Breaking Ground: Gardner, Jbara and Richlinski find their place in sports broadcasting

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 Jbara seen interviewing Avalanche defenceman Erik Johnson  – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara

In the male dominated industry of sports broadcasting, three women have stood out with their work with the Colorado Avalanche and the NHL.

These three women are Lauren Gardner, Lauren Jbara and Rachel Richlinski.

Gardner is currently a reporter/host with the NHL Network and the MLB Network, Jbara is currently the reporter/host for Altitude TV in which she covers the Avalanche and the Colorado Rapids. Richlinski is currently the in-arena reporter/producer for the Avalanche. She also does some stints with Altitude as well.

Prior to taking the job with the MLB and NHL networks, Gardner was the previous reporter/host with Altitude TV for the Avalanche.

Growing up in Denver, Colorado, Gardner grew up playing and watching a lot of sports, but it wasn’t until her second year in university that she realized she was interested in covering sports as a career.

“I wanted to be either a veterinarian or a fighter pilot. I come from a family of pilots and I love animals,” Gardner recalled.

Due to her time in competitive dance with the Colorado Mammoth Dance Team, and growing up dancing, Gardner used to be an NFL cheerleader for the Denver Broncos.

“The best part about being a cheerleader was the work we did in the community of over 1,200 hours per season of volunteer and community work as well as the lifelong friendships I made,” Gardner said.

Gardner got into sideline reporting and hosting by interning at a sports magazine as well as working at a regional sports network where she would later cover the CHL as a rink side reporter on the radio.

Gardner would also find herself covering college football, basketball and the NFL on CBS Sports, as well as getting the opportunity to intern with Altitude while she was in university.

While working for Altitude, Gardner’s favourite aspect was the fact she was covering her hometown teams.

With Gardner’s career in covering many sports, she said it’s tough to pick one sport that has been her favourite to cover.

“It’s been great discovering more of the nuances of each sport while also realizing that the common threads are the stories that each player, coach, fans have to tell,” Gardner said.

“Each sport has really interesting qualities that makes it exciting and interesting to cover,” she added.

Right now, Gardner is working for the MLB and NHL networks while also working for DAZN and covering boxing for them.

“DAZN is on the forefront of sports streaming on a global level and the way we cover boxing is comprehensive. Not only do you get the fights but they create long form content that is of the highest production quality telling the stories of these fighters leading up to the match,” Gardner said.

Working for the MLB and NHL Networks has also given Gardner many opportunities. So far, she has been able to attend and cover the NHL Stadium Series between the Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings, the MLB All Star Game, and the Alex Ovechkin 700th Goal Watch.

Gardner also got to host the first ever all-female baseball show. She and Jackie Redmond hosted Changeup on DAZN in August of 2019.

“Jackie and I did two shows together and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had while on air. She is such a smart, kind, strong and knowledgeable woman but she also doesn’t take herself too seriously. We had an absolute blast. I consider her a close friend,” Gardner reminisced.

Due to her covering many events, Gardner wasn’t able to pick just one favourite event as many of them have been memorable to her.

“The Kentucky Derby was great because it was guaranteed action for two minutes out of every race and the pageantry of it all was great, Super Bowl Week in NYC was incredible because of the people I was able to interview and I went to the game, Game 82 for the Avs vs Bluesin 2018 was extremely exciting and the MLB All Star Weeks were a blast,” Gardner said.

As for events she hasn’t covered, Gardner would love to one day cover a Stanley Cup Final or a World Series.

“I think there’s nothing more compelling than people putting their lives work on the line for what they’ve wanted since the day they were basically born,” she said.

Through everything she has been able to do so far, Gardner has also been able to grow more as a person.

“I’ve learned to be my most authentic self. It’s tough when you feel like you’re supposed to fit a mold of what others are but nobody can be a better you than you,” she said.

Jbara took over Gardner’s job last April after Gardner left to go work with the MLB and NHL Networks. Since then, Jbara got the chance to cover her first Avalanche game which also happened to be one of the final regular season games. She got the chance to cover the Avalanche in the playoffs against the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks, as well as travel with the Avalanche.

Growing up in Waterford, Michigan, Jbara grew up into a family in which her life revolved around sports.

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Jbara works her first opening night for the Avalanche – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara 

“My dad coached almost every single team that I’ve played for growing up and all my brothers and I, we all played every sport. We played soccer, volleyball, baseball, softball, basketball and hockey,” Jbara recalled.

In a way, you could say Jbara’s love for sports as a child ignited her passion for wanting to work in sports media.

