Recently, I was able to interview Coyotes Radio & TV broadcaster Todd Walsh. Todd was gracious enough to spend over a half hour answering my questions. The interview has been broken into two parts. In Part I of the interview (after the jump), Todd talks about his early experiences with the sport of hockey and covering the sport as a journalist. In Part II, Todd speaks about future Snapshots episodes on Fox Sports Arizona and on the Coyotes experience playing in Europe at the beginning of the season.
Todd has been covering sports in the Valley since 1988. He has been affiliated with Coyotes broadcasts since the team's arrival in town back in 1996. In addition, he has at one time or another worked on the broadcasts of all four major pro sports teams in the Valley. Last month Todd received an Emmy award for Best Sports Anchor from the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. You can follow Todd on Twitter and check out his FileSocial site where he uploads MP3 audio clips of interviews.
Part I - From Minor League Fan to Major League Broadcaster
Carl: I know you're from Rochester, so when was the first time you became interested in hockey?
Todd: I grew up in Rochester as you said and it's a minor league hockey town. When I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, the Rochester Americans, and I found this out in hindsight but really thought this anyway because it was my home town team, it was the jewel of the minor leagues. There's this great tradition and great hockey history in Rochester, and I grew up in the snow belt just a couple miles from Lake Ontario. When the first snow started to fall, usually around Halloween, that's when we put the footballs away and the baseballs away and grabbed the hockey sticks.
My earliest memories of winter time are playing street hockey and flooding my backyard trying to skate. We were a middle class family, and we didn't always have a lot of money for hockey equipment, but we always found a way. I just remember Rochester Americans games and going to see my local hometown heroes Gordie Clark and Doug Gibson and guys that never really made a mark in the NHL, but they were heroes of mine in the minor leagues and still have the greatest sweater in hockey, I think.
I remember going to War Memorial (Rochester's Arena) , my first beat ever, for a Rochester Americans/New Haven Nighthawks game. I'll never forget that. I was a front-runner kid, so I was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, and the Montreal Canadians. I remember opening up my hockey cards and making sure that Montreal was always at the top of my shoe box, and listening to games on the radio, watching and listening to them win 4 straight cups (or whatever it was in the 70s). Those are my memories. Hockey was a part of my life. It was seasonal, but it was always a part of my life.
Carl: Going along that same track, do you have a favorite hockey-related memory?
Todd: Absolutely. As anyone knows if they follow me at all and what I do, and I thank them for doing it, I still pay homage to this every year, much to the chagrin of some of my Canadian friends. I was 16 years old in 1980 and February of 1980 is still the greatest sports memory that I'll ever have. Nothing will ever top living in the state of New York with the winter Olympics just a few hours away in Lake Placid. My best friend and I went out in the drive way. We built a goal, made this one extra special, and while the Olympics started, we went out every single night and we played the game that the Americans had played or were about to play or playing. As a teenager, a 16-year-old, we would sit there every night and talk about how they might win this thing. Then being in the driveway that night in February after they won it, we had an American flag that we hung up over the garage door. Pulled out some heat lamps my dad had and we lit up the garage and that part of the street. People were driving by and stopping, honking their horns, cheering and applauding.
The Miracle on Ice is still the one thing that I'll always have a child-like fascination with. I've had the chance to interview scores of guys from that team. I was at the premiere of the movie Miracle and saw them all together again as one. I agree with Sports Illustrated when they voted it the sports moment of the century. I laugh at people that mock it because they don't have any clue what it did for this country and hockey in general. I still have a wall of memorabilia in my house from that time and about that time and that week in history. I cherish that memory; I truly cherish it.
Carl: Alright. I'm going to move forward to the present and ask you about what you do now in terms of broadcasting. You have that vantage point that every fan wishes they had when you're rink side, being in between the benches. I think anyone who has ever seen sideline reporters or been on the sideline or a baseline, I think that's one thing. I think being where you are at in a hockey game you get the best of all worlds, at least from a fans point of view. Do you think the same way? Along with that who are the biggest talkers that you've seen on the Coyotes bench, or just in the NHL in general?
Todd: First of all, this sounds very self-serving, I have the job I always wanted to have. I'm in a business where people are always trying to climb the ladder to get to the next big city, big market, or the next network. I would love to be able to do some things, anyone would, but I'm doing exactly what I want to do. I know how lucky I am. Today when I had to get up really early to go to the rink, I mean early for me, and do a series of long interviews with hockey players for our Snapshot shows, and I was up late the last couple nights researching these guys, I know how lucky I am that is my job. I've worked in the 9 to 5 world and it's tough. It's a grind, and my job is a grind. I travel and it beats me up and all those things I could bore you to tears with, but I know that when I walk into that rink tomorrow night, I'm going to walk up to the glass and stand there and watch a hockey game and talk to hockey players, and I honor that. So I have the coolest seat in the house. I've always felt that. I had it for NFL and I get it for Major League Baseball, so I know how lucky I am.
