A SEASON BEHIND THE MICROPHONE:
MATT AND TOM LOOK BACK ON '06-'07
By ERIC MARIN
The Devils’ radio broadcast team of Matt Loughlin and Tom Chorske might have started the 2006-07 season as a rookie pairing behind the microphone, but now, with a full year under their belts, they’re more excited than ever about what the future holds.
Much of that has to do with the chemistry they developed together over the course of this last season – and what a season it was.
Led by Martin Brodeur’s NHL record 48 wins, the Devils reached the 49-win mark for the first time in franchise history. You can add to that a seventh Atlantic Division title, and a tenth consecutive season in the playoffs.
All in all, it was a heck of a way for the first-year pair to launch their career together, and even more amazing when you consider that at this time a year ago, neither of them had any idea that he soon would be broadcasting games for the three-time Stanley Cup Champions.
“Over the summer I had approached Lou Lamoriello about the possibility of taking the job,” Loughlin said this week via telephone. “I had been doing TV for a long time, and I thought that’s what I would just stay doing. As the job continued to just stay out there I thought, ‘What’ve you been waiting for? This is what you’ve been wanting to do. You know the organization. You know the sport, so why not?’”
Loughlin had been a part of FOX Sports Net NY’s Devils coverage dating back to 1997, when he served as the pre- and post-game host. Occasionally, he had also filled in for Emmy-award winning play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick.
The long-time New Jersey resident began his FSN career in 1989, covering Hofstra University football and lacrosse, and by 1996 had started doing regular pre- and post-game coverage for the New York Mets.
He would soon learn that little can prepare you for the radio play-by-play duties of a full 82-game schedule until the puck finally drops on opening night.
Chorske comes aboard
After retiring as a player in 2001, Chorske returned to the University of Minnesota in 2002 to finish his undergraduate degree in business and management. As unlikely as a radio career might’ve seemed then, his decision last season to throw his name in the hat for the vacant analyst job would come quickly.
That offseason, the job became his. Chorske was tapped late last summer after first learning of the opening at the Devils’ annual Alumni Association golf outing.
The Minneapolis native admitted that although broadcasting hadn’t been a part of his original plan, he had always maintained an interest in returning to the Devils organization. He was coming off a season in which he had provided color commentary in select games for the Iowa Stars of the American Hockey League.
“The NHL just operates on such a large scale,” Chorske said. “Matt and I both felt like we had a great opportunity being on WFAN because it’s the go-to station for sports fans. We had both an opportunity and a responsibility that was pretty big.”
Having spent ten seasons in the NHL, and four with the Devils that included the team’s first-ever Stanley Cup Championship in 1995, Chorske had been seasoned as a player at all levels of the sport. Since turning pro after his junior season at the University of Minnesota, Chorske had played for Sherbrooke of the AHL and would go on to compete for Team USA in four World Championships.
But it had been five years since the winger had finished his pro career with the IHL’s Houston Aeros, and his new job on the airwaves meant getting readjusted to being around hockey on a daily basis.
“I really had to re-familiarize myself with really analyzing what’s happening on the ice and early on I was trying to figure out the balance between actually analyzing the play or the keys to the game and working in human-interest angles,” Chorske said. “It came down to figuring out what I thought the listeners wanted to hear.
"I finally just realized some games you’re going to talk more about what’s going on in the game, and some games maybe the play will dictate that you talk about stuff away from the rink.”
The preseason begins
By the time the Devils opened the 2006-07 regular season in Carolina, Loughlin and Chorske had already worked a slate of preseason games that were streamed live exclusively via WFAN’s web site, effectively serving as a virtual dress rehearsal.
“It wasn’t just talking into a tape recorder where you could stop and talk about it,” Loughlin said of those preseason webcasts. “You were on the air, albeit on the Internet, so you had to approach it as if it were a live broadcast. If we had just started on opening night, then you’d have had to get through those first few games. We were that much more ahead of the game we were and it was a great help.”
Like new linemates would on the ice, the tandem worked at "clicking" over the airwaves. Getting accustomed to the simple things, like the flow of when to speak and when to wait to speak, was a crucial part of their growth as a broadcast unit.
Chorske was particularly focused on hitting the ground running in order to turn his first full-time broadcasting gig into a resounding success.
“It had all happened so fast, I was still getting acclimated to a new career and new surroundings,” he said. “But doing those games in the preseason certainly helped. I took my lead from Matt. He was certainly the veteran.”
Facing the challenges related to getting a feel for one another's style, there was also the issue of a consuming workload. For Loughlin, that also meant determining which techniques worked on television, and which would require a revised approach for radio.
“My play by play was limited, but I had done some and I was hopeful it would work out,” Loughlin said. “What I didn’t realize – and it became quickly apparent – is that [television and radio] are different media. They’re different animals entirely. Enthusiasm and identification are still the same, but there’s much more description that’s needed in radio, and it didn’t take me too long to figure that out.”
Loughlin found himself tackling his preparation in four-game clusters, reading up on upcoming opponents as much as possible in the days leading up to a game. Along the way, Emrick’s 27 years of NHL broadcast experience would prove an invaluable resource.
“I talked to Doc frequently,” said Loughlin, whose career began in 1979 as a news reporter for WCTC-AM in New Brunswick, N.J. “There’s no one who works harder, so I could see the amount of work he put in. There were a lot of questions, but I had also worked with him for so many years that I knew had to work in advance.”
Chorske, meanwhile, forged a relationship with Glenn “Chico” Resch, his counterpart from the Devils’ television broadcasts. The two often sought each other out on the morning of a game to review and prepare storylines.
“Chico felt that because I had played more recently, and because I was a forward that there were times that I could offer certain insights,” Chorske said. “I relied on him to guide me in how to think about forming themes in the pre-game shows and carry them throughout the game. He was the guy that really helped me a lot.”
The duo was privy to some spectacular moments in team history this year, not the least of which was the ongoing celebration of the Devils’ 25th anniversary.
Loughlin quickly recalled the excitement of Scott Gomez scoring the overtime goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Lightning in Tampa, and included the energy of the Devils-Rangers rivalry among his highlights of ‘06-‘07.
Most memorable for Chorske was the play of Brodeur, who at times was “just playing so brilliantly, we couldn’t say enough about him,” he said.
“There were times when he was just making such great saves and really keeping the team in the game,” Chorske continued. “Then they’d get these late-game heroics, and we’d just shake our heads as the Devils would win some of these games in the final minutes or in overtime or come from behind and win in the shootout. Those games were always the most fun to call.”
Laying a foundation
With all the Devils milestones of the past season, even better things are on the way as the team prepares to open its new home in Newark, the Prudential Center. Heading into their sophomore campaign together, Loughlin and Chorske agreed that there are plenty of thrills yet to come.
“I am totally sold on the Prudential Center,” Loughlin, also a Seton Hall alumnus, said. “Now that it has come to fruition, I’m as happy as can be – it’s going to be awesome. I love the idea of being able to spend time not only in the building, but around the building before and after games. I think there will just be a buzz that was there on rare occasions at the Meadowlands.”
Be sure to stay tuned as the entire Devil community gears up for the inaugural season in Newark. Sure enough, next time you spin your radio dial to listen to the latest Devils’ action, you’ll be able to hear the voices of Loughlin and Chorske applying the lessons learned from year one.
“For Tom and I, we came in and neither one of us had that experience,” Loughlin said. “Neither one of us could lean on the other. But now we’ve kind of built something together, and the foundation has been laid.”