/Behind the Scenes of a NHL Broadcast and a Dream Realized

Behind the Scenes of a NHL Broadcast and a Dream Realized

If you have been following Good Night, Good Hockey at all for the last few months, you would know that I, Dylan Coyle, am the founder of GNGHockey. However, I never had a chance to really introduce myself.

Ever since I was in fourth grade, I have wanted to become a sports announcer. Over the years, I have made sure to gain a lot of experience in the world of broadcasting as well as making sure to network with people in the business.

I started off doing local little league games over the PA system. Then, I got involved with my school’s news program. Over the last few years, I have announced many live streams of sporting events for a local high school, Avon Grove. Side note: Avon Grove is also my school’s biggest rival, so I have gotten tons of flak for announcing for them! I have announced hockey, baseball, basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, and even esport auto racing. Now, I have also gotten to become friends with many people in the business: Jim Jackson from the Flyers, Marc Zumoff from the Sixers, Chris O’Connell from FOX29, and Rob Ellis from 97.5, to name a few. In fact, Jackson and Ellis wrote 2 of my letters of recommendations for college applications! I have been on WIP in studio a few times when Rob used to work for them.

On a tour of Temple in October, the tour guide got my in touch with his friend, Ryan Frascella, the assistant manager of the WHIP sports department, Temple’s radio station. Ryan invited me into the studio, and I was able to meet and talk to Ed LeFurge, among others. Eric and JT invited me into shadow their show, and on the last commercial break, they put me on the spot and mic’d me up. I partook in the last segment of their show, and they all seemed to be impressed. In January, I actually announced the 2nd period of the Temple hockey game with Patrick Johnstone.

I have been a part of the broadcast crew for a couple of Reading Royals games this year, including last Friday vs Adirondack and February 19th vs Elmira. Mark Thompson, the announcer of the Royals, has been extremely kind and generous in allowing me to announce with the team. I will continue to do some broadcasts next year with the Royals as well. I have been a color commentator for the entire game minus the last 10 minutes of the 2nd period, because I then take over play-by-play duties on the broadcast.

If you want to take a look at my demo reel, here it is.

Needless to say, my dream is to be a sports broadcaster.

On March 13, the day of the WFC Takeover,  I was able to go into the booth with Jim Jackson and Bill Clement for the Flyers game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was an absolutely amazing experience, and I only hope to fulfill my dream of working in that booth someday.

A Dream Realized

The smell of grilled hot dogs and burgers was in the air in lot D of the Wells Fargo Center. It was a beautiful day, but the threat of a blizzard was looming. Thankfully, Mother Nature was kind enough to hold the snow back for just a bit longer. Myself, along with 149 other people, were participating in the WFC Takeover, an event that I run where 150 people rent the Wells Fargo Center to play hockey, have a tailgate, and go to the Flyers game that night.

The tailgate is always the most exciting part of this event. With a number of people enjoying the food, some street hockey, and conversing with others, it was an absolutely fantastic sight to see.

The tailgate is not a time of rest for me, however. When you organize an event, I believe it is necessary to make sure you are talking to everyone that you can talk to while at the event. It’s a good show of face, but it truly was a matter of me loving to talk to everyone. I seriously loved everyone that was there that day.

While I was making the rounds, the Philly Hockey Guys, Andy and Ken, from the Philly Hockey Guys podcast, were recording audio bites for their Takeover podcast. I knew that they wanted to get a bite from myself that day.

We were going over the usual things, such as how the game went, if I tried to collect a bounty on Andy, and why I was wearing a suit.

Me being interviewed by the Philly Hockey Guys

Did I mention I was wearing a suit? OK, maybe it was just a shirt-and-tie combo, but I was looking fresh.

I was wearing a suit because I was going into the broadcast booth with my broadcast idol, Jim Jackson, that night.

It was something that had been in the works for years. I knew Jackson from 8th grade. How did I get connected to him? Through a Tweet I sent to him. I will always thank Twitter because of that. Over the years, he was broadcast coach of sorts to me, but I truly loved talking to him and discussing what a broadcast would be like.

I remember making an Instagram post in the Summer before 9th grade with me saying that I would be going in the booth with Jackson sometime soon. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen that year or the next. During that time, I was moving forward in sports broadcasting in my own life. I was announcing more and more and putting my name out there.

Last year, in my junior year of high school, Jackson and I made a date of February 25, 2016, for me to shadow him in the booth. I was so excited. Finally, I was going to be in the booth that I one day hoped to announce in. Unfortunately, that was all for naught; due to a rule just recently put in place, you had to be 18 years old to be in the press box. I was 17.

It really sucked, to say the least. To add insult to injury, I was on my death-bed with a bad case of strep throat. Am I exaggerating? Possibly, but I wanted to die at that time. I had to miss announcing Avon Grove High School’s South Division ICSHL title for high school hockey. To this day, it was the only championship win I ever had the possibility to announce, as they lost in heart-breaking fashion to DMA the next year.

