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Devils Game Day with Matt Loughlin

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Interviewing special guests is all in a day's work for Loughlin. When 2008 Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin was in town to promote the AT&T American Cup, Loughin and Liukin's interview aired during an intermission. Photo by Melanie Rieder

New Jersey Devils radio play-by-play announcer Matt Loughlin has been covering the team for decades. After graduating from Seton Hall University he rose through the ranks to become a regular pre- and post-game host for Devils coverage on Fox Sports Net NY from 1997 until he joined the Devils radio team in August 2006. As the team’s lead radio presenter, Loughlin’s game days follow a similar path to the pro athletes that perform on the ice, starting with a morning skate and continuing past the final whistle.

The Morning Skate

It all starts with a cup of coffee and a morning skate. Loughlin’s day begins when he arrives at Prudential Center briefly before the Devils’ 10:30 a.m. skate. After chatting with colleagues and grabbing a copy of the pre-game media kit, Loughlin finds a space to sit in Section 10 with the rest of the Devils media detail and begins to take notes.

Loughlin has already arranged his personal fact sheet, with stats on players for both teams, milestones and other stats that might come up during the night’s broadcast. While the Devils are on the ice, Loughlin mainly looks for changes in the lineups. In practice jerseys, there are no numbers or names on the back of the sweaters, but Loughlin has been around the team long enough to recognize players by height, position, stick-handedness, and occasionally the small numbers on helmets. “You can also recognize styles or looks. Bobby Farnham’s hair is a little longer for instance,” Loughlin explains. “Having seen Travis Zajac for as long as I have, I can recognize his style.”

Devils goaltending legend Martin Brodeur is in town for the first time with the St. Louis Blues. A key opportunity, Loughlin arranges to interview Brodeur later in the morning, a conversation that will be used during the second intermission of the game. Before the interview airs, Brodeur will be shown on the jumbotron in the arena, receiving a standing ovation and chants of “Mar-Tee! Mar-Tee!” Brodeur and other members of the Blues’ staff are scouting out the Devils.

Loughlin then catches up with Blues play-by-play announcer John Kelly. Before the end of the morning skate, Loughlin and Kelly go over their notes, helping each other by confirming line combinations and other observations. “We’re all in this business together,” Loughlin said, looking to provide the best coverage he can by supplementing his own observations.

As the Devils conclude their morning skate, Loughlin joins the assembled members of the media, representing MSG, The Record, The Star-Ledger, NHL.com and more, and enters the locker room to conduct interviews. Heading in, Loughlin has a shortlist of players he’d like to speak to. It’s more than he needs, but it gives him options for when he sees who is available. Walking over to goaltender Cory Schneider’s stall, Loughlin and Schneider catch up, talk about the prospects of the upcoming weekend’s New England Patriots game, which Schneider, a Marblehead, MA native, will closely follow. After some more friendly banter, Loughlin asks the netminder a few questions related to the game that night.

A few quotes later, Loughlin chats with captain Andy Greene, offering a restaurant suggestion to the defenseman, who recently moved to Loughlin’s town. The morning skate was the first for forward Sergey Kalinin since scoring his first goal in the NHL and Loughlin coaxes a quick couple of quotes from the Russian rookie. Kalinin has made great strides with his English and after a small nudge from fellow forward Jiri Tlusty, he’s happy to talk. Loughlin had wanted to get a quote from forward Lee Stempniak, who spent multiple seasons with the Blues early in his NHL career, but opted not to interrupt the forward as he caught up with old friends from the organization.

After talking with players, Loughlin and the media move outside the locker room for a quick press conference with coach John Hynes. Loughlin did an individual interview afterwards, getting clips to use during the game. By doing an individual interview, Loughlin gets audio that flows better on radio, and the clip involves less voices.

“We’ll use those on the pre-game show, and we’ll use sound bites—snippets of a response—and we’ll play them coming out of a commercial break,” Loughlin said.

With the Blues on the ice for their morning skate, Loughlin moves up to the glass in the corner by the Zamboni entrance and focuses on identifying the players. Like the Devils, there are no numbers or names on the practice jerseys. Unlike the Devils, Loughlin only sees the Blues twice a year, barring a potential Stanley Cup Finals meeting and therefore necessarily works harder to familiarize himself with the lineups. After an errant shot goes into the netting and falls out of the rink nearby, Loughlin picks it up and tosses it through a camera-hole back onto the ice. Former Devils captain and current Blues assistant coach Kirk Muller stops by and reconnects with Loughlin.

When the Blues move off the ice, Devils media members are quick to head to the locker room. Running into Devils forward Patrik Elias, Loughlin and a few others are asked to find Blues forward Martin Havlat, as Elias wishes to catch up with his former teammate. Havlat is nowhere to be found, but everyone, including Loughlin, is looking for a chance to chat with former Devil Scott Gomez, now with the Blues. For Loughlin it’s more than just getting a quote to maybe use in the night’s broadcast, it’s also housecleaning. Loughlin recently swapped his Blackberry for an iPhone 6S Plus, and with Gomez, Loughlin confirms which of the phone numbers he has for Gomez remain active, and which ones should be deleted.

