It wasn't all that long ago that Predators Senior Director of Broadcasting Bob Kohl and his team came up with an idea.
The premise was simple in theory: let's find another way to talk to a player and get their insight on the game - but what if it could happen during the actual gameplay?
After the appropriate parties signed off on the plan that seemed just crazy enough to work, a headset made its way to the Predators bench midway through the third period of a game early in the 2006-07 season, and over the ears of the backup goaltender, which on that particular evening, was one Chris Mason.
"We got a lot of great feedback from doing it," Mason said of the in-game chat. "After doing it a number of times, Bob said to me, 'If you're ever back after you're done playing and you want to get into broadcasting, let's figure it out.' And now here we are."
Kohl stayed true to his word, and Mason will now find himself alongside Willy Daunic during Preds television broadcasts, serving as the color commentator on Fox Sports Tennessee, beginning this season.
But the former Preds goaltender isn't the only familiar face back in the fold - former defenseman Hal Gill, who skated in 55 games in a Nashville uniform from 2011-13, will join Voice of the Predators Pete Weber in the booth as the radio color analyst for broadcasts heard on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.
The additions of Mason and Gill are just two of a number of changes to the team's broadcasting lineup following the most successful campaign in franchise history. Also new to the broadcast team this season is Kara Hammer, who will serve as the club's rinkside reporter during home games at Bridgestone Arena. Formerly a sports reporter with WKRN in Nashville, Hammer will join Daunic and Mason as a trio, while Lyndsay Rowley and Terry Crisp will host Predators Live home pre- and postgame shows on Fox Sports Tennessee..
Rowley will remain with the club on the road, serving as the rinkside reporter away from home, as well as the pregame host for those contests.
On the radio side, Weber and Gill will call the action, while Darren McFarland returns to host pre- and postgame programming, as well as intermission reports. Former Predators Associate Coach Brent Peterson, who had served as radio color analyst alongside Weber, will join McFarland during the pre- and postgame shows. Mark Howard will take on a new role this season, hosting special vignettes celebrating the team's 20th season, as well as hosting in-arena game breaks during each intermission.
It's an exciting time for all involved, perhaps a bit more for a pair of individuals who will be trading in their sticks for microphones on a full-time basis.
"Everybody in the broadcast industry, whether it's the radio side of it or TV, they just have a passion for what they do," Mason, who will also become the president of the Predators Alumni Association, said. "I've just started to adopt that passion because being a hockey player, my passion for the majority of my life was to play hockey, but I'm excited to be part of the Predators broadcast. To have a full-time position with an organization that I believe in wholeheartedly, I'm honored and excited for the new challenge."
"When I played here, I really fell in love with Nashville," Gill said. "I'm excited to turn the page on my playing days and get into the broadcasting side and see how it goes. I have limited experience in it, but it's something that, when I did do it, I really enjoyed it. It's nice to be around the game and to be a part of it. I have a pretty good job - I get to talk about hockey."
Doing the in-game hits from the bench during his playing days gave Mason, who appeared in 146 contests with the Preds, his first taste of what life might be like after he hung up the skates. Once he does it about 80 times this season, Mason likely won't have much trepidation once the camera lights come on, but he knows he's not far removed from his first broadcast, a moment he describes as just as nerve-wracking as any time he ever strapped on the pads.
"I remember the first time I went on TV and I did a segment on the pregame show, it felt like I was playing in the Stanley Cup Final," Mason recalled. "I was so nervous, I wrote everything down word for word… but it helped being surrounded by so many awesome people. I'm still a rookie, I still have a lot to learn, but I'll tell you what, I'm looking forward to learning it, and doing it, for the Nashville Predators. That's for sure."
Mason, who has joined Weber on the radio broadcast for periods of time, as well as made appearances on television during pre- and postgame shows during the regular season and playoffs, could be considered a wily veteran when compared to Gill. The 6-foot-7 Gill, who has more than 1,100 NHL contests of experience, got his first taste of radio action last season when he joined Weber for a game. He's looking forward to doing so on at least 82 more occasions over the coming months, grateful for the caliber of partner he'll have right beside him.
"He makes it easy, he kind of throws everything into your lap, and it's so much fun," Gill said of working with Weber. "It makes it fun to sit and listen to him. I think if you're with someone that you enjoy listening to, it becomes more of a conversation with a friend - and, of course, I'm going to try and learn as much as I can from him."
Hockey players have often stated that they miss the camaraderie of the locker room and being part of a team more than anything once they retire. And while Mason and Gill are well aware they'll no longer be skating out of the Pred Head, that same sense of community exists on the broadcasting side - an attribute they're ecstatic to experience once more.
"I think the athlete in me just wants to be around the game," Gill said. "Hopefully, I can bridge the gap between the inevitable bad times and the good times during the season, and hopefully be someone that the fans will want to listen to, whether it's good or bad. I think that's the ultimate goal anyone around a hockey team has is you want to win, and you want to be around a fun atmosphere, a hockey atmosphere."
"I love the team atmosphere of broadcasting," Mason said. "I never thought that before I got into broadcasting, I just thought it was two guys sitting there talking about hockey, but there's so many different things that have to happen to make everything work… Just being around awesome people that are passionate about something, that's what I'm looking forward to most about this job. I feel much honored that they thought highly enough of me to be able to do it."