Last week, Utica Observer-Dispatch sports writer, Ben Birnell, was awarded the James H. Ellery Award for outstanding media coverage of the American Hockey League. We were able to sit down with Birnell to learn about some of his background, his favorite moments, and more.
The award, given annually since 1964, came as a great shock to Birnell, who was never expecting to be on the receiving end of such prestige. “This is not something I ever truly expected to happen,” Birnell said. “I’m very overwhelmed at the number of people who have reached out. There are so many deserving media members.”
We decided to use the opportunity to flip the script on Birnell, allowing him the opportunity to be on the receiving end of some hard-hitting questions from the Utica Comets’ staff.
UC: What’s your favorite event you’ve ever covered at the Adirondack Bank Center?
BB: The 2018 All-Star Classic. There was so much talent on the ice at once and it was fun to see all the players interact. It was amazing to see what all of these players can do. Also, Game 3 of last year’s playoffs was the loudest I’ve ever heard the building. It was right after the Comets killed off a five-on-three. That is a big one that stands out.
UC: Who’s your favorite player to interview?
BB: I’ve always enjoyed talking to Richard Bachman. He’s a genuinely nice guy and he is always willing to take the time to chat and answer my questions. Everyone has been great, but Richard has always stood out because he is so personable.
UC: What’s your favorite Media Room meal?
BB: Those French fries they serve are awesome. The chicken fingers are great too.
**It was at this time that Birnell tried to pose the questions back to us, but we were firm in the fact that he wasn’t allowed to ask us questions on this special occasion**
UC: What’s your favorite venue you’ve ever been to?
BB: I bought tickets to go see the Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. It was a David Price and Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching matchup, but my ticket ended up getting misplaced. I called StubHub and they replaced the ticket, and they said it was “closer to home plate.” When I got there, the ticket was four rows behind the dish! The Sox got crushed, but it was amazing.
UC: What’s your favorite book?
BB: “Ready Player One”
UC: Favorite movie?
BB: “The Usual Suspects.” It has one of the greatest cinematic endings of all time.
UC: Favorite food in the area?
BB: Riggies with mushrooms.
UC: Best concert you’ve ever been to?
BB: I’d have to say Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20 or Zach Brown Band. I’ve also seen Ludacris four times.
UC: You’re from Minnesota, so tell us about your accent.
BB: Sometimes I slip into old habits and I draw out my “O’s.” Also, it’s pop. Not soda.
UC: What would you be if you weren’t a sports writer?
BB: Almost went to school for business administration. Even before that I thought of the idea of being a sports agent. Then I realized you had to be a lawyer if you wanted to do that. I’ve always loved writing and sports, so I thought: “why not put them together?!”
UC: What’s your bucket list story?
BB: The Comets win the Calder Cup.