After catching up with the former Devil, Loughlin takes the opportunity to chat with Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, a towering 6-foot-5-inch third round selection from the 2012 draft. Parayko largely flew under the radar as a prospect, and as Loughlin and Parayko discuss his early career, Loughlin asks about where he grew up. Beyond the interesting stories, Loughlin will share some of his insights and anecdotes during the night’s broadcast.

Following a quick press conference with St Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, Loughlin collects and organizes his notes. Once he’s satisfied, it’s time for lunch.

Pre-Game

Settling into his seat, Matt Loughlin puts his notes in place and prepares his computer before eating dinner. Loughlin stopped by the sushi station on the main concourse and picked up a Devils Roll.

After returning to the arena, Loughlin shifts seamlessly into pre-game mode. Nothing is likely to change among the team rosters between the morning skates and the game, and now is time to make final preparations, similar to a student studying notes until right before an exam. On some game days, Loughlin has other responsibilities he has to manage as well. On the night of the Blues visit, Loughlin is scheduled to do a brief interview with MSG for content surrounding Martin Brodeur’s jersey retirement, less than three months away on February 9.

Once Loughlin wraps up the interview with MSG, it’s back to work before a live spot with NHL Network. On game nights, NHL Network does live check-ins at arenas around the league, talking to broadcasters and journalists. With the Blues in town, it’s Loughlin’s turn to talk Devils. After his spot, and a quick trip to the sushi station on the main concourse, Loughlin heads up to press level to finish getting ready for the game. While the puck doesn’t drop until a little after 7 p.m., Loughlin, along with color commentator Sherry Ross, engineer Carl Infantino and statistician Craig Seiden, have to be ready to go 30 minutes earlier for the Devils pre-game show.

Before settling into his chair, Loughlin goes over the various promos and commercials for the night. During stoppages in play and certain scenarios, Loughlin has carefully crafted scripts to make sure sponsored content is properly presented. Once seated, Loughlin also loads up TweetDeck, using a feed of Devils reporters to supplement his coverage. “We always give credit.” Loughlin said, when referencing an article or post by a media member. Planning with Ross, the duo maps out how they’ll segue into recorded interviews later in the broadcast. Loughlin finds time to listen through his recorded interviews from earlier in the day, and hands Infantino the recordings for later in the night.

Sitting center ice, Loughlin and Ross have a birds eye view of the action on the ice. On November 10th, the New Jersey Devils wore special jerseys during warmups before donning their classic red uniforms for the game.


Game Time

New this year, the radio broadcasts include the singing of the national anthem. On nights with celebratory puck drops, those might be included as well. Against the Blues, it came down to the moment as Loughlin and his colleagues at WFAN coordinated advertisements and when he could get back on the air. Once the puck drops, when Loughlin and Ross are off the air, Loughlin is coordinating with WFAN, determining the game’s highlights for the post-game show. Loughlin may not use every highlight, but as the game progresses he asks WFAN to set aside clips to pick from later.

“During the course of the commercial breaks, we’re planning out the highlights and sponsored content for the post-game show.” Between the end of the game and the start of the post-game, there’s a one-minute break, so the many pauses during the game become a key opportunity to prepare.

Loughlin is also in contact via text with the Devils’ communications department, arranging to interview a player after the first period. Loughlin requests a few players, in case his top choice is also requested by MSG.

As the Devils duel on the ice, Loughlin and Ross move into their familiar rhythm that fans hear over the air. “We are [the listeners’] eyes. We have to describe everything we are seeing.” Occasionally when Ross provides commentary, Loughlin holds a button to mute his own microphone and sip tea or water, maintaining his voice throughout the night. Through careful attention, Loughlin has never lost his voice in his 10 years of providing play-by-play. Throughout the game, Seiden passes Loughlin and Ross note-cards with facts and key stats. If a penalty is assessed away from the puck, Seiden signals Loughlin and Ross, helping them quickly inform listeners of the events on the ice, as Loughlin must always follow the puck.

When the horn sounds the end of the first period, the fast pace doesn’t pause in the booth. Shifting seamlessly into the intermission, Loughlin begins by interviewing a player from the team. After that, Loughlin and Ross use other interviews and discussions to fill the time. This night, members of the Albany Devils staff were in town, and Loughlin interviewed his AHL counterpart on the air.

Once intermission is over and the puck drops for the second period, Loughlin and Ross proceed with the same rhythm as early in the game, but everything is faster during the commercial breaks. As the game continues eventually into the third period, the pace picks up. With less than five minutes left in the game, as the Devils frenetically work to tie the game and force overtime, Loughlin is hard at work during stoppages finalizing the highlights for the post-game show. With the score as close as it is, it’s right on the border of whether or not the radio broadcast will feature a player during the post-game show.

Post-Game

The game concludes; the Devils fought hard but came up short. After a one-minute break, during which Loughlin confirms the highlights with WFAN and tries to project how long the show will go, he and Ross are back on the air analyzing and breaking down the game. Going through the contest from start to finish, Loughlin plays the highlights, discussing the highs and lows from the action on the ice.

Following coach Hynes’ post-game press conference, Loughlin does a final run-through of the scores around the league, reminds listeners of the next time the Devils take the ice, and wishes his audience a good night. It’s 10 p.m., a little more than 12 hours since Loughlin arrived at the arena in the morning, and tomorrow, he and Ross are headed west for a road game in Chicago.

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