Back to the point. Jackson and I planned this year for the shadow to happen. I figured it would be a great idea to schedule it for the day of the WFC Takeover.

Now you are caught up.

I was getting ready to head to the executive entrance of the Wells Fargo Center to meet with Jim Jackson. Although I was extremely excited, it was a little disappointing to leave everyone at the tailgate so early. I said goodbye to everyone, and in a moment that felt like I was a gladiator heading off to my final quest, I walked to the doors of the arena.

It was 5:30. Jackson was waiting for me at the entrance. I walked in, and an immediate burst of excitement rose through me. I was finally going to be in the booth. Now, I am not one to be star-struck whatsoever, and that was still true here. However, It was surreal to be a high school kid in this situation.

Jim Jackson and I
Jim Jackson and I, Dylan Coyle, in the Executive Entrance

My mom and cousin were with me, and they got a chance to talk to Jackson for a few minutes before we headed down the hall and to the elevator. Putting a media credential around my head, I followed Jackson.

Today, he was running just a little bit late. The game’s broadcast started at 7pm. Walking into the press box was amazing; there were people everywhere that I recognized, from Jody Shelly to Kimmo Timonen. The thing I love most about being in the press at AHL and ECHL games is that it normalizes everything. This was no different.

Jackson stopped to talk to someone from the press for a couple of minutes near the food station. Taking it all in, he asked if I wanted coffee. I don’t drink coffee, so I respectfully declined. His response? “Oh, you will need coffee in this business!” Good to know.

We continued moving. To my right was all sorts of stations set up for the press to sit at. There were different levels of seating for the media, and they were given tons of space.

We walked into a small corridor, and to the right was a door with the label of ‘Comcast SportsNet’.

This was the place.

We walked into the room, and it was a very small and cozy box. Throughout the entire night, there were around five people in there at a maximum, including me. It was a tight fit, but it gave the feeling of a hug, almost inviting you into the room.

Jackson introduced me to the in-booth director, Bud. Bud was the man who made sure everything went smoothly in the booth. You could easily tell that he and Jackson were very used to each other because of the banter being thrown back-and-forth.

Jackson also introduced me to someone who didn’t need an introduction: Stanley Cup winner Bill Clement. Clement was a very kind person. Early on, he seemed to be a bit quiet around me, but as the hours ticked away into the night, he was loose and joking with me.

This was insane. I was just talking with Bill Clement and Jim Jackson as if it was completely normal. And don’t get me wrong, it is completely normal. They are two professionals who have an awesome job, but they are also people we all hear (and some people have watched play) on a game-to-game basis. It was something special.

The first job of the day was recording Jackson’s prerecorded bits. Some people may not know that most of what is said in terms of advertising is a prerecorded bit. Whenever the period ends on a CSN Philly broadcast, you may hear, “The 1st period is brought to you by…” That is recorded prior to the actual game itself. The intro videos and the game previews (the clip following the intro to the broadcast) are prerecorded as well.

Jackson is given a plethora of these so-called ‘game drops’ to say before the game. For the intro, he is given the freedom to say what he feels works best for the game at hand. For this particular game against Columbus, there were a few errors in the text for the prerecorded videos, and they were spotted before making it to air. I actually spotted an error; there was an advertisement for the Philadelphia Union’s home opener that actually happened a few days beforehand, and I caught that. Yes, I felt like a champion. They weren’t even showing the standings anymore due to the fact that they were so far out of playoff contention at that point.

After that, some time passed. Bud let me see what papers were being used for the broadcast: the game drops, the media notes, the broadcast notes, and the broadcast schedule. The broadcast schedule was extremely specific, with the times at the beginning of the broadcast being down to the second. Every ad was at a specific time, every promotion, every moment they would go down to Chris Therien between the benches. It was all there. The broadcast sheet was absolutely wild. One was made for each team. I replicated the template on Google Docs and made it for the Reading Royals game I would announce on March 24, and linked is what the sheet looked like for the Royals.

Jeff Rimer, the Columbus play-by-play broadcaster, came into the CSN booth to talk over some lineups with Jackson. He wanted to confirm the lineups of the Flyers, and he gave the info to Jackson that Sergei Bobrovsky would be starting that night. It’s a cool bit of comradery between the two broadcasters that is reminiscent of goaltender relationships.

One last prerecorded bit had to be filmed before the start of the broadcast, and that was the booth’s ‘Standout Stars’ that would be aired on the pregame show. The next thing that would make it to air would be the actual broadcast itself.