“You’re not just doing things by yourself. You’re doing it surrounded by other people and supporting other people and being supported by other people and that’s so important to have that sense of community in whatever you do,” Jbara said.

Similar to Gardner, Jbara didn’t realize she wanted to work in sports as a career until her university years. Jbara started going to the University of Michigan for neuroscience, but after having a talk with her father, realized that a career in sports media was more her passion.

While at the University of Michigan, Jbara met JT Compher, who is currently a forward for the Avalanche. She also played for the club soccer team there too.

“He went to the University of Michigan as well, which was really funny. He was a couple of years younger than me too so he’s two years younger than me. Just making those connections and seeing how those connections play out today where I’m covering a team that’s JT’s on,” Jbara said.

While on the soccer team, Jbara and her teammates got the chance to go out to nationals in Arizona when Jbara was a sophomore. Although the team didn’t do well, Jbara remembers how fun the experience was.

“Just the laughs and smiles that were shared but just that trip to Arizona was so much fun, just being surrounded by other people that support you and that are interested in the same things,” she said.

When Jbara got started in her sports career, she ended up with three jobs at one time in her senior year of university.

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Jbara working in her time with the Detroit Pistons – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara 

From October 2014 to May 2015, Jbara was the in-arena host for the Grand Rapids Drive basketball team of the NBA G league. In March of 2015 she got a job as the in-arena reporter for the Detroit Red Wings, and then right after she graduated, she got a job with State Champs Sports Networks, a high school sports show.

Jbara then got her job with Altitude due to an email mix up. She was working in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons and she had the executive producer asking him to look at her reels because she knew the Denver Nuggets had a job opening. The email went to the producer’s junk email so by the time he got it the Nuggets position had been filled.

“He emailed me again and he said I can’t your reel out of my mind. We have a job opening coming up for MLS, covering the Colorado Rapids. Would you be interested in possibly talking about that and being interested in a job like that,” Jbara explained.

A few weeks later, around the time Gardner was interviewing for the MLB and NHL Networks, Jbara got an email asking how well she knew hockey.

“After my interview, about two weeks later, they called me and Kenny was like we’d love to offer you a position for this job. We want you to move out here in two weeks so it was a quick turnaround and two weeks later I was here, April 1st so almost a year ago,” Jbara said.

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Jbara and Marc Moser pose for a photo together in Nashville, one of the cities Jbara has said has been lovely to visit whenever she goes there – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara

Jbara began shadowing Dick Lombardi for the final regular season games during the last week in April and then worked her first game which happened to be a playoff game against the Flames in the first round.

“I went just doing a couple of hits on the pregame show, being a sideline reporter for game 4 at Pepsi Center against Calgary to then hearing, hey you did a good job for game 4, do you want to go to Calgary for game 5, how do you feel about that. My heart was racing,” Jbara reminisced.

Jbara can’t pinpoint any one memorable moment from this year as her favourite because all of them have been. She loved seeing Cale Makar score his first NHL goal in game three of the first round last year. She loved watching the Avalanche defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime on February 8, and she loved going on the team’s first road trip of the season in October. She also loved getting to sing the national anthem at the Pepsi Center on January 2.

“The first trip of the season, we went to the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay and Florida and having that experience was amazing too,” Jbara said.

“Just being able to experience being on the road. I think for me, everything has been memorable because it’s like everything for me is a first,” she added.

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Jbara working at an event for ESPN – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara 

While working with the Avalanche, Jbara has gotten the chance to interview many athletes, and she has learned that they all have unique qualities which make them memorable to interview.

“If you go to someone like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, he always gives great answers and Landy always is really elaborate on his answers. Tyson Barrie has always been a nice person to interview and he’s just one of the nicest people in general. All the guys are great,” she explained.

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Jbara got the opportunity to sing the national anthem ahead of the January 2 game against the St. Louis Blues – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara 

So far, Jbara’s favourite thing about working at Altitude is the people she has met.

“Working with Mose (Marc Moser) and Kyle Keefe and Ryker (Mark Rycroft) and Pete (Peter McNab) and even the people behind the scenes, our replay operator and our graphics guy and our producer and our director. It’s a family. On the road, at home, it’s a family. We pick on each other but it’s all out of good fun. We laugh together, we’re sad together, we’re happy together,” she said.

She also enjoys the freedom of working with Altitude and the fact you get to be yourself.

“I couldn’t have ended up working for a better company than Altitude because they really do give us the freedom to be who we are but also talk about support at the same time so we could be fun but also be serious at the same time which is really cool,” Jbara said.

