In this exclusive interview with AlternativeNation.net’s Sports section, Devils play-by-play man, Steve Cangialosi discusses his background as a broadcaster, Doc Emrick, what the locker room has been like since Peter DeBoer’s departure, who we could see behind the Devils bench next year, the development of Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas, what the Devils’ role at the trade deadline will be, playoff hopes, Martin Brodeur’s stint with the St. Louis Blues and more.
Tell me the story behind you and hockey. Did you become a fan before getting into broadcasting or after?
Oh of course! Hockey had been my favorite sport, probably from the time I was eight years old. Since I’m fifty-one now, I will say that’s a pretty long time. *laughs* I grew up in Queens and the Islanders were my team. Strangely enough, Chico Resch had become my favorite player at a very early age, probably because I have a vivid memory of 1975 and him taking the Islanders to the Stanley Cup semi-finals.
How do you cope during the overlap of the NHL and MLS seasons? What preparations do you make to switch into soccer and hockey mode, from one night to the next?
Those are the two very tricky parts of the year, probably that segment of late September into October and come springtime you have late February into March where for me it’s double the homework and probably double everything on my plate. Once the Devils and the Stanley Cup playoffs are done it’s something where I completely immerse myself into MLS and vice versa, once the MLS season is done and I’ve called my last soccer game for a while then I’m in position to switch the work part of it off. I mean, I still watch all of the games, watch all that I possibly can but it’s a lot to balance and you are inevitable that you are going to miss things.
The first thing that you should know is that whenever there is a conflict, the Devils win out and that’s just the nature of the beast. I have promised to do every New Jersey Devils telecast. There are those times where both teams play on the same day and strangely enough I can do both if one is in the afternoon and one is in the evening but that doesn’t happen a heck of a lot! *laughs* I read a lot and I watch as much tape as I possibly can, my DVR is always at around 98% because I got games on the backlog, most of which I try to get to and some of which I just never get to. It’s a completely different craft I would say, the preparation is similar in that you are reading as much as you can, watching as much tape as you can talking to players and coaches as much as you can but the pacing and the job itself is very much different.
In my opinion, it seems like you are a student of the game and its rich history, much like how Doc Emrick was. Would you say you pattern your call style after Doc? Is there more to your love of hockey than it just being part of the job?
*Laughs* There is only one Doc and I can say that pretty confidently because I got to work with him for a good amount of time. I always tell people that the thing that I try to take from Doc is not only his commitment to the profession but his approach to people, because that was a big part of what came out on-air. Doc loves the people that he covers and I try to adopt that same mindset, he loves the players, loves everything around the game and I think none of that when we see him now or NBC is forced at all. To talk with him just about life and the game was just some of the most rewarding times to have.
I’ll tell you a story that I like to tell sometimes where everything I ever thought about Doc came out and was true. The very first time I joined the crew, which was around the fall of 2006, I remember that we had arrived in Carolina and it was my first game as the pre-game host. We arrived to that first production meeting in Carolina and I’ll never forget, Doc had already called more than 2,000 games in his career and obviously his reputation was one of, if not the most credible voice in the game. What struck me as interesting in the first production meeting back then was that he treated me as if my voice was equal, he wanted to know what I had to say about tomorrow night’s game and he wanted me to have an equal platform as him even though his credentials in the game far outweighed mine. Doc wanted that door open and I never forgot that. It’s an approach that one day that I want to pass on to somebody else in the game and that’s what I mean about his approach to people. It’s always genuine and I believe that love of the game always comes out.
As far as pattering my call style? Doc is very unique, very descriptive, so on the money with things and it all happens with a machine gun/rapid fire call. I think that there are very few people in the business that are equipped to do what he does. I do my best though! *Laughs*
Have you worked with Ken Danekyo, this season to help him learn the craft a bit? Is Dan-o receptive to constructive criticism? Also, how do you feel this first season without Chico Resch is going?
