E.J. Hradek started his career clacking away at his typewriter in Westchester County, New York, covering high school sports games for his local paper. Now, he’s a senior reporter for the NHL Network, a fan-favorite host and has most recently dipped his toe into broadcasting NHL games.
A prominent figure in the sports media industry, Hradek has lived a life full of hockey. His love, passion and knowledge of the sport has propelled him to a career many dream about, and he continues to make strides.
“I’ve wanted to be in sports since I was pretty much a baby,” Hradek said. “I fell in love with hockey and I’ve been kind of a rink rat my whole life.”
I was lucky enough to pick the expert’s brain about all things NHL and beyond earlier this week. As both a fan of the game and Hradek’s work, it was, no doubt, the best 25 minutes of my Monday.
Selfishly, I asked about the Rangers and their burst to the top of the standings this season. For the first time in five years, it feels like they can shed the “rebuild team” label and hold their own as true competitors.
“I think the Rangers are a really interesting team because they’re at the start of the early part of their window of opportunity,” Hradek said. “They’ve got great goaltending with Shesterkin and they’re a good team, and they’re a fascinating watch over the next several years.”
Outside of the Eastern Conference, Hradek has his eyes on the Colorado Avalanche. The group has yet to see the third round of the playoffs in the past couple of years, but has been a powerhouse in the league for the past few years. Even though the Avs have been on a run recently, Hradek acknowledged the postseason is a whole other animal.
“I always say the playoffs come down to two things for me, matchups and injuries,” he said. “How healthy are you and how do you match up against a team you’re locked in there with for seven games.”
Colorado topped the league at the end of the 2020-2021 regular season with 82 points, but were unable to get past the Vegas Golden Knights after sweeping St. Louis in the first round. They’re once again near the top of the league this year, but the team will have to truly prove themselves when May rolls around.
And then there are the teams that always seem to get it together right when it’s needed. Squads like the Capitals, Penguins and Bruins have been forces in the NHL for the past decade and produced some of the most exceptional franchise athletes of all time.
Hradek said players including Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Alex Ovechkin have created a winning culture in their clubs — and are still bonafide star players in the league despite being on the back end of their respective careers.
But the reality is the NHL’s staple teams are going to eventually change. And the guys who have been the face of the league for years will inevitably age out — at this point, sooner rather than later. With that comes a new generation of hockey players, many of whom are bred from our very own Hockey East and the college hockey world in general.
“It’s a younger league than it’s ever been,” Hradek said. “I think this is a testimony really to the path of going to the USHL and the US Juniors and then playing college hockey. That path is so much stronger now than it was many years ago.”
We’ve seen this hold true within our own program at Boston University. Whether it’s the AHL or NHL, Terriers have made the jump to the pros and normalized using college as a stop on the way to the big stage. Some guys are ready to make that next step. But, Hradek said, in some cases, these young players could greatly benefit from a year or two more with their college groups.
He pointed to Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar who are now some of the biggest names in the game but took the time to develop at the collegiate level before leaving the nest. Granted, it’s a unique case for each player and their respective draft team, but some extra practice never hurt anybody.
That sentiment holds true in Hradek’s own career, as he has practiced — and arguably perfected — nearly all areas of the sports media industry. He’s gone from newspaper print to magazine writing, television, broadcasting, radio and has even held a stint as a pro scout for the Dallas Stars for a couple years.
“I’ve been getting to call games lately and do play-by-play for games for the NHL Network and that’s been just a dream come true, even at this late stage of things,” Hradek said. “I think it keeps you fresh to do different things in life.”
Hradek’s resumé is about as filled as can be at this point, but what shined through the most when talking to him was the genuine love he has for the game and his job.
“I’ve been as lucky as anybody in the world,” Hradek said.