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Calling it like they see it
An interview with Dan Rusanowsky & Jamie Baker
3/12/07 - By Chris Wood

Think playing in the NHL is tough? Try verbally calling two-and-a-half straight hours of the fastest game on earth, all while playing off of another broadcaster, and doing it in a manner so listeners can actually "see" the game.

Dan Rusanowsky
Put an identical question to Sharks Radio Network broadcasters Dan Rusanowsky and Jamie Baker and chances are you'll get two totally different answers. Life on the road? "It's wonderful if you want to visit great cities and go first class," says Rusanowsky, the veteran play-by-play man now in his 16th broadcast year with Team Teal. "You are around some of the greatest athletes in the world, and hockey just has a wonderful culture. For me, it is a special privilege."

No doubt Baker feels privileged as well, but life on the road for the Sharks pivot man alumnus and color commentator isn't always so special. "There's no real consistency because you get into towns the night before and you are leaving less than 24 hours later. Sometime you don't even know if you are tired," Baker says. "The travel schedule isn't ideal for anyone, let alone the players. It's not a really fluid situation, and some nights you are just burnt out and want to do the room-service thing."

Jamie Baker
Indeed, if there's one thing that Rusanowsky and Baker agree on after 20 years of friendship from NCAA Division 1 hockey at St. Lawrence University to their current 82-game 2006-2007 broadcast slate, it's that a little disagreement can be a good thing. "People will sometimes say that it sounds like we are arguing," Baker explains. "But I think that our shows are a bit unpredictable, and I think that keeps fans coming back."

Keeping fans hooked isn't exactly a given in the age of high def TV, broadband video on demand, and box scores that update in real time. But Rusanowsky and Baker have a rapport for calling pro hockey games that engages the hard core NHLer and the casual fan alike. Even to the point where you can actually visualize the game unfolding. "The whole purpose of what we are trying to do is to let listeners 'see' the game," Rusanowsky says, "and I think that is the way radio should be."

Pre-Game Prep

Things Rusanowsky and Baker Agree On

Best 2006-2007 Stanley Cup Contender: San Jose Sharks

Best 2007-2008 Stanley Cup Contender: San Jose Sharks

Best Arena for NHL Radio Broadcast: HP Pavilion

Best non-tank Arena for NHL Radio Broadcast: Xcel Energy Center

Longest Game: 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs Triple Overtime Game 3 vs. Edmonton

Best Job in the World: NHL Radio Broadcaster

Think you could be on radio? For all of the arm chair broadcasters out there with sortable stats on the 'net and a perfected "He shoots, he scores!" howl, you've got another thing coming. Sure, Rusanowsky and Baker have all the record books at their disposal, and have the PCs powered up, but keeping on top of all of the player numbers, the stats, the trends, and the keys to the game comes down to good old-fashioned brain power. "You have to crystallize everything before the game," Rusanowsky says. "We don't have time to flip pages. If you are looking down and flipping pages you are missing action on the ice." Preparation means getting to the rink early-as in morning skate early-to interview players, prepare and memorize stats and trends, and begin to develop a loose script to follow as the game naturally develops.

"It takes a few hours," says Baker. "I'd say I spend more time thinking about my keys to the game probably than anything else, and I'll put myself in the position of a player or a coach. For Friday night, how do you beat the Vancouver Canucks? Obviously Luongo was going to be one of the factors. None of their forwards average over 20 minutes of ice time, so you want to keep four lines rolling. You want to stay out of the penalty box. Your power play has got to go because they have the best penalty killing in the NHL. It's all different from game to game, but we will always come back to the keys throughout the game, because we're sharing with the listeners what we are looking for, and ultimately what they are listening for."

While Baker concentrates on the whys of the game, Rusanowsky is responsible for the whats. After a twenty-plus years of hockey play-by play, he's got most NHL player numbers down, but he'll still go through a pre-game ritual of verbalizing player numbers during the warm up skates. "It's a great way to test yourself," he explains. "Friday night I'd look out and just say 'Number 7 Brendan Morrison, Number 14 Alex Burroughs, Number 16 Trevor Linden.' It only takes a couple of minutes, and when you practice it that way, the call just starts to come out naturally."

The Drop of the Puck

And a natural cadence is the best cadence for Rusanowsky, who says that an NHL broadcast is a living thing that develops and transpires independent of any newsman's prep. "I try to keep it as organic as possible, not just because Jamie is comfortable with it that way, but because it really is a living thing, the actual call of the game. You want it to be as natural as possible, and you want to enhance that, because it sounds better."

