As I finish my first season as a New Jersey Devils credentialed writer, I have taken time to reflect on the past few months. It has been a whirlwind, and it feels like just yesterday I sat down for the team’s media day in September. One of the highlights of this season is when I had the opportunity to experience what goes into the MSG Network’s broadcast of Devils games. I am extremely appreciative to have had the chance to observe the production and broadcast team in action, and to date, this has been one of my favorite in-game experiences. Let’s take you behind the scenes and look at what it takes to bring the Devils’ broadcast to life.
Fans who have been lucky enough to sit in the lounge or at The Rock Bar & Grill have had the opportunity to see the MSG Network’s on-air talent at work. While some broadcast booths are above the ice in the press box, Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko are situated at the top of the club lounge.
To say they have the best view is an understatement.
Their sight-lines are impeccable, and it is an even better perspective than the press box. The location allows fans to see Cangialosi and Daneyko, and keeps the broadcast team in the thick of the excitement instead of high above the action. Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador, meanwhile, are set up in the restaurant for the pregame show, intermission reports, and postgame show. During play, fans can find the former Devils captain in between the benches giving an ice-level perspective.
MSG Networks Broadcast All-Star Starting Lineup
The on-air talents of Cangialosi and Daneyko are joined in the booth by two cameramen, statistician Nick Cahill, and stage manager JT Townsend. Cangialosi replaced Mike “Doc” Emrick as the Devils’ play-by-play announcer in 2011, and has been working at MSG Networks since 2000. Daneyko, who is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, has been the Devils’ in-game analyst since 2014.
Cangialosi makes play-by-play look incredibly easy, and when you see him in action it is no surprise that in 2012 he received two New York Emmy Awards for his work with the Devils. His notes are extremely comprehensive, and I remember thinking, “I don’t think I have ever been as prepared for anything in my life as much as he is for the game at hand.” It is not an easy feat replacing Emrick, and yet Cangialosi has done so with the utmost professionalism and grace.
If you have heard Cangialosi call a game, then you know that he is virtually flawless night in and night out. I sat down with the Devils’ play-by-play announcer, and learned about his process and how much time he puts into each and every game of the season and it starts well before the first puck drop of the season.
“You’re constantly building on what you have already done. It is sort of a process where if camp starts on September 10, I’ll start to really kick things in at home about three weeks before that,” Cangialosi said. “You get to know every potential player who can make the team and I create a laminated cheat sheet of everyone from Utica who could come up to New Jersey.”
To hear him discuss his preparation and the work that he puts in after all these seasons is inspiring. It is a reminder that a lot of focus and hard work is hidden behind those Emmys. Similar to the players on the ice who credit their teammates for their goals, Cangialosi credits those around him including Cahill for providing up-to-date stats as the game progresses.
Daneyko has been a fan favorite in New Jersey for decades, and it is obvious why. He is never too busy to talk to a fan or take a photo. At the conclusion of the game, a line formed to meet the former Stanley Cup champion, and he was gracious giving each individual his time and attention. His commentary throughout the game, both on and off camera, gives a glimpse into the mind of a player, and it’s truly fascinating to watch him observing the game. He is a natural in the booth, and looks as comfortable with a headset on as he did with skates.
Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador
The dynamic duo of Wachter and Salvador have been setting the stage for Devils fans since the 2018-19 season. Wachter is the host for all New Jersey Devils telecasts, while Salvador brings his unique knowledge as the studio analyst. Together they set the stage ahead of puck drop, break down the action at each intermission, and recap the night’s events during the post-game report.
MSG Networks announced that Wachter joined their team on Sept.12, 2018. She replaced Deb Placey, who was part of the MSG Networks family for 23 years. Fans immediately took to Wachter, and it is easy to see why. Her enthusiastic disposition and excitement about the team are authentic, and what you see on camera is exactly what you get in person. During the games you can find her engaging with fans, and even giving advice to those who are looking to eventually work in broadcast journalism. I had a chance to ask her just how important those interactions and connections are.
“That is truly one of my absolute favorite parts of my job,” Wachter said. “I love getting to connect with fans each game day and share our passion for the team, and it is so special to be able to see the same fans season after season and get to know them. I can’t even describe what it means to me when someone tells me how I’ve impacted their life in some way or inspired them. It is an honor and a privilege to have this career and be a role model for a new generation.”
Fans can’t get enough of seeing players’ personalities off the ice, and over the years MSG Networks has done a great job at providing segments showcasing the players off the ice. MSG Networks have brought fans some great segments over the years, with Wachter including “Two Minutes For Talking“, “Just Ask the Boys” and we can’t forget “Subban Cooks Off The Ice“.
During the season, I got the opportunity to sit down with the Devils’ host and ask what her favorite segment has been over the past few seasons, and it was not surprising to hear her answer is the segment fans have seen most this past season.
