|Darren Pang & Dave Strader in action! |
Every partnership has to begin somewhere.
For Dave Strader and Darren Pang, their partnership began in Miami a decade before they teamed up this season to broadcast Coyotes games.
It was Opening Night at Miami Arena and the Florida Panthers were ringing in the 1996-97 NHL season by raising their Eastern Conference championship banner. ESPN color analyst Darren Pang was joined in the broadcast booth by a newly-hired play-by-play man named Dave Strader.
Seconds before they went on the air to call their first game together, Producer Bruce Connell told the pair that they would have to “fill” air time during the banner-raising ceremony.
Caught completely off guard, Strader and Pang didn’t miss a beat. They bantered back and forth like old friends, and when it was over, they felt as if they had passed their first test.
The two broadcasters had clicked immediately and would spend the better part of eight years as partners on ESPN before eventually going their separate ways.
When the play-by-play seat opened up in the Coyotes’ broadcast booth during the summer of 2007, team president Doug Moss was flooded with résumés, audition tapes and letters from broadcasters throughout North America hoping to be considered for the job. When the dust settled, Strader was chosen as the new voice of the Coyotes, reuniting him with Pang, who had joined the team in 2005.
“What I have found throughout my career is that although the technical aspects of a broadcaster are very important, the chemistry and relationship between the two individuals calling the game is crucial,” said Moss, who had the opportunity to work with one of the all-time great hockey broadcast tandems in Sam Rosen and John Davidson of the New York Rangers during his days with the Madison Square Garden Network. “There is no question that Strader is an accomplished play-by-play man, but the chemistry between him and Panger, both professionally and personally, really allows them to bring out the best in each other.”
Part of the on-air compatibility is a result of Strader’s ability to set up his color man.
“I have always strived to be a guy who was easy to listen to and could bring the analyst to the forefront because he has played the game and can let the viewer know what it’s like to be on the ice,” Strader said. “That’s not difficult to do with Panger because he is so passionate and enthusiastic about the game.”
|Dave Strader always does his homework |
According to Pang, Strader’s preparation is what sets him apart.
“He’s great to work with because he prepares so well – he knows line matchups, he’s always researching the game, and he can pick up the phone and talk to any coach or general manager in the league and they respond to him,” said Pang. “That shows you the amount of respect people around the league have for him.”
While Strader has become highly respected around the NHL, he did not set out to become a hockey announcer. The upstate New York native grew up a basketball fan, listening to Marv Albert broadcast New York Knicks games on the radio as a kid. He attended the University of Massachusetts where he earned a degree in communications while working for the college radio station and broadcasting UMass basketball games.
After graduation, Strader was joined by his wife, Colleen, as they drove cross-country to California in search of a full-time broadcasting gig. He would announce the occasional high school football game or minor league sporting event before they headed back to New York where there was a new arena being built in Glens Falls.
“We heard there was either going to be a hockey team or a basketball team moving to Glens Falls,” said Strader, who at that point had never even seen a live hockey game.
As it turned out, the Detroit Red Wings moved their farm club to Glens Falls in 1979 and Strader was hired as the assistant public relations director. A month before the season began, Strader volunteered to take on the play-by-play duties as well.
“During training camp I would sit in the press box and practice calling hockey action with a tape recorder,” he said. “I talked to just about everyone in the organization and picked their brains to learn as much as I could about the game. Once the season started, I was hooked on hockey.”
Pang, meanwhile, had been hooked on hockey his entire life. The Meaford, Ontario native had a standout junior hockey career and eventually made his way to the NHL as a goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks. His broadcasting career actually began while he was playing in the minor leagues in Saginaw, Michigan.
“The local early morning radio host was a big hockey fan so I would go in every Friday morning for an hour and a half and co-host his morning show with him,” Pang recalled. “That’s where my career started but I had always wanted to be a broadcaster.”
Once he joined the Blackhawks, he found even more opportunities to work on his second career.
“When I went to Chicago, there was a producer named Lisa Seltzer who was really instrumental in pushing me to do things.” Pang said. “I tore my ACL in 1989 and while I was rehabbing the Blackhawks allowed me to broadcast some college games and I also did some work on the Chicago Bears Show.”
|Darren Pang |
Pang retired from hockey the following year but stayed with the organization and worked as a broadcaster in a variety of ways, including as host of the team’s pre and post-game radio shows.
In 1993, ESPN came calling and Pang became a staple in the network’s national hockey broadcasts.
It was there that he honed his skills as a color analyst, learning from some of the most recognizable names in the business, such as Bill Clement, Gary Thorne, Steve Levy and the late Tom Mees.
“The one thing I did early on, because I was so energetic, was talk too fast, so I had to work on just slowing down” Pang said. “The next thing I learned was from Bill Clement. He taught me to find one point and be very concise and clear on that one point rather than trying to jam two or three points into one thought.”
At ESPN, Pang brought a unique perspective to each broadcast as the only ex-goaltender among the network’s analysts.
“As goalies, we see plays develop and see them coming at us, plus we can see the game from the defensive side as well as the offensive side,” said Pang. “Goalies are always chirping back there and communicating with defensemen. Naturally as a goalie you are an extrovert and that translates well into broadcasting.”
Now that Strader and Pang have joined up in Phoenix a decade after their first broadcast for ESPN, fans in the Valley have had the opportunity to see how Pang’s outgoing personality meshes with Strader’s calm demeanor.
“It’s great to share a booth with him because he’s an easy person to get along with and he has a real quick wit about him,” Pang said of his partner.
“Darren and I clicked immediately when we first started working together,” said Strader. “We are great friends off the air, and although that isn’t always a requirement for two broadcasters, it’s definitely nice to have that connection.”
Their connection is evident not only during their broadcasts but also at the community appearances the two made together during their first season with the Coyotes. Whether hosting a team luncheon for corporate sponsors and charity organizations or introducing Hootie & The Blowfish at a concert, Strader and Pang are becoming the voices and faces of the franchise.
“I am glad to take on the role as one of the faces of the franchise and hope that we can provide some stability and recognition for the organization,” said Pang, who just completed his third season with the team.
“When you’re in a so-called ‘non-traditional hockey market’ it’s important that the guys on the air are out in as many situations as possible representing the organization,” said Strader. “Panger and I are both passionate about the sport and passionate about the organization and we want to get people in the community excited about the team as well. The best way for us to do that is with an enthusiastic call on the air and also by getting involved in these events.”
Strader and Pang are also in agreement when it comes to the direction in which the team is headed.
“I know it’s going to take time to build, but people around hockey are already talking about guys like Martin Hanzal
and Peter Mueller as the future of the team,” said Strader. “It’s exciting to think about where this team could be heading.”
“It’s great to be in other press boxes and hear opposing broadcasters and front office people say ‘Wow, that team really works hard,’” Pang said. “Given time this organization will be a well-oiled machine that wins for a long time.”
Long-term success is exactly what team management is striving for, and not only on the ice.
“Our ultimate goal is to be the best at everything we do, on and off the ice,” said Moss. “I think the paring of Dave Strader and Darren Pang is a good indicator of how this team wants to be perceived and how we want to be the best.” Rob Crean