Slap-Shots in CyberSpace

Editor Mike Secosky explains how the hockey magazine that choked in print became the Internet's fighting chicken

by Jessica Strelitz

Le coq sportif, in French, means the fighting chicken. "Le Coq Sportif" is also the unlikely name of a hockey Internet magazine site recently inducted into the Web Platinum Club 100 as one of the top 100 sites on the Internet. A site that had over 20,000 hits a day mid- way through the National Hockey League season last year, is actually maintained by a group of four college students at Penn State. In 1994, the four founding fathers crashed the 1994 NHL draft and were told they were too young for press credentials. Today they boast correspondents in every major league hockey city and they all have press passes.

In the beginning there weren't big plans for "Le Coq Sportif-Guide to Hockey"(LCS). Intentions were to work on it for a season or two and then quit. Now there is potential for long life. As one of the top five percent of Web sites on the Internet, it was recently given the prestigious honor of a Yahoo Sunglasses award. LCS attracts you with daily updated statistics and trade news then scores with humorous and informative writing. The latest issue has a review of a new album of hockey songs released by a band called the Hanson Brothers, named after the famous "Slapshot" goons. LCS is in direct competition with "The Hockey News", the print hockey magazine with the widest North American circulation. Why tackle an icon? But can bring laughter to a sport where there is more cheering for blood than scoring? I went to the one with the answers; the man who maintains the "LCS" email, Mike Secosky. As the self proclaimed Computer Boy of "Le Coq", Secosky is the man who put "Le Coq Sportif" on-line.

His love for hockey began early. He has played street hockey since 1987, and in 1989 when Dek hockey (organized street hockey) became popular, his street hockey friends decided to form a team. The next season, the Greensburg, PA native watched Mario Lemiuex lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to their first of two consecutive Stanley Cup national titles. This iced his desires. He tried out for his high school's ice hockey team that year.

"In three years of ice hockey, I never made it off of the JV squad. I wasn't that bad, but being 5'4" doesn't impress the coach. But I had a good time and continued to play street or Dek hockey every day. As a result I didn't do much school work. Hockey was a better time." And it continues to be today.

When Secosky realized that his workload wasn't going to be too heavy at college, he began looking things to satisfy his other interests. He turned to what he knew best. Hockey.

"We started LCS during my second year at college. It was during the summer when we didn't have much to do, so we thought why not start our own hockey publication? We didn't like "The Hockey News" and that was the only source of hockey information at the time. We needed something more entertaining, like a TV comedy with sports."

Secosky thought "The Hockey News" was becoming stale in the mid eighties. The cheap pictures, grainy newsprint and overpriced subscripion rates were only the beginning. "Our editor cancelled his subscription because he was sick of getting his trade news two weeks late. "THN" is out-dated by the time you get it, whereas electronic media allows up-to- the-minute inclusion of information. That happens in print as well, but then you have to wait for a week for printing and distribution. We are information on demand."

But, like "The Hockey News" is today, originally "Le Coq" was a printed journal. But people were unwilling to pay eight dollars a year for 25 issues of LCS in print. Without paid subscriptions it cost too much to print and distribute the 30 page journal. So, instead of paying for paper and distribution, they went electronic.

"It was my idea to publish on-line. At first we would compile the information and distribute it via email. But the mailing got too large." The first web browsers were developed in the early 90's, and when the technology came to Penn State , Secosky decided to try and put "LCS" on the World Wide Web. "After surfing the Web for a while, you get an idea of what works and what doesn't. It also helps to be creative. "

Mike had no experience in electronic media when he started. As he progressed, he learned about writing, editing and on-line publishing. Secosky developed the magazine-type format after learning the HTML (web-page code) necessary for publishing through practice.

"We publish new issues on Tuesday afternoon or evening, and work on the new issue begins the Sunday before. On Sunday, I layout the HTML and graphics for the entire issue. After that I spend the remainder of the night writing. " Remainder of the night? The man doesn't sleep.

Secosky wants to create a niche. "THN" has become the hockey lover's TV Guide. But it has never seen any serious competition. Now, with the introduction of flashy expansion teams and national game coverage on Sunday afternoons on the Fox network, the NHL is more commercial. ESPN and "Sports Illustrated" both introduced all-NHL issues this fall. Secosky thinks that "LCS" can compete with these smart magazines.

"Of course, there is something about a print magazine that people like. Maybe it's the ownership of that stack of paper, something physical to hold for a few bucks. That's what we're used to, we grew up with printed magazines. I think as society becomes more accustomed to it, and a new generation is raised with it, electronic media will become the norm. On-line publications will be the publishing medium of the future."

He continued, "Short attentions spans, like those of our audience, do tend to favor electronic formats. With the Web you can be reading about hockey and then the next second visit another site with information on the newest PEZ dispensers." The magazine is a labor of love. The fact that it has not turned a profit yet does not surprise Secosky. He isn't complaining. He's looking to the future. "Basically, I am crazy enough and dedicated enough to stick with "LCS" despite no financial gain. Right now, on-line advertising is not yet a way to make money. There is not a single site on the Web that profits from it, not even sites like Yahoo. They mainly break even. I'm working towards financial success. I'd like to make "LCS" a career and am taking steps to get there. In fact, starting this season the magazine will be the hockey news source for America On-Line. It means a greater work load, but will provide us with a considerable stream of revenue." Secosky will be spending extra time at Penn State to finish his degree in chemical engineering. But that's not where he'll stop. Secosky has discovered in his time of greatest learning, exactly what makes life wonderful; doing what you love.

"I could sleep more, or at all, but then I wouldn't get anything done. My parents think I'm crazy for doing so much work. Maybe I am. But I'm having so much fun with it. Hockey is the greatest game in the world. And the magazine doesn't effect my grades. Well, don't ask my parents about that."

You can check out Secosky's pub at http://www.canadas.net/sports/Sportif/issues/.