Oh absolutely he’s receptive to constructive criticism and it’s a totally different animal for Kenny than the role that he’s been in for the past ten years. I think that the place he comes from was, you watch a game, you’re emotional about it and that emotion would then cut out just in his between period segment, which is roughly four to five minutes and I did a lot of those with him when I was the pre and post game host. It’s a completely different animal now because you are tethering everything to a two and a half hour broadcast, there is a lot more pacing, a lot more deciphering of what’s important early, what can wait and what might not get into the broadcast at all. The preparation level is completely different, it’s much more intense and Kenny is figuring all of that out right now. It’s a very different job from the one he had over the last ten years. It’s a lot more analytical and this is a first foray for him, his first season and it’s a process, definitely a process.
However, Kenny comes at it from a totally different place then Chico and for me I guess that’s the biggest change. Chico, and I would always take this for granted, would see the game through the eyes of a goaltender, so that doesn’t just mean that he knows about the nuances of goaltenders throughout the league but he was also very good of picking up the nuances of the shooters. Now, Kenny comes at it from a completely different place, obviously from being a stay-at-home defenseman for the most part of his twenty year career. So, there is a different dynamic there, without a doubt and just like Chico had to find his way with things when he started back in the 1990s so is Kenny in the process of doing that now, I’m sure.
How do you feel the mood around the players and team has changed since Peter DeBoer’s departure?
Something needed to change. I don’t know if the mood has been altered that much and I think that there is this false perception out there that players wanted Pete DeBoer out and I never sensed that. As a matter of fact, I sensed that an overwhelming respect in the room, for Pete. So, this notion that when he was dismissed, the day after Christmas that “thank God, he’s out of the way”, I always thought that was tremendously off base. Now, have certain played benefited from Pete’s departure? Absolutely. Adam Larsson is playing 22 minutes a night now when there were times that was probably never possible, under Pete. However, that’s not to say that it wouldn’t have happened if the situation was given more time but it very well might have. Pete’s best team, and you can log his time in Florida and New Jersey to make that six and a half years as a NHL head coach, the best team he ever had and was assembled for him got to the Stanley Cup Final and I never forget that. I think a lot of people do. However to answer your question, I don’t think the mood in the room has really changed that much.
I want to put this to bed once and for all, was Adam Larsson held down by Pete DeBoer?
Adam Larsson’s playing time has increased now in the aftermath of it. Pete wants to win, did he hold him down? That’s a hard question. Pete put out the lineup every night that he thought was going to win a hockey game, so did that progress slow down? It probably did a little bit since his rookie season. Remember when Adam came up as an 18 year old kid, he was not only playing 65 regular season games that year but he was playing every situation. As a teenager, they trusted him with a lot and I think the Devils as time went on kind of admitted that they put too much on his plate early. Pete DeBoer wasn’t the only one to have said that, Lou Lamoriello had said that as well.
Again, given more time I don’t think Adam Larsson’s growth as a player will be any more exponential since Pete DeBoer is out of the way. I just don’t. I think Adam would have had a very good career regardless of who the coach was for the balance of this season and moving forward. If Adam was good and if Adam was going to play as consistently as he has in recent weeks that was going to come out, eventually that would of come out under Pete DeBoer too.
Who do you think the next coach for the team is going to be next season? Scott Stevens, Adam Oates or someone else?
My suspicion is that it will be one of the two as both have built up equity here with what they’ve done. It’s a short body of work since they’ve come aboard, we’re talking about since December 26th but everything from the Devils says that the two have been equal parts in this. I would say that Adam Oates has a touch more to do with the overall game-plan right now. The forwards are under his jurisdiction where as the defensemen are under Scott Stevens’ jurisdiction. The simple math is that there are more forwards on the team then defensemen and Adam, of course is in charge of the power play which is a very important thing, although I’m not demeaning what the penalty kill means.
Adam is a former head coach in the NHL, if I had to say one guy had an edge it would be Adam Oates but I’m going to temper that by saying by saying Scott Stevens has unwavering support from a lot of people. I always want to remember the importance of that; there are a lot of people who believe Scott Stevens’ mentality is that of a head coach. The thing that hasn’t happened yet is that Scott hasn’t come out and said that “I want to be a head coach someday.” I think that once we hear that then maybe the handicapping of all of this might be different.
