Q&A: Sportsnet's Breakout Star Analyst Jennifer Botterill

One of hockey's best and busiest studio analysts caught up with the Hockey News to discuss her evolution on 'Hockey Night in Canada,' competing on 'Battle of the Blades' and much more.
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Jennifer-Botterill

She won three Olympic gold medals as a forward for Team Canada. She’s the only two-time winner of the NCAA’s Patty Kazmaier Award. Now Jennifer Botterill is the talk of social media during the 2020-21 NHL season for her standout work in her new role as a studio analyst for Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada.

What’s it like analyzing NHL games and juggling an unbelievably busy schedule that includes everything from motivational speaking to competing on Battle of the Blades? Botterill recently caught up with The Hockey News to discus her multi-dimensional career.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: Dating back to your playing career, which included competing at the game’s most elite level from 1998 to 2011, was broadcasting something you paid attention to? Was it on your radar as a potential line of work down the road, or did the idea come later in life?

JENNIFER BOTTERILL: It came a little later, but there was a little bit of intrigue, even from a young age. Growing up, playing a lot of different sports, we had an athletic family. My parents were very active and always encouraged my brother (Jason) and I to be involved in various sports. I remember watching the Olympics, and I followed and loved watching different sports, and I think that’s where my intrigue started. It was always there, but the intrigue grew for me as I was getting more experience with hockey.

And then I started to think about transitioning to life after my career as a competitive athlete, and I was really drawn to it. I loved the sport, and it was a nice way to stay connected to it but in a different capacity. I thought back to being younger and watching the Olympics and how it was so special for me to watch – and how those who covered the Olympics and shared the stories and broadcast the event made it special to me as a young viewer. As I wrapped up my playing career, I’d done more speaking events and keynote speaking, and (broadcasting) was another way to hopefully engage and connect with people and hopefully make these moments more special for them.

THN: After your playing career, you broke into broadcasting with TSN covering the Women’s World Championship and with Sportsnet and CBC covering the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Hometown Hockey. Then, you crossed over to analyzing the men’s game when you were hired as an in-game commentator working between the benches for New York Islanders games in 2018. Is it important to you that women keep breaking that barrier to cover the men’s game and not just the women’s game? The idea being “women in hockey” as opposed to “women’s hockey.”

BOTTERILL: Certainly. There was a bit of coverage (on the hiring) at the time since it was a role that A.J. Mleczko and I shared, because neither of us lived in New York. With A.J. having four kids and me with the three young ones, it wasn’t an option to be there full-time. So there was a little bit of exposure for that. But we’re hopeful that, down the road, it’s not as big of a storyline, that if you’re qualified, if you have experience, if you can provide insight regardless of race or gender, that you should be in that role. I think we’re making some strides. Yes, there’s still some work to go. If you look at the various roles in terms of playing the game, executive roles in hockey, broadcasting roles, it’s a massive industry, and the opportunity should be there for women in these various positions.

And sometimes when I make the personal comparison, I feel strongly about girls, not that they have to play hockey now, but I love that it’s a choice in North America. I feel the same way about non-playing roles or positions in hockey, whether it’s on the business side or analytics side or executive side or broadcasting side. You don’t have to do those roles, but they should be a choice for women.

THN: Talking to other analysts who work games between the benches, such as Ray Ferraro, they often mention how dangerous the job can be with pucks flying around – and how awkward it can be with players able to hear their in-game analyses. Was that the case for you during Isles games? Got any good stories to share?

BOTTERILL: My mom’s first question when I told her about the job was, ‘Is there glass in front of you?’ But that was probably the biggest surprise. I did men’s and women’s hockey at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and that venue, upon arrival, I discovered there wasn’t any glass between the benches. So it was this wide open space, and I was standing between the two teams, and there was no glass. And that was probably the first time I covered professional men’s hockey at that level, and here I was between the benches with no glass. But it was a reminder that you always have to be on. Yes, sticks come, or a couple comments from the players, but you’re right in the action. I think it helps in terms of the adrenaline and enjoying the moment. You can’t take any moments off. I would describe it as that.

But I really enjoy it. As a player, the little things, the sights, the sounds, even the smell of that ice, it takes you back in terms of enjoying the whole atmosphere of playing the game. When I was first in the role, I always wanted to be very prepared in terms of my research, but I also found as a player I did have a lot of things that came naturally in terms of what I wanted to comment on or perspective I wanted to share. That’s a result of playing the game for such a long time.

THN: If Kevin Bieksa was the breakout star everyone talked about during Sportsnet broadcasts last season, this season it's you. You’re the breakout star analyst. You’re the one people are tweeting about during games, singling you out for the great job you’re doing. Are you aware of how positive the reaction has been to your work? If so, how does it feel?