On the other side of it, I'm only on that bench for about 30 seconds and then I get the hell out of there because I feel like I'm intruding so I don't hear a lot. Hockey players, especially, are such great story tellers and have reverence for the game so those people I gravitate to, I used to call my go-to guys when I first started. If I were to say my favorite players to talk to over the years, I always start with Kris King, the original Coyotes captain from Winnipeg. He really opened the door for me to travel with the team covering them on radio and encouraged that and really validated my existence in the room.
From there, you know every year you find a guy or two or 5 or 10, if you're lucky, that get it. I just talked to Ray Whitney for half and hour and I could have talked with him for three. Tom Kurvers ( former Coyotes player) is one of my closest friends in the world; he was a radio broadcaster and is now an assistant general manager (with the Tampa Bay Lightning), and I talk to him almost every day, sometimes about hockey sometimes never about hockey. My point is hockey is made up of so many characters. We covered a team just from (Jeremy) Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, and (Rick) Tocchet on it in one room; that was just pure drama. Covering Wayne Gretzky for four years and seeing what that was like. I could write a book about just the ability to be around that. That's the one thing it's taught me and reminded me, and I tell it to every young broadcaster that I'll ever meet: you've got to learn how to listen because if you are going to go in to a situation like that and be consumed with telling your story, you're done. And, I've seen it happen. So I just go in there, and I try to be a dry sponge and listen to these guys. I appreciate them for what they do. They are, I think, some of the best in the world, and they have a really tough job. So, I just want to hear them talk; I don't care about what I have to say.
Carl: Going along with that, and this has come up in a couple things you've said, you've now been in the Valley for now two decades?
Todd: I got here in '88, so 22 years now.
Carl: With that, you've been part of the broadcast teams for all the major sports in town at one time or another.
Todd: I know. It's weird isn't it? You're right; all of them.
Carl: I remember you covering the Suns and the Cardinals, but now for the last couple years, I just think of you doing Diamondbacks and Coyotes games. Given that, I would think that there is a difference between covering the different teams, and I realize there are even different eras within each team as you mentioned with the Coyotes. I was here when the Coyotes first started here and the feeling around town and around that team was different than it was a few years ago, and even different than what it is now because personalities change. Overall, what's the difference, or maybe one difference, in covering the Coyotes versus covering the other three teams in the valley?
Todd: I've said this many times and a lot of people misinterpret it, but I think if you talk to anybody in media that's been able to float around in the different worlds that I've floated around in, hockey players are a different breed. You can break it down into a psych class, and I'd love to do that because it's a fascinating story to me.
I think they grow up with such a respect for the sport. Not that other athletes don't, but the sacrifices that their families have to make along the way to get them to rinks, to get them in equipment, and to do all the things that hockey people have to do. It's not like throwing a bat and a ball on a diamond or rolling out a basketball on a court somewhere. It's akin to football, but I think it's even more difficult, so they have a certain mindset. A lot of them are from Canada where there is a different respect level for hockey players towards the media in general and the people that cover the game. There's just a certain quality in a National Hockey League player.
Now, that's not to say that I don't find that in MLB players or other sports, I do. I could give you a list of scores of them. The Luis Gonzalez's of the world, or the Dan Majerle era of the Phoenix Suns, or when I was covering the Cardinals guys like Tim McDonald and head coach Gene Stallings - these are all pillars of their sport and communities. I don't want to eliminate that and sound like I'm bagging on other sports, but hockey players are just a different breed.
I think I speak from experience that most people don't have because I've been in those locker rooms and I have been in a very special situation because I've worked for, exclusively in my career, the rights holder in radio and television so I've always had that backstage pass and more access than most people so I get to see a lot of different sides of it so that's why I've always so staunchly defended hockey players and my relationship with them.
But I just don't want this to come on and look like I'm bagging on anybody else; they're just a different breed of cat. I think the key is if you're covering a team and doing what I was doing for all these different teams that you'll find them. They're there. It's just a different environment. I don't know if that makes sense, but I hope you know what I'm trying to say. There's just something different about hockey players that they kind of let you in. They're not made of money; they're not their own individual corporations. Most of them have not been coddled like a lot of other athletes along the way. They've ridden busses and you know the whole nine yards. This is the different make up of them. I kind of think of myself as a blue collar person so maybe that's why I tend to gravitate to them. I hope that makes sense.
Carl: That makes perfect sense. I think a lot of people say the same thing in terms of hockey players.
Todd: I've said that a lot. I can still sit in the dugout in a baseball stadium and talk to a relief pitcher from a bullpen for 45 minutes and tell you the same thing. It just seems a little more prevalent in hockey and I just think its part of the culture. I don't think there is any way to get around it without insulting any one and I don't think I am. I know I'm not because I live it. I've seen every corner of it. And if I could add something to that on a very personal level, I've had some things happen along the way in my family and there are hockey people who have reached out and gone way out of their way to try and help me and help my family through some very trying times. So there's a family. The fraternity is just a little different. If that makes sense?
Carl: That makes complete sense.