Did you know

Dan has been the radio voice of the Sharks for 16 years

Jamie scored the game winning goal in Game 7 of San Jose's quarterfinal upset of the Detroit Red Wings in 1994

Both Dan and Jamie are St Lawrence University Alums

Dan has served as race commentator for the San Jose Grand Prix

Jamie coaches the Under-12 girls hockey team at Logitech Ice

Dan produced a radio segment for the Oakland A's called "Dan's Dugout" in 1993

Parallel to the conversation the broadcast team is having with listeners is the non-verbal communication they have between themselves. Note passing, kicks to the shin, and a complex collection of hand gestures lets Baker and Rusanowsky know when the other wants to butt in, needs to speed things up or slow things down, or just has to go solo for a bit. In particular, Rusanowsky-who also produces the radio broadcasts-is infamous among the Sharks Broadcast community for "The Hand," a signal that basically indicates it's either not a good time to make a comment, or, alternatively, it's time to wrap it up for a commercial break or some more on-ice action.

As the Sharks play out the stretch and each game becomes more intense, Baker expects less of The Hand as he voluntarily removes little bit of color out of the broadcast.

"We'll always take into account who the Sharks are playing and what's at stake. If it is the middle of December and it's the 5th game we have played against L.A. and the third game in three weeks, I think we'll keep the show a little lighter," he says. "But coming down the stretch, you'll notice that I cut out a lot more. I don't want to cut into the play because there is more at stake, and our broadcasts are going to correlate with that."

On the Road (Again)

After today's game against Edmonton, the Sharks head out to Phoenix, one of six road games left (including a four game stretch next week) that will see Rusanowsky and Baker packing the suitcases and enduring the rigors of the road. With the playoffs looming, access to both players and coach's strategies become more difficult, even as the focus and intensity of games-and the need for on-air information-increases. "That was one of the things I learned last year during the triple overtime in Edmonton," Baker says. "When the playoffs come, you've got to be prepared and ready to talk for an extra two or three periods."

To lighten the load, the TV and radio broadcast teams will get together for a dinner on the town or assorted camaraderie and revelry. Rusanowsky even thinks he should write a restaurant guide for all of the cities-19 different ones this year alone-where the Sharks make a road stop. Road trips also give the broadcast crew a chance to visit friends and family. And unlike players, Rusanowsky and Baker bunk separately and forego the Bosom Buddies routine. "I like the guy," Baker says, "but not that much!"

Familiarity with the road will likely be a formidable skill if the Sharks remain within the 4-8 playoff seed scenario, but both Baker and Rusanowsky uncharacteristically agree that-regardless of where the Sharks end up in the standings-there's no one in the NHL that wants a first round match up with San Jose. "This year and/or next year, San Jose is poised to win it," Rusanowsky says. "And that would be so special for this town. It would be so important for hockey in the Bay Area, but also just important for San Jose, too."

Even with most teams in the competitive Western Conference banner years, Baker takes the odds on Team Teal as well. "Vancouver is 24-4-4 since Christmas; they think this is a special year. Word out of Calgary is that they think it is a special year. Minnesota thinks it is a special year. Anaheim has their guys; they think it is a special year. Nashville picks up Forsberg; they think it is a special year. It's a special year for everyone, but the thing I like about the Sharks is that their best players are bigger than everyone else's best players. I like that in a seven game series."

In particular, Baker points to the added depth with Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet, two number one goaltenders, last year's MVP in Joe Thornton, and depth in the front lines. "If you look at all the teams, who don't you want to play?" he asks. "I don't know that anyone wants to play the Sharks. If they get going, if they get on a roll, this could be a fun spring."

As deep as the Sharks go, count on Rusanowsky and Baker to do their part keeping the all the slap shots, the hip checks, and the red-light, power-play, goal-scoring action coming across the airwaves and into your living room, car, or ear buds. If you've yet to listen to a Sharks game on the radio, make sure to give it a shot as the season unfolds. You'll find an entertainment more simple yet more sublime than anything HD, Buffalo wings, and a bar full of hotties has to offer.

And of course, expect some disagreement. Rusanowsky and Baker often sound like two buddies sitting on the couch, having the ultimate sports conversation with both each other and the game that they happen to be watching. "We generally like each other, but we have to disagree," Rusanowsky says. "That makes the fan who is listening very comfortable. Hopefully it drives them in. In the end, we always want to keep things natural, keep things exciting, and keep things loosened up to get through the long ride and the haul of it all."

Note: The Sharks Radio Broadcast can be heard on the Sharks Radio Network, including a flagship broadcast on FM 98.5 KFOX, as well as on Comcast Digital Cable channel 975. Streaming audio is available via the Internet at,, and

Contact Chris at

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