Alexandra Ackerman is a teacher in the South Seneca Central School District. She can still recall her first Syracuse Crunch game back in 2004. That is when she started going to watch the local AHL affiliate, starting a lifelong journey from fan, to sportswriter, to podcaster.
Four years after that first season she started blogging about the Crunch. Then in 2011 had her work recognized and picked up by SB Nation. That was a big moment for her, and something she recalls fondly.
At one point, Alexandra was associate editor of Raw Charge, tasked with handling the Crunch’s team of minor league hockey writers. For the last several years the Crunch have been an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But affiliations change, and so has the work she does covering minor league hockey in the Finger Lakes and Central New York. In 2019, Alexandra launched a podcast, which took the written work she had been doing for a over a decade, turning it into a new product altogether.
“It only took a few games during the 04-05 season to really hook me,” she said, talking about the fandom that drove it all. While the market for full-time, professional sports writers is relatively small in today’s media landscape, she knew she could carve out a niche if she kept at it. “I think 2007-08 was a really big year,” she recalled. “It was a pretty mediocre year for fans until about March, then the team won 15 games in a row and blasted into the playoffs. That cemented me as a fan, but even more so as someone who wanted to cover the team. Now, looking back, there are players who have retired, or moved on from professional hockey, and I’m still here.”
One of the biggest challenges for fans or those reporting on AHL teams is the fact that it is a “feeder league.” “Your team roster is kind of at the mercy of your NHL club, so it can try your patience at times. But there are these unique situations where your team is shaped by future NHL stars, or AHL veterans who are trying to prolong their careers, and for everyone involved it’s a real passion project. Especially for fans.”
There are plenty of those, even away from Syracuse. And as the pandemic showed with work from home becoming commonplace, people like Alexandra have been working remotely for a decade. Because AHL reporters are often freelancers it means blending a full-time career and part-time, side hustle is standard practice.
“I can recall when this started, it was 2008 when I started blogging. It was a WordPress site I built with a friend. We had been on message boards, which were another common thing from the early-2000s. We weren’t credentialed media at the time, weren’t considered professionals, so it was a hobby back then.”
It’s more than that now, but getting the fan perspective is crucial, Alexandra said, noting these clubs could not exist without really strong fan bases. “They don’t have the means to exist with mediocre fanbases,” she explained. “Professional clubs can get away with that in a way minor league organizations cannot. And fans need a place to go. That’s why all of this is possible and still thriving. Fans of AHL hockey, or even the Crunch are constantly looking for a place to go.”
She said it has always been a side hustle, but in recent years the gig has taken on a more concrete role. “I have a job, I’m a teacher. I work for a school district. So this has always been a side hustle. But it’s taken little more concrete role in my life over the past couple years. But obviously, it’s still not my main thing,” Alexandra explained.
Finding balance was important. “Balancing my own mental health with really trying to work as a fan and as a media person, and also maintaining my full-time career were challenges at times, but so rewarding,” she added. “It can feel really overwhelming at times, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Another important point for Alexandra is keeping her personal space personal online. She has professional accounts where sports pieces are featured and another for her day-to-day life. It has helped separate out some of the challenges associated with being published on the internet. “I also don’t read the comments. I used to, but I don’t anymore.”
Alexandra said the advice she has for young people is the same she would offer herself after getting started: “You can’t wave a magic wand and make the day 30 hours long. Listen to yourself, because you know, it’s easy to not do it.”
She said simplifying is as important as diversifying, too. “It’s easy to get caught up in the latest platform or trend, but stay true to your values and what makes your passion burn,” Alexandra added. “Listen to your instincts, you know the right way to go.”
Alex currently writes for The SinBin, a site that covers multiple levels of minor league professional hockey.