Jbara also enjoys working for Altitude because she can sense the fans’ passion.

“That’s what makes it different for me is I can sense the fans’ passion and I think that motivates the players too. The players love seeing how involved the fans are and for me, it’s cool because my job is to be a bridge between the fans and the players,” Jbara said about what it’s like working for the Avalanche compared to other sports.

Jbara has also loved covering the Avalanche events throughout the year, but one event when she was working for the Detroit Pistons really stands out to her.

“We went and spent the day with veterans around Christmas time at the Detroit Veteran Shelter. That was an incredible event,” Jbara said.

Jbara also loves the aspect of traveling with the team due to getting to see so many new places around North America.

“I had never been to Vancouver before and that was so beautiful. I love Vancouver so much. Vancouver was amazing. It’s just cool seeing all the different arenas in all the different cities. Nashville is always a great place to go and visit,” Jbara said about her favourite places to visit.

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Jbara interviews Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara

Jbara has also realized the part of her job she loves is the chance to be a vessel between the fans and the players.

“I just love being able to experience the games with the team, experience the games with the fans and hopefully make that experience better for other people that are watching the game,” Jbara said.

As for her future dreams, Jbara hopes to one day work a national hockey game like what Kathryn Tappen does, or to work for ESPN or Fox Sports for football.

Jbara has also had the chance to grow as a person through everything she has experienced so far.

“I’ve grown in confidence over the years and just knowing what I’m capable of doing and what I can bring to a broadcast and what I can bring to the table,” Jbara said.

“I’ve always been a people person; I’ve always loved being around other people but just growing in those interactions and growing from those interactions and knowing what you can learn from other people. It’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is how much you can learn from just talking to other people and experiencing what other people experience,” she added.

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Jbara covering basketball for Fox Sports – Photo provided by Lauren Jbara 

Similar to Jbara, Richlinski also works for the Avalanche. Richlinski, however, is employed by the Avalanche directly and is their in-arena host/reporter.

Growing up in south Louisiana, Richlinski participated in softball and volleyball. Due to her sister and parents not being sports fans, she’s not sure where her love for sports came from.

Richlinski went to Louisiana State University (LSU) where she majored in journalism with a concentration in broadcast. She also minored in sports studies and her first on air job had her relocate to Jackson, Mississippi.

While at LSU, Richlinski realized what she wanted to do as a career when she was working for Tiger TV, a student-run TV station on the LSU campus.

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Before broadcasting with the Avalanche, Richlinski has had to be a multi-skilled journalist – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

Following her time at LSU, Richlinski moved out to Mississippi where she got the chance to cover the Mississippi State women’s basketball team.

“They’ve been so good the years that I was there. They made it to the national championship game twice. Unfortunately, they lost both times but it was really great to cover that team, follow that team for an entire three seasons when they were so good but it’s not just about covering a winning team,” Richlinski said.

“For me, it was this is a women’s basketball team and at a time and a world when a lot of people think women’s sports don’t matter, it was really important for me and a great treat for me to put those women on display, make sure they got the coverage that they deserved because they were really good and they worked really hard and I wanted to make sure they got just as much media attention as the men’s team,” she added.

Richlinski also got the chance to cover the Mississippi State baseball team at the College World Series.

After moving back home to Baton Rouge following the ending of her contract in Mississippi, Richlinski ended up applying for the Avalanche job when it popped up during her job search.

“It was an incredible moment. I’ll never forget it. I just got home from the gym. I was making some dinner. I was waiting for the call. My boss had told me, he’d given me a window of when to expect to hear from him on the decision,” Richlinski recalled.

“I was heating up a pan for whatever food I was making and I saw the call from Denver, freaked out, dropped what I was doing, answered the phone, ran to my dad’s room to see if he was home. Put it on speaker so it’s either going to be good news or bad news and I wanted him to be there for it and they made the offer and I was just so ecstatic,” she added.

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Richlinski working for Tiger TV in her time at LSU – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

Richlinski made the move to Denver in September and began working for the Avalanche a week before the pre season started.

Due to everything being new to her when she moved to Denver, Richlinski’s first month covering the Avalanche was a whirlwind of emotions.

“I just moved across the country and I didn’t know anyone. A new job, a new sport, a new opportunity. A lot of newness so it was very challenging,” Richlinski said.

“But my boss and my team were so great and so patient with me and so encouraging of me that everything just kind of worked out so it flew by and while it was challenging and a little stressful at times, it was so much fun and I feel like that’s a big moment in my life that I’ll never forget,” she added.

