Letter to a Legend: My mentor Jason Botchford

To the kindred spirit that put me on the path to success

Photo of the late Jason Botchford.
PHOTO: Jason Botchford / Twitter

By: Isabella Urbani, Sports Editor

I have a unique relationship with my mentor, Jason Botchford. We never had the chance to meet, but I can only hope he sees the impact he’s made not only on me, but the entire Vancouver Canucks community. 

Botchford, or Botch as people came to call him, helped me for the first time without even knowing it. I was in the midst of finishing grade 10 and was still completely undecided on what career I wanted to pursue. On the one hand, I wanted to become a pediatric doctor. On the other, a sports journalist. 

I spent my fair share of nights in hospital rooms with immunocompromised siblings. On those occasions, I promised myself that the next time I stepped foot in a hospital, it would be to take care of people in my brothers’ situations. After burying myself in my studies and extracurriculars in high school, I had the marks to get myself into a reputable school. 

Problem was, I was head over heels in love with hockey. Study sessions weren’t study sessions without a hockey game on the TV in front of me, and another being broadcasted through my headphones. My parents tried to convince me it was nothing but a hobby — something I shouldn’t make a career of, especially when I had early acceptance offers for science waiting for me. 

Botch’s writing helped me make up my mind. Before stumbling upon his work, I had an idea of what sports journalism was in my head. It was dry articles overflowing with analytical information that you kind-of-sort-of know, but couldn’t actually articulate into words if someone asked you to. If that was what sports journalism was, I knew I had no business writing. That also wasn’t Botch’s style. He was a true storyteller. You didn’t have to watch a single Canucks game in your life to read Botch’s work and feel confident that you knew the full story. He was just that good. 

Storytelling was what sold me on hockey in the first place. The fact that each game has its own unique story, despite being played under the same rules, was something that made watching any hockey game, at any level, magical for me. Knowing there was a market for this type of writing was all the confirmation I needed to spend my spring break watching Toronto Blue Jays games and crafting articles as practice. 

Another practice I developed was waiting for Botch’s articles to be published in The Athletic. One moment I was reading his article, and the next day, the Canucks community, myself included, were mourning his death.

Messages poured in online. Through them, I was introduced to the full scope of Botch’s legacy and the kind of person he truly was. Botch was all about paying it forward to the next generation of writers. From what I’ve heard from my fellow coworkers, he loved showing upcoming writers the ropes. That didn’t change after his passing. When the next hockey season came, the Canucks announced The Botchford Project: an annual opportunity for six inspiring journalists to get to experience a day in the life of a hockey journalist. 

I was one of the lucky six recipients hand-selected for the 2022 Botchford Project, by none other than Botch’s wife, Kathryn Botchford. To this day, I can’t help but smile when I think about it. Nothing has come close to topping that experience. Getting to rub shoulders with some of the most influential Canucks writers has opened up so many opportunities for me. It’s given me something to sink my teeth into and create a career from. Having the honour to sit in Botch’s spot in the media booth and peer down at the game unfolding in front of my eyes was the confirmation I needed that I made the right choice in pursuing hockey.

I am eternally grateful to Kathryn, who continues to give back to BC in more ways than one. Through her, Botch’s legacy can continue to be everything that made him a beloved writer and person. I may not have met Botch, but he’ll forever be present in each sports article I write. I’m so glad to have the privilege to call such a person my mentor.