pretty much set. She likes to get to the rink about an hour early. On her way to the arena, she scores her symptoms through an app on her phone. At the door, she has her temperature taken and she’s asked about symptoms again.

Once she’s cleared to go in, Eastwood gets herself organized and takes in warmups, noting anything important for her Tampa Bay Times colleagues. She does the same during the game. Afterward, she’s been covering the Columbus Blue Jackets’ press conferences, which happen over Zoom and are streamed in a separate area of the arena for those with her level of access.

“After the game, if I need to write an item on something or they need help with a quote or just giving them some color of the game from what I saw, I let them know what I thought,” Eastwod said. “Hopefully that helps them a little bit with their writing, if they don’t need me to write something myself.”

While she’s at the games, she’s also been doing some of her own standups and sharing on social media to gain more experience.

“I want to be a sports broadcaster, so I think this is a great time to practice that and catch the attention of my following and maybe intrigue people to follow along as I do live game updates,” she said.

She’s been on the NHL beat for just about two rounds so far, but Eastwood says she’s already learning plenty. When she was in school, she never had the opportunity to cover a team herself, because she was so busy playing for her own team. She’s picking up on what it takes to cover a beat now with the Lightning.

“Now I know how to watch hockey with an eye for writing or reporting on it, and I know what to look for,” she said. “Whereas the first game, after the game, the Times would ask me, ‘What did you see there? Did you have examples?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh my Gosh, no, I didn’t watch for that.’

“I’ve learned what to watch for and what to look for as the game goes on. I really have learned how to watch hockey with that kind of eye, which is so important. I’ll never be able to watch hockey the same now.”

Eastwood is starting to see the flip side of some of the tough questions that get asked of players, too.

“I remember in university when I’d get a question and it’d be like, ‘Come on. You’re going to ask me that after we lost and I caused the goal? You’re going to put me on the spot?’” she said. “But that’s just the way it is and you have to ask the tough questions. I’m listening to the press conferences, and hearing and talking with the other reporters and learning from them. And that’s what you need to ask to get the information that the audience wants to hear and wants to know about.”

As a bonus, she’s learning plenty about her own game as a player, from watching some of the NHL’s biggest stars night in and night out. As a tall defender herself, Eastwood said she’s been watching Tampa Bay defender Victor Hedman with a particularly keen eye and learning from him hockey-wise.

With the quarterfinal round just about wrapped up, we asked Eastwood for her prediction for the Stanley Cup Final matchup. Her picks? The Colorado Avalanche and Philadelphia Flyers.

“Two powerhouses,” she said.

This coming season, Eastwood won’t just be suiting up for Toronto in the NWHL. She’ll also be interning with the team as she works to complete the credits she needs to finish her master’s degree. Similar to what she was doing at Syracuse, she’ll be interviewing her teammates and creating some video and social media content for the Six.

“I did that for fun in my spare time all throughout university and it’s the same thing right now,” she said. “I love doing it. It’s just super fun.”