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Richlinski from her time working at WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

So far, Richlinski’s most memorable moments working for the Avalanche have been opening night as well as the game against the Nashville Predators in November when the Avalanche defeated the Predators 9-4.

“Definitely that game against Nashville when they scored a million goals. That was such an awesome game. I’ll never forget that. That was so much fun. Opening night was pretty awesome, especially my first opening night with them. That’s something I won’t forget for a pretty long time. Those two are the ones that really stand out,” Richlinski said.

“My parents coming to their first game was really cool for me. Unfortunately, the Avs lost in overtime but that was cool and experiencing the game with my family was a really cool feeling. Those are like my top three,” she added.

Richlinski has also enjoyed interviewing the players and has noted Gabriel Landeskog is as nice as he appears.

“When I first started, I would do these coffee talk interviews which is just these quick interviews that I’ll use in my pregame show and I interviewed him and I remember being so nervous, my first time interviewing one of the players and he made me feel so comfortable,” Richlinski reminisced.

“And even after the interview he took the time to ask how I was settling in because he knew I had just moved here. Hey, how are you settling in, how are you liking Colorado, if you ever need anything, let me know and he might not remember that but I definitely remember it because it really made me feel more at home and more comfortable and more accepted within the organization,” she added.

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Richlinski after opening night for the Avalanche. She got a game puck to commemorate the memory – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

Richlinski also believes her time in volleyball and softball have helped her in her career due to the time managements skills she learned while playing those sports.

“You got to be a team player for whatever job you get, time management is huge, especially in the career I chose. Understanding what’s it’s like to be an athlete,” she said.

As for the future, Richlinski hopes to one day travel with the team and see other arenas.

“I’d love to be able to travel with the team one day and to be able to do that and I want to go to Canada. I’ve never been to Canada and I see so many pictures, hear so many great things and I think it’d be really cool now that I’m so invested in the sport to go to a place like Canada and experience that so hopefully that will happen in the future,” she explained.

Richlinski also loves that working for the Avalanche is a job she loves going to each and every day.

“It doesn’t feel like a boring job. The job is really fun. In the office, my coworkers are so much fun. Fun to be around, great people. They truly feel like family and that’s really important to me, especially moving to a place I’ve never been, I don’t know anyone, I don’t have family here,” Richlinski said.

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Richlinski has also done some sideline reporting with Altitude TV on top of her job with the Avalanche – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

Throughout her sports media career, Richlinski has grown into the person she is today and she has learned to take things slow and not be as impatient as she used to be.

“I’m very impatient and I need to just go with the flow a little bit more and I feel like I’m getting better at that. It’s really hard because you want everything fast and right now and you have to learn to slow down a little bit so I’ve really been working on being more patient and also not being so hard on myself,” Richlinski said.

“I think, especially as an on-air talent and reporter, we’re all really hard on ourselves and we’re our own biggest critics so it’s important to just kind of remember you’re doing the best you can and that’s often good enough,” she added.

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One of Richlinski’s many hobbies is to hang out with her dog Channing – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

Although these three women have working for the Colorado Avalanche in common, they have also created many deep relationships and friendships with people through working in sports media.

“I also have friends that are all over. We met in Mississippi and now they’re in Florida and now they’re in Chicago and now they’re in Charlotte and Texas. It’s really cool for me to know that I have friends all over the place,” Richlinski said.

“Any city I go to, I feel like I know someone there and I think that’s what’s really cool about my job is you meet some really genuine people along the way and they really stay with you because they understand the lifestyle, they understand that everyone moved around and everyone’s busy but at the end you can give them a call and they’ll be there,” she added.

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Richlinski during one of her first Avalanche regular season games. At this game, the Avalanche defeated the Minnesota Wild 4-2 on Oct. 5, 2019 – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

“I wouldn’t say that one relationship stands out more than others but I would say it’s just been cool seeing all the different relationships and the amount of people that you meet and not just people that you work with but on top of that, fans that you meet and you could just learn so much from every single person that you come in contact with and I think that’s the biggest thing is just cherishing all those relationships and learning from those relationships because without those people that I’ve met over all the years of every single team and every single job, I would not be where I am right now and I owe it to those people who have helped build me and support me so much,” Jbara said.

“I would say the relationships I have formed with the other strong women in this industry,” Gardner said. “We have all lifted each other up and supported one another and that’s so important.”

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During one of the Colorado Avalanche’s Amateur Hockey Department’s Try Hockey For Free Event, Richlinski decided to give it a try – Photo provided by Rachel Richlinski 

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