BOTTERILL: That’s very kind. Thank you for sharing that. It’s very nice feedback. I’m trying to enjoy it. I’ve been very fortunate. I feel like a lot of people in the industry have been really kind and taken the time to reach out, to call or message or share very supportive comments. A huge credit to the Sportsnet and Rogers team that they’ve been really great to make it such a nice environment to work in. Whatever night that I’ve been on, whether it’s been Caroline Cameron or Jeff Marek or David Amber or Ron MacLean, and the other analysts, everybody’s been so great. And that’s made it such a supportive and comfortable environment for me.

I’m trying to get there. It’s something I love doing, and I’m hoping people feel more informed, more entertained, more connected to the game with some of the things we’re sharing on the air. That’s something I see as a huge privilege. But I’m still focused on making sure I try to be my best, to improve, to try to bring the best content to people with the best delivery method.

It’s interesting in terms of performance on the air, and I even reflect back on many lessons I learned as an athlete in terms of how you want to be in those big moments or those opportunities, and it’s that combination of that hard work and preparation but also trusting yourself and believing in yourself and knowing the value you can offer. As a player, it was the same. For my ideal performance state as a hockey player, the description I used was “a free mind and an unburdened heart.” And as competitive or as intense as the moment could be, it was bringing that element of relaxed preparation, that free mind to help me perform my best. In this role, I’ve been trying to draw on those lessons, too, and work hard but also just trust myself to be authentic and hopefully deliver the best message.

THN: Competing on the figure skating competition reality show Battle of the Blades… is it as physically gruelling and intense as it appears to be?

BOTTERILL: Certainly. So, first of all, it was just an amazing adventure. So different. As a competitive athlete, you’re thrown back into this environment where you’re training full-time. So we’re on the ice for many hours, you’re doing off-ice things as a team, too, so it is a very demanding schedule. I did have to draw upon my experience as an athlete. I just smile, though, because it is something that was so different, and the figure skaters deserve so much credit for what they have us attempting to do in a few short weeks. They certainly exceeded my expectations. But your competitive nature, it doesn’t take long to return in terms of wanting to be your best.

All of us, you talk to any of the hockey players, our comfort levels improved a lot from the first show to the next few shows and however long we went in the show. The first time stepping on the ice and performing in that environment, it’s so foreign to us, and I can’t believe how much I learned. I give the ultimate respect to the figure skaters. I loved it. I had a great time. The best description would be an absolute adventure.

THN: Between all the life commitments, from studio analysis to reality TV competitions to parenthood to motivational speaking, how do you find a balance and stay sane? Asking for a friend (a.k.a. a father of two kids younger than four).

BOTTERILL: (laughs) You know what? I’m so fortunate. I grew up with an amazing family. And my parents taught both my brother Jason and I to have a good outlook and good perspective. There’s no question that life is busy, but with all the elements of my life, I feel so fortunate. I was taught from a young age the importance of being grateful, being thankful for the people in our lives and what we have in our lives. That’s something that’s been so consistent for me.

I remember when I was at Harvard University and training for the Olympics and trying to manage the national team, commitments to the university and professors there, I called them “little moments of appreciation.” I would often take them when I was finished a class and had to cross a bridge over the Charles River on the campus to go over to the hockey facilities. I was so busy, and I would take a little deep breath and have those moments of appreciation before I headed over to practice or a game. That’s something that’s been consistent for me throughout my life if it’s been demanding or busy. For me, in terms of my opportunities in my career now and having young kids, it’s the ultimate joy. I’m enjoying it. Days are busy, but it’s a privilege, right? To have these opportunities in my career, to be a mom. And that’s something I feel very grateful for. I’ve got a great husband and a family that’s been very supportive, grandparents to help and make all that possible.

THN: Is broadcasting the long-term goal for you? Or have you thought about exploring the management side of the game, like your brother has, and pursuing a front-office job in the sport?

BOTTERILL: It’s a great question. I love to continue to build on the elements that are in my life right now. The broadcasting world is a privilege to be a part of. I’d love to continue the path that I’m on, and the whole team at Rogers and Sportsnet has been amazing. I love keynote speaking too. It’s a chance to hopefully help people reach their potential and be their best, and that’s very rewarding for me. It was my approach as a player, too, to try and make people around me better. So to have these opportunities in my career is really special. We also have a high-performance center (Journey to Excel) where my husband (Adrian Lomonaco) and I work together. Our whole philosophy there is helping people get to the next level, wherever that might be, but to excel when they get there. Not just to make it, whether it’s to university or the national team or pro hockey, but to really be great when you get there. Those are elements of my career I’d love to continue to grow upon.

And who knows what the future holds? I love hockey, and huge respect to my brother. It’s an amazingly demanding industry, and he’s done a phenomenal job. Right now, with three young kids, I don’t think it’s on my radar right away. But I’m certainly hopeful there are women that pursue those opportunities and hopefully in the near future. We’ve seen that in baseball, and (SC Bern GM) Florence Schelling in hockey working in Europe, women in different roles in hockey. It doesn’t always have to be in management, but in different roles. It’s not necessarily on the short-term radar for me, but these other avenues are really close to my heart, and I’d love to continue to build upon them. 

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