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Higueros, Zarate Shine in Ducks' First Spanish-Language Radio Broadcast

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara / AnaheimDucks.com

Erwin Higueros wasn't quite sure to make of the voicemail he received last month. It was from a number he didn't recognize, but the voice on the other end assured him he was the man hoping to be reached. Is this for real? he thought.

The call came from a member of the Ducks broadcasting department, asking the veteran play-by-play announcer if he had interest doing something he hadn't done in more than two decades - call a hockey game.

It would be the Canucks-Ducks game held Nov. 1 at Honda Center. As part of the celebration of Día de los Muertos, and an ongoing organizational effort in the Hispanic community, the Ducks were going to host a Spanish-only radio broadcast of the game on AnaheimDucks.com and the club's official mobile app.

Higueros took some time to confirm what he thought he heard the first time around. "It took me a couple of hours to listen to the message again," he said. "Did they REALLY want me to do this?"

Higueros has 30 years of experience in Bay Area sports broadcasting and is one of the most recognizable voices in the region. He recently completed his 21st season in the San Francisco Giants' Spanish-language radio booth, and in 2016 received a Northern California Area Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Achievement Sporting Game Live for the first Giants game to be televised in Spanish on Telemundo/KSTS-Channel 48. He's called games for MLB (Giants 1998-present, Oakland A's in 1988-97), NFL (San Francisco 49ers in 2000 and 2012-13 and the Oakland Raiders in 1995-96 and 2002-06) and college football (Fresno State 2009-14), but hadn't called a game on ice since 1995 when he handled play-by-play duties in Spanish for the San Jose Sharks.

After mulling it over, Higueros returned the call.

"At first, I thought 'I hadn't done a game since 1995,' so I got a little scared," he said. "But then I was like, 'You know what? Let's do it.' The last time I did it, I didn't know anything about hockey. It was the first time doing hockey. I had done football and baseball back then when I was younger. I called [Ducks broadcasting manager Tiffany Spiritosanto] back and said I'll do it."

A lot went through his mind. Not only did he have to reacquaint himself with a sport that has evolved immensely over the past two decades (including the game getting a whole lot faster), he had to find someone to serve as his analyst. He knew there wasn't time to waste. 'I'm really rusty,' he told himself. "It's been a while, since 1995. The game is fast, but I'm ready. When you do baseball, you have plenty of time to talk and sip a cup of coffee. But here, there's no time."

Over the years, Higueros has gotten to know many people in the broadcasting business, but one in particular seemed like the perfect fit for this role, so he gave him a call. An old friend and colleague, Jesus Zarate.

"Jesus filled in about five years ago for my analyst who wasn't able to do some games in San Diego [for baseball]," said Higueros. "We also had worked together in football with the 49ers. When Tiffany called, she said she wanted to get the play-by-play guy, so I thought maybe they already had somebody to do the commentary. Then she told me that if I know somebody, let her know.

"I thought about all the people I know and the only one that came to mind was Jesus because not only is he my friend, he's very professional," Higueros said. "He also just did a hockey game, so why not?"

Hockey was still fresh in Zarate's mind, having called the Sabres-Sharks game on Oct. 19 at SAP Center in San Jose. Though he's served as the Spanish play-by-play announcer for the NFL's 49ers since 2012, Zarate has also served as the Spanish play-by-play announcer for the Sharks in 2017, 2018 and 2019 for their special Spanish broadcast games celebrating Hispanic Heritage.

"I was definitely excited to do it because it's another hockey game in Spanish and another opportunity to get the message across to the Hispanic community to bring new fans to the game," Zarate said. "When I found out about it, I was very excited."

After a quick flight from the Bay Area to Orange County, Higueros and Zarate began their game day preparation. They took in the morning skates from the Ducks and Canucks, and familiarized themselves with the players, including Ryan Getzlaf, who on that night would play his 999th career NHL game. Copious notes were taken. Milestones and hot streaks were jotted down. Name pronunciations, with the guidance of Ducks radio play-by-play announcer Steve Carroll, were memorized.

Like in baseball and football, their broadcast location for the hockey game would be from up above. Sitting on a perch above the first row of the Honda Center press box, Higueros and Zarate had a pristine, unobstructed view of the entire sheet of ice. Their lineup cards were marked up and highlighted, and placed upright for easy reference. Headsets were plugged in. Laptops were up and running. The only thing missing? A pair of gloves.

"It's cold!" Higueros said, rubbing his hands together in an unsuccessful attempt to warm up in the press box. "Can you turn on the heater? [Laughs]. During the baseball season, we always complain it's too hot. But seriously, this is very exciting. I'm excited. I'm ready for this. I've been reading a lot and getting ready."

Knowing this was the first time the Ducks ever had a Spanish-only broadcast gave Higueros and Zarate the opportunity to educate and inspire. "It's definitely exciting," said Zarate. "You have the opportunity to teach new fans what hockey is all about. I really enjoy doing that. Especially the Hispanic community that maybe just might be getting interested in hockey. We can teach them about things like a power play, or certain things about the game. Then, they really get into it."

"It means a lot," Higueros said. "We're in the public ear - and eye - so not only do we want to be an inspiration for somebody to start playing hockey, but maybe an inspiration for somebody to be the next Spanish play-by-play announcer for the Anaheim Ducks. That's what we want."

Higueros admits he gave a lot of thought about how he'd announce a Ducks goal, if one were to occur that night. At the time, nothing was set in stone, Higueros saying he'd go by feel. The Ducks would go on to score twice that night, including a thrilling breakaway goal in overtime that will be remembered not only for the play itself, but also for the call that accompanied it.

"I've been thinking about what I'm going to say," Higueros said, minutes before puck drop. "I don't know if I'm just going to say Score! or if I'm going to go with Goooooool like in soccer. We'll see. The good thing is we're at home, so if I go with Goooooool, I'm going to have all these fans going crazy. [Laughs]."

As you can see below, he nailed the call of the overtime goal perfectly.

Video: Spanish-Language Radio Call of Getzlaf OT Goal

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