MINNEAPOLIS — Add “calling a hockey game played in Ohio from a football stadium in Minnesota” to the growing list of 2020-21 weirdness brought on by the pandemic. That has been the case all season for the long-time radio voices of Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey, analyst Frank Mazzocco and play-by-play man Wally Shaver.
With the team traveling a bare-bones crew — players, coaches and minimal support staff, with no media or even sports information contact Brian Deutsch along on the road trips — that meant some adjustments for Frank and Wally, both of whom have called Gopher hockey for various media outlets for more than 30 years.
For the Friday night road game at Ohio State on Jan. 29, The Rink Live was invited to sit in with the radio crew, which consisted of Frank, Wally and producer Dan Rowbotham. While the Gophers were on the ice at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio (more than 700 miles away) the radio crew’s remote pressbox for the night was in the club room at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of Gophers football.
Seeing the game, even from afar, is not an issue in the crew’s remote setup. Each announcer had their own full-size monitor showing the Big Ten Network broadcast of the game plus a laptop for stats. Between the two of them was a massive projection screen showing a live YouTube feed from the arena
So, for example, they could watch warmups while BTN was still showing a basketball game prior to the opening hockey faceoff. Sitting at least 10 feet apart, they were socially distanced for safety, and wore masks during breaks, but took them off during the call, to provide unmuffled commentary.
The quality of video, the time lag, and the number of cameras coming from the other team’s arena has varied widely this season, with the announcers never really knowing what to expect when they show up at the studio to call a game. Still, with some in-arena noise pumped in, once the first puck was dropped listeners would hardly know that the action was being called from afar. Shaver’s voice rises and falls along with the action, and Mazzocco provides the analysis sprinkled with humor that has made him a fan favorite for generations.
If there is one advantage, it is that both men would sleep at home in their own beds that night, rather than in an Ohio hotel room. Still, it is not the same, and both men hope this is a temporary arrangement that goes away when the pandemic subsides.
“I’d rather be there. (Normally) we’re with the team the whole time. We travel with them, we’re on the bus with them, so you miss that,” Shaver said, after the postgame show for a dominating 5-1 Gophers win had ended. “It’s all Zoom time (interviews). And I think (the players) miss that interaction as well.”
One thing that is more challenging for both men is seeing the wide angle of the rink, beyond what the TV camera is focused on, and nuances like line changes or a player leaving the rink and heading down the tunnel due to an injury are not available under the current setup.
“If (Wally) is going to follow the play when we’re at the rink, I can watch pretty much anything that’s behind the play and keep an eye on it,” Mazzocco said. “I can watch the bench to see the attitude there. You lose the color part of the job.”
The Gophers have one more Big Ten regular season road series, Feb. 26-27 at Penn State, that the radio crew will call remotely.
WCHA honors Bonin & Crowley for 1990s stardom
A few weeks before he was named the 1996 Hobey Baker Award winner — the third Gopher given college hockey’s top individual honor at the time — forward Brian Bonin was also named the top player in the WCHA for the second year in a row. As the only two-time league MVP of the 1990s, it was not in any way a surprise to see Bonin tabbed as one of the six players named to the WCHA’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s this week.
Bonin, who won the Mr. Hockey Award as a prep senior at White Bear Lake in 1992, was a four-year regular for Doug Woog’s Gophers, playing in the Frozen Four in 1994 and 1995 and winning three WCHA playoff titles in his four years at the U of M.
One of the more dynamic defensemen ever to play for the Gophers, Mike Crowley joins Bonin on the all-1990s team alongside Colorado College forward Brian Swanson and a trio of North Dakota stars — forward Greg Johnson, defenseman Nick Naumenko and goalie Karl Goehring.
Crowley, who helped Bloomington Jefferson to a trio of consecutive state prep titles in 1992, ‘93 and ‘94, played three years for the Gophers and was the team’s captain as a junior, when he was named the WCHA’s player of the year. He played 67 games in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks.
Gophers grab two of Big Ten’s three stars
In one of the most-anticipated award announcements of the 2020-21 season, Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine was named the Big Ten’s no. 1 star of the week this week, after his perfect weekend in goal at Notre Dame. The senior from suburban Toronto stopped all 52 Irish shots he faced in 120 minutes of hockey (including 15 Notre Dame shots in the first period of Saturday’s 3-0 win) to continue to lead college hockey in wins with 15.
LaFontaine has five shutouts this season and recorded an assist in Friday’s 3-0 win. He leads all college hockey goalies offensively with two points this season.
At the other end of the rink, Gophers junior forward Sampo Ranta was named the league’s third star for the week with three points in the series versus Notre Dame. Ranta, who is from Finland, has set new career highs for goals (14) and points (22) and is second in the nation (and second in the conference) in goals behind Wisconsin’s Cole Caufield who has 17.
Wardrobe malfunctions happen in hockey
Amid all of the snow and ice and cold gripping the country this week, the Alabama Huntsville Chargers still made it safely all the way to Marquette, Mich., for a WCHA series with Northern Michigan. The Chargers’ jerseys were not so fortunate, and did not make it to the Upper Peninsula in time for Tuesday night’s game.
So, adorned in white sweaters bearing the name of a Marquette-area Subaru dealership, the Chargers went out and beat NMU 3-1 for their first road win of the season. According to Michigan State coach Danton Cole, who was the head coach in Huntsville for three years and with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for seven, scrambling around to find jerseys for a road game is not a “normal” part of hockey, but it happens.
“The jersey bag gets lost every once in a while,” said Cole, reflecting on about 30 overseas trips he made with USA Hockey. “We’ve used practice jerseys (for a game). I’ve never used car dealership jerseys. Bud Light sponsored a men’s camp I had once, and those were good jerseys, but we probably couldn’t do that in college hockey...Funny things happen. Be prepared for anything, I guess.”