With hard work and focus, do dreams really come true?
In the case of Fair Lawn, New Jersey native Joe Tolentino, the undisputed answer is yes. It was a normal Tuesday, and he was in the office of Beekman Wines & Liquors in Glen Rock, managing the store. That afternoon he was preoccupied while anxiously awaiting a call that would ultimately decide his future as a public address announcer. It was a nerve-racking afternoon, up until he received that anticipated call from the Devils’ organization. From the tone of the voice on the other end of the line, he became optimistic that he became the New Jersey Devils’ PA announcer, and a few seconds later it was confirmed.
“I can’t really describe how I felt,” said Tolentino during our zoom call. “I feel like I lost a few moments because it didn’t feel real. It’s hard to put into words because it was such an amazing moment.”
His first call after hearing the news was to his fiancé, and the second to his mother, who was equally emotional, and proud to hear her son would be part of the Devils organization. Growing up, they watched games together, and she would listen to his excitement as he shared the latest team news and how Martin Brodeur was playing in goal. It was a special moment for his family as they celebrated Tolentino’s latest accomplishment and new routine.
Tolentino’s Gameday Routine
Just like the players, Tolentino has his own gameday routine. In fact, he has two, depending on his schedule at Beekman Wines & Liquors. On days where he has no commitment besides the game, he likes to sleep in, noting that rest is the best thing he could do for his voice. He starts his day with a cup of tea with honey, and from there things are pretty low-key, as he spends time playing NHL 22 and spending time with his two cats. He opts to play in hockey ultimate team so he can create his own team – and don’t worry Devils fans, he made sure to tell me that he has a Devils heavy team, and recently added Brian Gionta. Before he leaves for the arena, Tolentino goes through a full run-through of that night’s script.
He arrives at Prudential Center around 4:00 P.M. for a normal 7:00 P.M. puck drop. Once he walks through the employee entrance, he takes a minute for himself, and then focuses on the night’s events. His preparation begins with a review of the final copy of his script. For that, he carefully scans the document, and looks for any last-minute updates, including player scratches or injuries. The 31-year-old then reviews the pronunciation of the players’ names until he is comfortable, and spends time doing research on players he is unfamiliar with. Prior to warmups, he takes a few minutes to post on social media so he can engage with Devils fans who are intrigued by what it takes to be a public address announcer.
After discussing how he found out about his new job title and gameday routine, I decided to dive a little deeper to find out more like the most challenging part of announcing, and his dream Devils starting lineup. Let’s dive in.
10 Questions with Tolentino
The Hockey Writers: What was your first reaction to seeing the view from the press box?
Joe Tolentino: It kind of felt like getting the job all over again. For my audition, I announced the Devils’ preseason game against the New York Rangers, and it went by so fast because I was in awe of all of my surroundings. It was surreal, and kind of reminded me of going to my first game as a kid.
THW: Kevin Clark was the Devils PA announcer for 14 seasons. Did you feel any pressure replacing him this season or feel that you would be held to a certain standard by the public?
JT: Yes, there is pressure, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. When replacing someone who was there as long as Kevin Clark, it was and continues to be a challenge, but I have embraced it, and to be honest with you I love it. The pressure comes from this being an NHL organization, it’s the big leagues, and I want to make sure that I am delivering news in the most accurate way and adding to the overall experience for fans at the arena.
THW: You’ve previously mentioned you are a fan of Nico Hischier and his name was the one you were most excited to announce, but how exciting was it to essentially introduce Dougie Hamilton to the fans during the home opener against the Chicago Blackhawks?
JT: To announce his name at the home opener in front of a sold-out electric crowd was unbelievable. Then he scored seconds into the game and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better it did. To announce that goal was even greater and that whole opening night was just really incredible.
Related: Devils’ Signing of Hamilton Just What They Needed
THW: What is your greatest challenge while working a game?
JT: The timing of everything is crucial. I have been watching hockey for a long time, and it hasn’t gotten any slower (he says with a laugh). When goals and penalties happen, it’s important that I know what’s going on, and have been following the play. I am given the information in a timely fashion, and knowing what happens on the ice gives me a few extra seconds to prepare [and] be more accurate and comfortable by the time I turn the microphone on. It’s also a challenge to step out of the booth, because nothing is pre-recorded. When fans are listening to every sponsorship, introduction, and disclaimers that is all live. Managing my time can be challenging, but I’m getting better at it.
THW: While you make it seem easy, there is obviously a lot of things happening behind the scenes. Do you work with your own team during the game to keep things moving smoothly?
JT: This is something that I frequently get asked. I am on a headset with an incredible live production team up in press row. I had no idea what went into it prior to being in it, but it is a live production and has so many moving parts and we are constantly adapting to the changing circumstances. I am in the booth with Joe Kuchie who is the live production director for the Devils. Most of my communication is with him, and I’m amazed at what he does and what his team is doing every game. He has been so incredible in really bringing me up to speed and along for the ride. I couldn’t do this without that help.
THW: Is there a player in the NHL that you hope you never have to pronounce his name?
JT: There are definitely some that have been difficult like Kailer Yamamoto and Vladislav Gavrikov that take some extra work.
THW: What is your favorite part of the job?
JT: I love a lot of different aspects of the job. Delivering good news and announcing the goals is so much fun. I really enjoy being part of recognizing others who have done really awesome things like when we do the Prudential Hero announcement. My favorite theme so far this season has been kids day. I got to work with a junior PA announcer who was 7 years old, and that experience of bringing him up to the booth, teaching him everything, and being involved in that memory of a lifetime for him has unexpectedly been the best part about this job.
THW: You have been a Devils fan since you were a little boy. Tell me who your dream starting lineup would be for New Jersey.
JT: This is tough because as a fan you’re used to seeing so many players come and go. With that being said, Brodeur is my starting goaltender. As far as defensemen I’m choosing Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens, as they are easily two of the best defensemen of all time. On the left wing, you have to pick Patrik Eliáš, who statistically is the best offensive forward to ever play for the Devils. At center, there are a couple of different ways I could go, but I’m going with Scott Gomez. Alexander Mogilny would be my right wing, I think he’s one of the greats and maybe a little under-appreciated.
THW: Which hockey greats should be carved into the NHL’s Mount Rushmore?
JT: Martin Brodeur, I feel that he’s the greatest goaltender that we have seen. The second would be Wayne Gretzky and as a Devils fan, I have to pick the best captain in the team’s history, Scott Stevens. Finally, I have to say Jaromír Jágr because I don’t know if there is an individual who represents the sport as a whole better than he does.
THW: If you could snap your finger and instantly become any Devils player past or present, who would it be and why?
JT: Nico Hischier. He has so many good years to look forward to for both himself and the team. He’s the captain of a team that I truly believe is about to have a few special years ahead of them. He gets to take the reins and really guide this group of incredible talent, so yeah I’d love to be Nico, that would be so cool.
Related: Devils Getting Solid Leadership From Nico Hischier
THW: Before I let you go I want to give you an opportunity to address Devils’ fans. What would you like to say to the people who voted for you?
JT: I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to stop saying thank you. I have made it my business to personally thank as many people as I can find and I’ll keep doing that for a long time. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and even after I got the job I have been so grateful for the people that have continued to support me and reach out whether it’s complimentary or a critique. The interactions with the fans have been unbelievable and it’s a reminder of how passionate they are. I’m so excited for every single game and there is no real way I can express how much joy this has brought into my life. Fans can reach out to me through my Instagram account and please bother me until the end of time because I love this part of my life.