After an impressive winning streak, the team seems to have cooled off a bit. Do you think the Devils have a realistic chance of making the playoffs? Did we see a bump in performance, which usually happens after any head coaching change or was it something else?
You know what; I think they’ve simplified the game. The winning that took place, up until the last two games was more than just adrenaline of a coaching change, that had to do with simplifying the game, which the Devils have done. Now, you’re asking me if they’re in the playoff race. They’re going to have to do something that no team in the past two decades has done and that is come back from a double digit deficit in the standings, in terms of points and do that with less than 30 games to go. That hasn’t happened in two decades. So, the math here is very obvious for everyone to digest, it’s a long shot at this point. I still think what they’re doing, is that they’re looking at a 6 game home stand and I think that they still have their sights set on that stretch of games that takes place starting next week when they play Buffalo, Vancouver, Carolina, Arizona, Calgary and Boston all at home. Now, if the success of that home stand is going to match what they did with the recent home stand then the conversation suddenly takes another turn. However, there is no doubt that the team has put themselves in a hole and it is a long shot at this point, without a doubt and history tells us that.
As the NHL trade deadline approaches. Do you think the Devils will be buyers or sellers?
I think they’ll see where they are on February 28th. You know, it’s a line that Lou recycles a lot and that is “when you have time on your side, why not use it?” I think that the Devils still do have some time on their side to sort some things out and I think that it’s somewhere in between, could the Devils move players that would be helpful to other teams? Absolutely. If you are waking up on the morning of March 1st and you are 15 points out then obviously you are considering some things, without a doubt.
Are they adding at this point? You know, I just don’t see the scenario where they do that, I think every deal is done with an eye on getting better in the future.
We have seen all of the hype regarding Connor McDavid, Jack Echiel and even other future draft picks, such as Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome. What type of player do you think the Devils should target in the upcoming 2015 NHL Entry Draft?
That’s truly a hard one. What I think any team needs, is that guy who is a bonafide top two line center because those kind of players just don’t grow on trees. Adam Henrique could potentially be that but we are still finding a lot out about his game. Travis Zajac is a guy that I want on my team but the template of his game has a lot more to do with the intangibles of the game than some lucrative point total. With that said, that creative playmaking center who is simply fun to watch. Those players just come around every day and I’m kind of tilted that way only because I’m looking at the defensive core, who the team has moving forward and I think they are very comfortable with that group moving into the next three to five year stretch. If you have (Adam) Larsson, (Damon) Severson, (Eric) Gelinas and (Jon) Merrill right now in the NHL level and you have Steve Santini who is projected to be a NHL player within the next two years then if you are just going by need, then that playmaking center who can make a difference is something that I think a lot of the fans would look forward to seeing.
You bring up Eric Gelinas, Lou Lamoriello recently said in a recent Q&A that he wants Eric Gelinas to be a “long range player”, however, do you think giving him such a lack of playing time is the way to unearth Gelinas’ potential?
I think that it has to be earned and it goes back to putting the six defensemen on the ice that will give you the chance to win that night. Give them that because they have not once maneuvered to the point where they throw in the towel on a season and they’ve never once sent that vibe to their fans. While I understand the logic that Eric Gelinas playing and being in the lineup is going to be something that serves Eric Gelinas, there is the matter of staying true to your beliefs and putting the team on the ice that you feel has the best chance to win every night. I understand Eric Gelinas’ gifts, he skates very well with the puck, he has a blistering shot that I think is going to be his biggest weapon moving forward but there is that matter of trust, in his own end that has to be earned. I still think that there is a lot of hockey in Eric Gelinas before this season comes to an end. I don’t think that we will see this pattern of him sitting continue for too much longer.
Yet, when you got that responsibility to get back in the race, you aren’t looking at “I need to play Eric Gelinas because he’s 23 years old” but rather “I need to play the six best guys that I have on the ice.” The team has never really wavered from that and has always been consistent when it comes to that kind of thing.
