As an avid NHL and NHL Network fan, I was concerned when the NHL Network was unable to operate in Toronto, Canada (a.k.a. the hockey capital of the world). I was hoping that the network would survive amidst rebranding and new talent acquisition. Well not only did they survive the NHL Network is thriving. The talent on the network is amazing, analysts like Kevin Weekes, Alex Tanguay, Ken Daneyko, Mike Rupp, and so many more are all insightful and interesting to watch, especially how they dissect the game. On top of the awesome analysts they have acquired on the show, they have lined up great talent to host these shows as well. Hosts like Tony Luftman, Jackie Redmond, EJ Hradek, Kelly Nash, Jamie Hersch, and others have developed great rapports with their analysts for shows that are unparalleled in the sports world. I was able to catch up with one of the networks best Hosts recently in Jamison Coyle, to take a closer look at how he got into hockey, broadcasting and what it’s like on the set at the NHL Network. A career path that at one point was up in the air (pun intended), as well as advice for our youth audience that want to pursue a broadcasting career.
Bill Katinsky (BK): Did you play hockey, or any other sports while growing up?
Jamison Coyle (JC): I did. I grew up in New Hampshire and started playing organized hockey when I was 5 or 6. My father always built a rink in the winter on the side of our house, and to this day, those are some of my best memories growing up. I played organized hockey through high school and still continue to play today, playing “drop-in” at the local rinks nearby.
BK: When did you passion for broadcasting start?
JC: I would say it was probably around my junior year of high school when I really started thinking about what I wanted to pursue as a career. I was always involved in sports and wanted to stay as close to the action as possible, while also realizing that playing professionally wasn’t going to be a reality. I’ve always been a pretty outgoing person as well, never shy, and never at a loss for words so I think my passion for broadcasting began when I realized I could make a living out of combining the two.
BK: Where did you attend college? Did you broadcast at all in college?
JC: I went to Syracuse University. I did get a chance to broadcast in college. Along with our everyday course load that included a ton of hands-on experience, I also worked at the local campus television station and interned at the local NBC affiliate in Syracuse, NY. One of the best experiences of my life was the summer going into my senior year when I did an internship with the Alaskan Baseball League. I lived in Palmer, Alaska that summer doing play-by-play for the Mat-Su Miners. It was an incredible experience both personally and professionally to live in such a unique place, and get the amount of experience I did that summer.
BK: Looking back, working for NESN covering college hockey must’ve been great, plenty of those guys must be in the NHL or have been in the NHL recently. What’s it like to see the progression of some of those players?
JC: Working on the Hockey East package at NESN was something that has been invaluable to my career. It was my first real taste of covering hockey full-time. We didn’t have a whole lot of resources, but what we lacked in that department, we more than made up for in passionate people with incredible creativity and a willingness to make it all work. The bosses let us have a lot of freedom with Hockey East and we really took ownership of the product and produced a lot of things we can all be proud of. As far as talent on the ice, it was awesome! I remember my first year doing Hockey East and one of the analysts. Said we should keep our eye on this freshman from BC [Boston College], Johnny Gaudreau. Well, he was RIGHT!
One of the coolest parts of the journey so far has been seeing guys like Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, and Connor Hellebuyck become household names in the NHL. I covered them in college and get to continue that now in the best league on the planet! I feel like a proud parent sometime, always knowing these guys would succeed at the next level. And I get to say… “I knew him back when”.
BK: In the NHL world, you are a household name now. What was the experience like coming to the NHL network full time from NESN?
JC: Coming to the NHL Network from NESN was a dream come true. Like I said, getting my first taste of covering hockey full-time with Hockey East is when I knew I couldn’t get enough. I had done a few fill-in shifts with the Bruins on pre/post game coverage and a couple games as the rink-side reporter. That’s when it really started to sink in. Don’t get me wrong, covering the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics for NESN was fun, but if there’s one place in the world I wanted to be, it was the rink! Now, that’s essentially what I get to do for a living and I love every second of it. The only difference now is my knowledge and passion for the 30 other team in the NHL is right up there with the Bruins.
BK: What sticks out to you about your first show?
JC: Nerves! It was the biggest think I’d done up to that point in my career. I remember feeling like my heart was going to beat out of my chest in the 10 seconds leading up to the director rolling the open for the first show. Two things I kept telling myself: 1. Don’t mess up the analyst’s names; John Tortorella and Brian Boucher. 2. Don’t mess your own name!
Honestly though, once the first worlds came out of my mouth it was just television like I’d been doing for the decade leading up to the show. It was a blast and a blur at the same time. What always sticks out, and still to this day, is how the analysts see the game differently from you and I. I can see the goal happen and the player that makes the great pass that lead to it. These guys see the play 180 feet away from the net at the other end of the ice that led to the events leading up to the goal. And they see it on the live look without any replays. It’s incredible and their ability to teach us on the replays is something that never gets old to me. I continue to learn the game every time I work with these guys.
BK: Can you describe a typical day when you’re going to be on the air?
