Among the major professional sports, the NHL is perceived as having the tightest-knit of communities. Teammates in San Jose may have been opponents in, oh, Saskatchewan during their adolescent beginnings in junior hockey. There’s a culture of camaraderie throughout hockey that is thicker even than ice.
Connections seem to survive the passing of time and the changing of addresses, and that applies to those who make their living in the game off the ice.
Consider Judd Sirott, the new play-by-play voice for the Bruins on flagship station 98.5 The Sports Hub. At first glance, it would seem his connections to Boston — and the Bruins — are few.
He grew up in Buffalo Grove, Ill., rooting, naturally, for the Chicago Blackhawks, getting chomped by the hockey bug when he was 12 years old.
“My best friend across the street said, ‘Why don’t you come over and watch the Blackhawks tonight?’ ’’ recalled Sirott. “I saw Denis Savard for the first time, and heard [Hall of Fame broadcaster] Pat Foley call the game, and I was hooked.’’
He remained in the Midwest for college, attending the University of Michigan, and after graduation built a deep reservoir of friends and contacts while calling minor league hockey games. He spent 12 seasons as the voice of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, and had been the studio host and fill-in play-by-play voice on Blackhawks radio broadcasts since 2008.
Sirott was on the West Coast with his wife and two young daughters when he got word that an appealing job was opening up on the East Coast.
“We had just loaded up the family Truckster and had the Griswold family vacation, driving from Chicago to Los Angeles,’’ he said, referencing the classic Chevy Chase comedy “National Lampoon’s Vacation.’’ “The only thing it lacked was Cousin Eddie and Aunt Edna.’’
Sirott was on a couch at a friend’s house in Los Angeles when he got an e-mail with the news that Bruins play-by-play voice Dave Goucher got the job as television play-by-play voice in Vegas. When the family returned home to Chicago, he made a few calls. Turns out through that close-knit hockey community that he had more ties to Boston than his résumé might suggest.
“I called up Bob Beers and Andy Brickley,’’ said Sirott, referring to the Bruins’ radio and TV color analysts. “I got to know them a little bit when they were at the end of their playing careers with the Utah Grizzlies.’’
Beers, with whom he is now working, and Brickley had great things to say about the job and the situation, so he applied.
There were still more connections. Billy Jaffe, an analyst on NESN’s Bruins telecasts, attended Michigan with Sirott and was a groomsman in his wedding.
“He has been an enormous help through this process,’’ said Sirott.
And perhaps none of this would have been possible without some guidance and wisdom along the way from perhaps the greatest hockey play-by-play voice of all.
“I wrote Doc Emrick a letter my senior year in high school,’’ said Sirott. “He was kind enough to write me back, and he said, ‘Listen, you’ve got a lot of questions, here’s my phone number. Give me a call and we’ll talk.’ We’ve been in contact since.’’
(I’ve heard similar stories from other broadcasters who have said Emrick went out of his way to help them. Apparently he is as generous as he is talented.)
Sirott, whose wife has family in various Boston suburbs, auditioned during one of the Bruins-Blackhawks preseason matchups. Just a few days before the start of the season, he found out he was the choice, and that currently has his life in a happy sort of chaos.
“I’m so fortunate,’’ he said. “You dream about getting to the National Hockey League. That’s the dream. You just want to get there. But to land in an Original Six city, a phenomenal hockey city, that’s as good as the dream gets.’’
They’re better apart
The news this week that Entercom Communications and CBS will divest five local radio stations — among them 98.5 The Sports Hub — as part of their ongoing merger opened up some fascinating possibilities. But it probably should not have come as a surprise.
A second request in April for more information on the $1.7 billion transaction from the Department of Justice — which must approve the merger — was a harbinger that it wasn’t to be as simple as combining all of the companies’ assets under the Entercom umbrella.
What it means for the two highly rated and profitable sports stations in the market — Entercom’s WEEI 93.7 and CBS’s 98.5 The Sports Hub — is mostly a matter of speculation at this point. Multiple sources have wondered whether NBC — which owns NBC Sports Network, formerly CSN, and was considering a foray into the Boston sports radio game not long ago — may be a potential buyer. NBCSN already simulcasts the Sports Hub’s morning and afternoon drive programs.
The merger is targeted to be completed by the end of the year, so the sales would have to occur relatively rapidly.
No matter how it plays out, it’s probably a blessing for sports fans in Boston that they remain contentious competitors rather than cohorts at the same company.
Down is up
Prime-time Red Sox ratings on NESN fell 15 percent this year, from a 7.02 household rating in 2016 to a 5.98. But in context of how other regional cable networks fared, that doesn’t look so bad. NESN finished sixth among RCNs in Major League Baseball ratings in 2016. Despite the 15 percent dropoff, NESN rose to fourth overall this year, trailing only the Indians, Royals, and Cardinals in average household rating over the whole season. Seven of the eight highest-rated RCN’s this year actually saw a decrease in ratings from a year ago.