What were your thoughts on the way in which Marty Brodeur ended his career given the rare nature of seeing someone only play for one team their entire career, like Derek Jeter or Nicklas Lidstrom?
Strange. It was just strange seeing the announcement with the Blues logo behind him, it was strange seeing Bernie Federko and Al Macinnis sitting behind him when you always envisioned that day coming (Ken) Daneyko, (Scott) Stevens and (Lou) Lamoriello at the dance. I don’t ever try to tell people what’s right for them; I think we all go down a dangerous path when any of us do that. Marty Brodeur thought that this was right for him and he didn’t know that it was suddenly going to end on a Winter’s day in January. I’m sure he considered the possibility but he didn’t know. I’m sure that when he signed with the St. Louis Blues that there was a chance that he was going to be playing meaningful hockey games in the Spring and even in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I don’t think Marty suddenly envisioned that it would just come to an end and that would be that, so I get that.
I guess the answer to your question is that everybody has the right to go out on the terms that they want, but was it strange seeing him with the Blues logo, in that setting? Absolutely. Of course it was.
Since Marty was unable to reach 700 career wins with St. Louis, do you think Marty would have retired with the Devils?
To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think that getting to 700 was the overwhelming factor. It would have been special but the guy just wanted to play. I just think that he felt he had more hockey in him, that’s all. Was getting to 700 career wins the one thing that was going to drive him? I don’t think so. Truthfully, I think once he got to 552, the rest was just adding to his legacy. To me, there was going to be no other milestone that was going to be the “end all, be all” for him. I think that it would have been nice for him and it would have been nice for the league to celebrate such a milestone as 700 career wins but at the end of the day I never really thought it was all that important.
In light of his injury history and declining stats, do you see Bryce Salvador coming back to the team next season?
The truth is that I haven’t spoken to Bryce Salvador in three months, so I got very little handle on it. I know that he has been at games and has watching from the suite from time to time but that is very hard to say and I have no firm grip on the injury that he suffered as well. I don’t believe that I can give you an educated stab at that question. I will say this though; Bryce is a good guy and has been an absolute pro in that locker room for the longest time. Fans give him a bad rep and I feel horrible for him because he is a good pro. People seem to forget how good he was in 2012 by the way. I’m not saying that we should continue to throw roses at players years later, I understand that’s the universe we live in but the Devils have had one magical run since 2003 and Bryce Salvador was a big, big part of that. People should not forget how good he was during a lot of those post season games.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s been any one player’s team since Scott Stevens last wore the captaincy and even then there was a measure of leadership coming through various pockets of that room. Bryce Salvador earned the “C”, he absolutely earned the right to wear that letter. However, leadership in that room has come from a lot of different places. There is a stretch of lockers, in the Devils room, where a bunch of veteran players all sit side by side and it began with Brodeur when he was still with the team but on one side of the locker room you had Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Danius Zubrus, Ilya Kovalchuk, back when he was still here, it’s always come from a bunch of different places and that’s more likely to happen when it’s a veteran laden team like this one is.
It was recently announced, that the IZOD Center, which was known for many years as the Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena, and most importantly as the original home for the New Jersey Devils will be shutting down permanently. As my final question to you, out of all the important and significant memories there, what was your favorite Devils memory from the old arena?
*Laughs* I’m going to cheat because it’s one with me at the mic. I understand nothing beats game four of the 1995 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit but I’ll be selfish and speak as a broadcaster. I was part of the Devils broadcast team for only one season at the Meadowlands, that last year, 2006-2007. So, my favorite memory from that year was actually the second round of the playoffs and I got to call Jamie Langenbrunner’s double overtime goal against the Ottawa Senators, which turned out to be the only game the Devils would win in that series as they were eliminated in five and the Senators went on to the Stanley Cup final. For me though, that was my first year as a National Hockey League announcer and I got to call our team winning a double overtime winning game, which was the first really cool moment that I had in the booth and my favorite memory from the Meadowlands.