“I really enjoy “two minutes for talking” because it’s our most reoccurring segment, and one that I’ve crafted and created to really be my own,” Wachter said. “We’ve been able to make special holiday pieces out of it too, which is fun. The guys really enjoy talking about things off-ice and I feel like we always learn something unique about them. The food segments I’ve done with Subban and Blackwood in the past were an absolute blast as well. Those were done in partnership with the Devils’ creative team who handled the shooting and editing and they do a terrific job.”
Of course, my follow-up question had to be which Devils players provide the best content, and if there was a player whose personality surprised her.
“COVID-19 has certainly changed the way we do TV and has recently limited our access to the players, so we don’t get to see their personalities in the room anymore, but I hear Yegor Sharangovich is a real character,” Wachter said. “I also think it’s clear through some of our mic ‘d-up segments and sit-down interviews that Nathan Bastian has a big personality and can talk. We had so much fun talking about how Michael McLeod knocked out Nate’s tooth and their waterpark adventures. I’m really big on human interest stories and I think it’s so important that we are able to get to know these guys as people, rather than just hockey players. I think the fans really enjoy that fun and authenticity, too! This season, it was nice to take a step closer to that sense of normalcy and I look forward to more fun content in the future.”
Salvador was known and adored by fans before he made his debut as an analyst for MSG Networks. Like Daneyko, the 6-foot-2 former Devils captain has seamlessly made the transition from the players’ bench to the broadcast booth, and brings a fresh perspective. He remains passionate about the game, and his analysis is second to none. He joined the Devils broadcast for the 2017-18 season, provides commentary between the benches, and breaks down the biggest plays during intermission. Fans have been delighted to see a new side of him off the ice and welcome his game-day insights and opinions.
My First-Hand Experience with the MSG Networks Crew
When I think of a live production the first word to come to mind is chaos. It has to be right? There are a ton of moving parts between the producers, on-air talent, and employees creating TV-ready graphics on the fly and keeping up with various statistics, not for just the game at hand but others around the league. It takes a village to bring fans accurate and timely content and from what I witnessed, the Devils’ MSG Networks broadcast crew does it seamlessly with no chaos in sight. One reason is the team of 24-26 individuals that bring the telecast to life.
From top to bottom, everyone I came into contact with was pleasurable and professional, from MSG Networks Senior Coordinating Producer Bob de Poto, down to production assistant Tom Scirrotto. In addition to sitting down with Cangialosi and Wachter, I was joined by veteran producer Roland Dratch, who started with the network in 1988 as an intern.
You can consider Dratch the head coach of the broadcast. At four in the afternoon on Devils gamedays, he runs the production meeting with his crew to go over the night ahead, and then reports to the broadcast truck where he remains for the duration of the game. You do not need to be in his company long to realize he loves his job and the veteran team that surrounds him. With the crew arriving at the arena around 10:30 AM and leaving around 11:00 PM, having a good work culture is key.
“It’s a true family and everyone has to pull together. Everyone has their role,” Dratch said. “I think that is what’s nice and I always felt over the years that I give everyone the freedom to create their own whether it’s graphics or tape. They get to put their own mark on it.”
As someone who previously worked in stress-inducing environments, the best part of observing this well-oiled machine was seeing how much of an enjoyable and positive work environment it is. The mood remained light throughout the game as they bantered back and forth during commercial breaks. It was evident that each member of the team enjoyed their job as well as their teammates.
The Broadcast Truck
The truck had low lighting and cool air whipping through as crew members sat in front of multiple monitors doing various tasks. I was surprised to see how smoothly everything ran as Dratch calmly directed his team as the game progressed. It was apparent that the team has worked together for years, as each job was perfectly timed and executed.
The Broadcast Booth
Perched above the ice fans will find Cangialosi standing in the booth following the play up and down the ice below. He is completely engrossed in the action as he excitedly relays the on-ice action to the fans at home. It is wonderful to see Daneyko’s enthusiasm is on full display from the first minute of the game to the final second of the third period. His love for the team and organization is as obvious as the team’s logo on the ice.
The set where Wachter and Salvador do their pregame report was my first stop of the night. I took a seat as their producer counted down to begin their segment, and I got an immediate sense of how effortless the chemistry is between them. Like Cangialosi, they make the job look so incredibly easy that you forget the amount of work that is put in before they go on camera.
Throughout the evening I moved from the set, to the truck, and finally to the broadcast booth. It was comparable to sitting in different seats at Prudential Center. Each section and level provides a unique vantage point to the game, whether it’s behind the goaltender or a center ice view there is something new to appreciate. When fans turn on their television or device to watch a Devils game, their focus naturally gravitates to the players on the ice and coaches standing behind the bench.
It is easy to forget the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring viewers perfectly timed and up-to-date content. I’m so grateful that I was able to spend time with the crew who bring fans their hockey content, and I can attest they do not get enough credit for their hard work both on and off the screen.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.