Jackson sat to the left of Clement, and each broadcaster had a TV monitor to their side, including one that was behind both of them. Clement has an extra monitor for the moments he has to use a virtual pen on-air. The screen had a sign that said something to the likes of ‘NO PENS. STYLUSES ONLY’. Well, they must’ve had an issue sometime before with a pen…

The Booth

To my left was a pane of glass that separated the Columbus broadcasters and the Philadelphia broadcasters. Jody Shelly, the Blue Jackets’ color commentator and a former Flyers player, was separated by a mere pane of glass and about a foot from me. It was pretty tight up in that area, remember!

The view from the booth was fantastic. It was dead-center to the center ice red line, and you could see the numbers and names from the top-down position. It is extremely easy to see when plays are developing, and it is also why my favorite place to sit at a game is high up.

As the broadcast was starting, I grabbed the headset that was laid out for me and put it on. I was able to hear Jackson, Clement, and Therien, as well as the producers from downstairs in the production truck.

The producer of a broadcast is so essential to keep the broadcasters informed on what is going on. Jackson said that the most important thing for them is to be able to predict what will happen. The producers were always letting the broadcast team know when they would be going to commercial, when Clement had to do an ad drop, and when Therien would be brought up. Whenever a graphic, stat, or replay was on on the broadcast, the producers made sure Jackson, Clement, and Therien were prepared for it. This helps them easily spout off what they want to say next.

When the Flyers go on away broadcasts, the production crew changes. It is much easier at home games to do the broadcasts, because the same people (except for slight changes) will be working every game. It builds chemistry, and because they work together so much, everyone knows what the other person will do in a given situation. It is much harder on road-trips due to the chemistry not always being there. That’s why, as Flyers fans know, the broadcast signal may cut out at certain points during away games (the Minnesota – Philadelphia game from a few nights ago is an example).

For the 2nd period, I was to go down to the production truck for Comcast SportsNet. The difference in atmospheres between the broadcast booth and the truck was astonishing; it was like walking into a blizzard when I walked into the truck.

The first thing I noticed when I took my seat was not the group of people who were constantly yelling, talking, and working, but the amount of camera angles that illumniated on the huge screen that was before me. It was insane! Every angle that you would see on a broadcast was right there. If I wanted to watch a 24/7 camera on Columbus coach John Tortorella, I could. As per usual, that was very entertaining.

The Production Truck

The people in the room were not only yelling, but they really were working. It was a constant juggling act between the producers, camera directors, graphics directors, audio producers, and Chris Therien deciding on who to interview during the intermission. Therien wanted to interview Travis Konecny, but since he was in the locker room, he decided on Brayden Schenn.

On a broadcast, the announcers have cough buttons. This button allows the broadcasters to take their voice off the air and gives them the ability to talk directly to the production truck. It’s a very important aspect to keeping a broadcast running smoothly in case of confusion.

Although I was not able to hear their conversations in the booth, I could hear exactly what was being said in the truck.

It was an extremely intense experience, and it was something I would not want to take part in. Jim Jackson shared those sentiments with me when I went back upstairs for the 3rd period. It’s just too chaotic.

As the game ended, the last part of the broadcast had to be recorded, and that was the booth’s postgame thoughts that would be aired on CSN’s Flyers Postgame Live. Both Jackson and Clement were disappointed in the Flyers’ 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets, as this would keep putting the Flyers into a major hole.

The Booth’s Postgame Thoughts

Immediately after the postgame thoughts, the crew started cleaning up. In about 20 minutes following the whistle, everyone was cleared out of the booth. Steve Coates, the Flyers’ radio color commentator, came by to walk out with Bill Clement. However, Coates was not walking. He was on some sort of scooter going through the halls of the press box.

Jackson and I walked out, and he took me through the CSN offices. In those offices were the likes of Sarah Baicker, Michael Barkann, and none other than Al Morganti. Morganti came by to talk to Jackson and I for around five minutes. It was really interesting to hear his thoughts on the game.

Jackson and I parted ways outside of the arena, putting an end to the most amazing day of my life.

There I was, an 18-year old high schooler, living out my dream. I have wanted to be a sports broadcaster since 4th grade, and I was already hanging in the Flyers’ booth, working in the Hershey Bears’, Lehigh Valley Phantoms’, and Reading Royals’ press boxes with the possibility of working in the Flyers’ press box, interviewing professional players and coaches, announcing for the Reading Royals, organizing huge events, being confirmed to broadcast Temple hockey games next year, and having a high possibility of obtaining a show on WHIP, Temple’s radio station.

4th grade me would be extremely impressed. I still can’t believe this is where I am at right now. And I will never quit going after my goal.

One day, I hope to announce for the Philadelphia Flyers. I already began living that out, thanks to Jim Jackson.

Jim Jackson, Bill Clement, and I

Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Hershey Bears and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle.

Dylan was the President of GNGHockey from its beginnings to January 2018.