JC: Depending on what time the show starts, there’s usually a pre-production meeting three hours prior. That’s when everyone from the director, research, producer, coordinating producer, graphics, analysts and talent get together to go over things for the night. The producer comes in with a rundown, which loosely outlines, what we’re going to have in the show that night. The meeting is where we toss around ideas and things we should keep an eye on that could potentially play out in the games that evening. We are also provided with a research packet for the day from our research department. These people are incredible at giving us anything and everything we could want about the matchups that evening. They make us appear so much smarter than we actually are (I can only speak for myself!). Once the meeting is done, I head to my office and go over research packet and continue to prepare for the slate of games that night.
You can never be too prepared because anything can happen in love sports and you have to be ready to adapt it. It’s the thing I love about this job, no two days are ever the same. About 30 minutes before the show, I’ll throw on a suit and tie and head to makeup. After that’s done, the audio engineer will mic us up and away we go once it’s show time, that’s when the fun begins! The real star of the show, however, is my wife when I’m “on-air”. She’s the best that holds down the fort at home and makes sure our family life doesn’t miss a beat. Our schedule and hours are less than ideal for two kids under five, but she’s the all-star when it comes to keeping everything balanced.
BK: Watching the show, there are former greats sitting beside you every night, you all remind me of my group of old teammates just sitting around talking hockey like life long pals, how do you all keep the atmosphere so light?
JC: That’s the best compliment we could get on NHL Tonight. Just a bunch of old teammates talking hockey. That’s exactly what it should be and why you should watch. We want you to feel like you’re part of the team. Keeping the atmosphere light is easy. Our job is to watch hockey and react to it. At the end of the day, we’re all fans of the game or we wouldn’t be here. It also doesn’t hurt that we genuinely like who we work with, so watching and talking hockey with friends (some of them Hall of Famers with multiple Stanley Cups) is easy to keep the mood light.
BK: You guys are all a riot, is the show scripted? Or do you just kind of have topics in mind and run with it?
JC: I’ll call it unscripted with structure! Again, we go into a show with a game plan of the major storylines that “could” play out that night, or things we should be keeping an eye on. More times than not, it never plays out the way you thought it would. Which is why we love it, it’s live TV! We are just reacting to what happens and the story that plays out on the ice that night, is the way the show is going to look as well. The unscripted show format also allows us to be ourselves. There are rarely any time restrictions and we get the freedom to talk about what we want. In TV, there’s really nothing like that kind of freedom and it’s an incredibly fun show to be a part of.
BK: You have two young boys, are they in hockey as well?
JC: I have two boys, Jaxson is 4 and Mason is 1. Jaxson just finished up his second year of “learn to skate.” We play a lot of mini-hockey in our basement. Jaxson may be the only Winnipeg Jets fan in the state of New Jersey. The Jets and the Leafs were playing opening night last season and Winnipeg was introduced first. Once he saw the players skating our with the smoke and lasers, he was hooked. Again, diehard Winnipeg Jets fan in North Jersey, go figure!
BK: Do they realize that you are on TV and what it all means yet?
JC: Yes and no. They love coming to visit me at work because they think we play all day. We share our network studio with MLB Network, so they love coming and playing inside Studio 42 and running the bases. As far as watching dad on TV, not a chance that Paw Patrol takes a back seat to NHL Tonight, at least not yet!
BK: Outside of hockey, what are some of your hobbies?
JC: Not a whole lot of time these days for hobbies outside of work with two kids. A lot of our free time on the weekend is spent at the rink or at birthday parties. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and it’s only going to get more hectic once Mason gets into the [skating and hockey] mix. It makes you really appreciate your parents when growing up and the taxi-cab service they provided, shuttling us to and from events 24/7. When I do have a free moment, I enjoy golfing when the weather permits. I’m also a big Netflix documentary guy, and try to soak up as many of those as I can when the kids go to bed. Although, I’m trying to do less screen time this year and read a few more books. So far so good! We’ll see how it holds up.
BK: What advice can you give youth athletes that one-day want to take on sports broadcasting?
JC: Stick with it! It’s not easy hen you’re first starting out, and trust me, less than glamorous more times than not. But, it’s so worth it when you get to drive to a job that you absolutely love and would be doing at home even if you weren’t getting paid for it. (Shhh, don’t tell me bosses, they haven’t caught on yet!) Also, get experience, see if you like it. There are so many avenues nowadays whether it be Youtube channels or podcasting to start producing your own content. Get those repetitions in now and you’ll be way more ahead of the curve than I ever was. I’m old that technology didn’t exist when I was first starting out.
BK: If you could have any job in the world besides yours, what would it be?
JC: Without a doubt, I’d be a commercial pilot. I’ve always had a passion for flying and takeoffs and landings never get old. When I was deciding where I was going to go to college, it was between Syracuse for broadcasting or Embry-Riddle in Florida to become a commercial pilot. It was so close between the two. The deciding factor was my parents telling me that if I went to Syracuse and broadcasting didn’t workout, I’d still have a useful degree that I could do something else with and always go get my pilot’s license. If I went the other route and decided I didn’t want to be a pilot, I’d be stuck with something a little less useful and might’ve missed that boat on the sports broadcasting thing. Needless to say, I went to ‘Cuse and I think it’s worked out! Thanks Mom and Dad!
*All work related photos courtesy of NHL Network*
*Photo of Jamison and his children, courtesy of the Coyle family*
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