The phrase “larger than life” is thrown around a lot these days.
Sometimes it’s warranted and sometimes it’s simply hyperbole thrown around when more accurate words might do just as well.
In the case of Lawrence Eagle-Tribune Bruins scribe Russ Conway, it was legit in every way possible. Conway passed away earlier this week at 70 years old after a number of health issues related to his heart over the last few years. While the health issues certainly had their impact, it didn’t stop Conway from continuing to live the bon vivant lifestyle he was known for while covering the Bruins and then enjoying semi-retirement after essentially leaving the Bruins beat following the 2004-05 lockout that wiped out an entire hockey season.
The nuts and bolts of Conway’s life were impressive simply on his accomplishments alone.
Conway was awarded the prestigious Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1999 for journalists inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
In 2006, a year after his retirement from The Eagle-Tribune as sports editor after nearly 40 years with the paper, Conway was inducted into the New England Racing Hall of Fame after serving as a longtime promoter and racetrack owner dedicated to the sport.
In 1992, he was nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for a number of stories that exposed corruption with then-PHWA Executive Director Alan Eagleson. Because of that, Conway had a close relationship with Bruins legend Bobby Orr and was among the most respected of hockey journalists by the players themselves.
His book, "Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey”, is still required reading for aspiring journalists looking to get into the hockey beat reporting game.
But Conway was so much more colorful than his greatest accomplishments. He was a man who lived life to its fullest and was a welcomed storyteller on so many hockey occasions, including one of his last times at TD Garden this past season when he showed up for Rick Middleton’s number retirement ceremony.
He could hang with even the heartiest of hockey players when it came to knocking back beers and storytelling, and that’s not easy to do.
In my role as PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) Chapter Chair in Boston, I had more than a few phone conversations with Conway over the years. Of course, there would be stories that went along with those conversations. I still remember a few months ago hearing about the time that Don Cherry had an issue with his neighbors in the suburbs of Boston when his dog Blue either bit a person or another dog in the neighborhood.
I can’t remember the exact details, but I do remember that it was Conway who acted as mediator between Grapes and the aggrieved neighbors, and showed his penchant for helping out the players and coaches he covered without compromising his journalistic integrity in any way. It was a delicate line he managed to walk throughout a career that saw him break the biggest of stories in the world of hockey.
My first year covering the Bruins in 2003-04 was also Patrice Bergeron’s rookie season with the B’s (Russ was a massive fan of Bergeron the person and player, by the way), and it was also Conway’s last year covering the B’s on a regular basis. It was amazing to watch him take his customary position with one foot raised up on the dressing stalls while engaging in long, animated conversations with the players postgame and post-practice.
What were they talking about? How did Conway manage to capture the attention of these players when this young hockey writer was simply in awe of being let through the doors in the first place?
It felt like they were having this great conversation rather than the typical interview patter we see so many times in locker rooms everywhere.
Certainly that feeling of surreal awe isn’t there for me like it once was after covering Boston pro sports for nearly 20 years, but I’m still in awe of the way Conway turned beat reporting into such a personal, joie de vivre-filled endeavor. What I realized watching him was that it’s always about the relationships that you build covering a team when it comes to the big stories, and being the right guy in the right place at the right time as Conway was while breaking the Eagleson stories.
Russ never felt like he was grinding it out on the beat.
It felt like he was the show, and everybody else was happy to be along for the story-filled ride. The ride is over now sadly, but Conway’s legacy is going to live on in my memory and so many of the hockey people that he touched over the last five decades covering the sport.
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