JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Many retired hockey players struggle to figure out how to live life after hockey. For some of the Penguins alumni, broadcasting is the answer. That doesn’t mean they still aren’t hockey players at heart, as they showed at the Penguins Alumni Classic in Johnstown on Friday. But for now, many of them have a day job in the game that includes more speaking than skating.
Phil Bourque played for the Penguins for eight seasons from 1983-1992 and won two Stanley Cups. When he retired from hockey as a member of the Senators in 1996, he knew that broadcasting was the path that he wanted to take.
It just didn’t happen right away.
“I always enjoyed being loose as a player, whether it was with a microphone or a camera,” Bourque said. “I really thought I was going to get into (broadcasting) after I retired. It didn’t happen right away. I had to wait for years until a job finally opened up.”
Ed Olczyk, now a color commentator for NBC Sports, left Fox Sports Pittsburgh in 2003 to become the Penguins head coach. Bob Errey left his radio gig to replace Olczyk, which opened up a spot as a color analyst on the radio. Bourque said that when he was offered the position, he was “in the right place at the right time.”
“It was Mario Lemieux that made the phone call for me,” Bourque said. “He helped me get the radio job.”
Colby Armstrong, who played for the Penguins from 2005-2008, now provides his personality for AT&T Sports Network along with Sportsnet. When he wrapped up his NHL career, he knew that broadcasting would be a fit for him.
“When I was playing, I was always into doing interviews,” Armstrong said. “I was always comfortable being in front of the camera. I think it was just my personality.”
While Bourque and Armstrong aimed to go into broadcasting, that wasn’t the initial plan for Jay Caufield, who was a former two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins and is a current studio analyst for AT&T Sports Network.
“I didn’t think I’d be doing it,” Caufield said. “I was asked to do it years ago and they tried me out with a couple other guys. … I can’t say that it was my plan at first, but they asked me if I wanted to do it full-time, and I couldn’t turn them down. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
NOT AT EASY AS IT LOOKS
Broadcasting isn’t as physically demanding or excruciating as the game of hockey is. But though it may look easy, broadcasting is much more difficult than it looks.
“Everyone wants to be a broadcaster, but it’s a lot more work than you think,” Bourque said. “Just because you played the game doesn’t make you a good broadcaster. You have to work your tail off to be a good broadcaster. But it’s a very rewarding job and it’s the next best thing behind playing.”
Caufield said that being able to play the game of hockey adds an advantage for any broadcaster in the ability to see more than just X’s and O’s. A great broadcaster, he said, understands not only what is happening on the ice but what is also happening in a player’s mind.
“There’s a fine line between talking about a game and understanding as a player that there’s mistakes that happen,” Caufield said. “I try to get the point across and be fair to the situation, because I know what a lot of these guys are going through.”
THE SECOND-BEST JOB IN THE WORLD
Armstrong said that after retiring, he wanted to be involved with the game. While he doesn’t get to lace the skates up every night, he is still able to enjoy the game he loves.
“It was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Armstrong said. “It’s a lot of work. But it’s nice to still be involved in the game. I’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Being able to still be involved with hockey was the popular answer on why these former players do what they do.
“I’m still part of the game and I still get to do what I love,” Caufield said.
Bourque, who gets to work with the legendary Mike Lange every game, admits that even though he has been doing radio almost as long as he played professional hockey, he is amazed every time he hears the legendary announcer.
“I pinch myself every time I get to hear one of his goal calls,” Bourque said. “He’s the best in the business.”
The NHL Players Association recently conducted a poll across the league on players such as who the best player is, who the hardest to play against is, and who is most likely to become a head coach. When asked who they could see as a future broadcaster, personality was a big factor.
“Before the Penguins traded Ian Cole, I thought he was pretty good,” Armstrong said. “He would be pretty comfortable at doing it.”
Armstrong said that of the current Penguins’ lineup, a player with a subtle personality could be a fit for broadcasting.
“Of the guys right now, Carl Hagelin’s got a pretty nice personality,” Armstrong said. “He has a cool experience of making it to the NHL from Sweden and through college. Sort of the path less traveled for most European players. He has a great personality.”
Caufield couldn’t pinpoint any certain player that he sees joining the press box to broadcast, but he said that if a former player wanted to sit behind the camera, there are a few good traits the player should have.
“Anybody that has a personality, can speak, and has a sense of the game could do it,” Caufield said. “There’s a few out there that have the personality to do it.”