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NHL Sports Writing Pioneer on Starting and Keeping a Career

By Debbie Elicksen

Shirley Fischler is a veteran writer and women’s advocate, whose columns and feature articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, The Hockey News, Hockey Illustrated, and numerous other publications. Her husband is the famed and legendary hockey writer Stan Fischler, who has penned over 100 books on hockey, to which Shirley has coauthored a few.

Shirley entered the business when women were denied access to press boxes and dressing rooms and relegated to sitting in the wives’ section with their typewriters and storylines. She had taken Madison Square Gardens, the New York Rangers, and the Hockey Writers’ Association to the Human Rights Commission and sued them for access to the press box—and won.

Her advise for a young writer coming out of school? “More often a strong stomach than a strong back. You have to be ready to start at the bottom. One of the things that absolutely drives me crazy sometimes about the interns (both she and Stan have interns helping them on a daily basis with all their projects) is a kid will walk through the door and instead of being willing to do some filing and real gut work, they want a byline and to do face-to-face interviews.

“Everybody wants to be in Los Angeles or New York. Nobody wants to be in Podunk. Many, many of the young men and women who have made it in the business have done so because they were willing to do exactly that. Try writing hockey in Daytona, Florida. Try writing hockey in Muncie, Indiana. They did and they persevered. And they’re still in the business.

“Everybody in the acting business, with a few notable exceptions, realizes that you have to wait tables and do crap work for years and years and years and years before that break may come. It’s a terrible cutthroat business. If you want to persevere, you have to be willing to be out of the business or do something else in the business that you didn’t want to do for five, six, seven years. Why? Because there’s a depression going on, at least in the media.

“You can’t get a job. You can’t even work in Podunk. You have to be an assistant nothing to a marketing manager at an arena, that kind of thing. People in show business know this. You have to pay for putting food on the table by doing the most outlandish things that have absolutely nothing to do with theater in order to finally get into the theater. But nobody who comes out of journalism school or communications school realizes that you have to do crap for God-knows how long in order to work your way back into the business, if that’s what you really want to do.”

Shirley admits she and her husband Stan are rare exceptions. “He was a kid that was a veteran hockey fan, loved the game, and by pure fluke, his first job was in hockey. But that will happen to one out of 1,000.”

Read other articles and learn more about Debbie Elicksen.

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