NEWARK , N.J. -- Sherry Ross is certainly no stranger to sports broadcasting, having served as a radio analyst alongside New Jersey Devils play-by-play man Matt Loughlin for the last two-plus seasons.
On Wednesday, however, she hopes to open a few new doors for aspiring female hockey broadcasters when she takes the mike to become the first woman broadcaster to provide play-by-play for a full 60-minute NHL game in English when the New Jersey Devils host to the Ottawa Senators at PrudentialCenter. ( Listen)
Loughlin, who is in his fourth season doing play-by-play for the Devils, was unable to call Wednesday's game due to the death of his father-in-law on Saturday.
Ross was the first woman to broadcast a major professional championship when she did color commentary for NHL Radio during the 1994 Stanley Cup Final alongside Kenny Albert. She actually did play-by-play for 20 minutes of a regular-season game during the 1993-94 season in Washington, subbing for Gary Thorne, whose flight had been delayed. Rich Chere, the Devils' longtime beat writer for The (Newark) Star-Ledger, provided the color commentary for Ross that afternoon.
"She did a fine job, but that wasn't surprising to me," Chere said. "She proved her great knowledge of the game of hockey and really seemed to have a lot of fun calling the contest."
Ross seemed cool and collected some two hours before the opening faceoff, having dinner with her color analyst for the contest -- former Devils forward Rob Skrlac.
"She's a seasoned professional -- how can she fail," Skrlac said.
Ross was very poised and confident in her play-calling of the first period, during which each team scored once.
"The period felt like it was two minutes long, but I'd give myself a C-plus," Ross laughed during the first intermission. "I felt better as we got going and Rob fit in very well. Because I know him, it was easier for me to set him up for things. I think a good play-by-play person sets up the color person.
"I think hockey is kind of unique to do play-by-play -- not that I've done other sports, but hockey is different because there aren't a lot of set play stoppages like baseball and football. So a color person has to get a lot in during the flow of the play. We stepped on each other a little bit but it wasn't too bad."
Ross is no stranger to hockey. She spent 12 years with the New York Daily News, covering both hockey and horse racing, before re-joining the Devils broadcasting team in September 2007. She's covered the Stanley Cup Final on 15 occasions and has attended the Kentucky Derby six times.
"This is exciting and thrilling and it's something I've never done for a full game before so I'm sure it'll go very fast," Ross told NHL.com. "I have a feeling it'll fly by, like when I did the play-by-play for that one period in 1994."
Ross, who was at the morning skates for both squads earlier on Wednesday, admits being "excited, nervous" about the opportunity.
"I guess I was a little calm until just after lunch," she laughed. "Then, all of sudden it's three hours away. But I'm more excited as opposed to dreading something. It's less anxiety and more anticipation."
Her biggest obstacle?
"Getting all the commercials in," Ross said. "There are eight pages of commercials. I'll have to try and get them in and, after that, I just don't want to misidentify anybody, which is tough because we have a very high location (at PrudentialCenter). I know our guys (Devils) pretty well, but the Ottawa guys will be a little tough."
She admits learning a lot from Loughlin -- and said most of those lessons will come to good use Wednesday evening.
"He's so calm," Ross said of Loughlin. "He's like the traffic controller with getting those commercials and spots and interviews in on time. I follow his lead all the time on when to talk and when to try and cut out so he can get the play-by-play in."
And was she able to hit those critical commercial spots at the exact moment?
"I got a little confused because they actually missed a TV timeout, so they didn't get all the TV timeouts in so, all of a sudden, I'm short one commercial," Ross said during the first intermission. "I called the studio though and they told me that happens. We ended up getting it in during the intermission."
Ross, a graduate of Rutgers University-Newark in 1977 where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English, is up to the challenge of breaking barriers for future female NHL broadcasters.
"If it doesn't exist for anybody as an opportunity, than nobody thinks to do it, so if you think nobody could ever do this, then nobody will ever try," Ross said. "Now, maybe some girls will think, 'It's been done once so maybe if I go to school and pay my dues and get better, I could do it too.'
"Hopefully, on their behalf, I don't screw it up."
On March 8, 2008, an all-female broadcast team called the Tampa Bay-New Jersey game for French-language network RDS. Claudine Douville and Daniele Sauvageau called the game, while Hélène Pelletier and France St-Louis handled the intermission coverage. It was the first NHL game broadcast by an entirely female broadcast team.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sherry Ross: first female NHL play-by-play announcer in English (courtesy NJ Devils)