SECAUCUS, N.J. — Tuesday, March 10, was just another day at NHL Network. The large complex was bustling and getting ready for “NHL Now,” the network’s afternoon show that typically runs from 4 to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. Scripts were written and graphics were built in preparation to discuss the previous night’s games and the full slate that lay ahead.
Veteran director Lisa Smith sat in the front bench of the darkened control room. She signaled to her technical director, Ellen Welch, to open the show’s animation before counting down, directing the lights to be raised and the camera to begin its slow push in.
“Have a good show, everyone,” Smith said, just as she has done before the start of every show of her career.
Everything was the same, and yet it wasn’t — and now won’t be for a while.
Originally, the show was going to be slightly different than usual because, while everyone did their jobs normally assigned to them, this was just the third time in the history of the network that all the faces in front of the camera, and the majority behind it, belonged to women. Less than 48 hours later, it became one of the last episodes for now as the NHL put the 2019-20 season on pause.
As the world awaits the return of hockey, Sporting News takes a look back at NHL Network celebrating Gender Equality Month with an all-female broadcast team, through exclusive behind-the-scenes access.
Jackie Redmond, host: I usually get here at 10:30 [a.m. ET] or a little bit before. That’s when I get makeup. Our show meetings are at noon every day, today was 11:30, but [usually] I come in, go to the gym, watch the highlights, read the research packet — which we get every day — and then we go to the meeting and from there we just kind of prep the day away.
Kirsten Sobecki, producer: The day before we’ll come in and we’ll request guests through our assignment desk … based off matchups, etc. … Then you come in in the morning, you see what happened the night before and [in] the games, you start [and] throwing things in your rundown.
Sometimes [the rundown] completely blows up in the meeting [because] someone’s like, “Hey, I saw this and we can do something cool about this” and, there you go, boom, now you have a whole segment that I had literally no clue about five minutes ago, so that’s kind of cool.”
This particular two-hour broadcast included the show’s usual host, Redmond, alongside the network’s Jamie Hersch and Team USA goalie and guest analyst Alex (Rigsby) Cavallini.
DAZN/NHL Network’s Lauren Gardner made appearances on the show, as did several remote guests: NBCSN’s Kathryn Tappen previewing the Bruins-Flyers game; two-time Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Pounder; Barbara Williams, the first female skating coach in the NHL; TSN’s Kristen Shilton on the Maple Leafs-Lightning game, and Lyndsay Rowley of Fox Sports Tennessee discussing the Predators in Montreal to play the Canadiens.
Redmond: We have a couple of breakdown tapes, which normally the analysts do, but I’m going to be doing a breakdown tape today and go through some tape. Jamie has some ideas as well that she’s going to tackle, and so it’s really the same show. We’re going to have everything from previews for tonight, analysis of last night. We’re going to look ahead to the postseason in a sort of fun way; our show always has these fun types of segments. We’re going to make picks. “Eight games in eight minutes” is a big segment that we do.
Jamie Hersch, co-host: There is responsibility in putting on the best show, especially this show, as possible. I don’t like to look at it as pressure because I just think it’s a responsibility for me. Again, it’s a personal thing, like, yeah, I want to be the best I can be every single show, not just because I’m a woman, [but] because I’m an accountable person and employee.
But I do think that credibility, it takes a long time to earn that credibility and very little time at all — especially for a woman — to lose it. So I think for us to make sure we’re as prepared as possible to not make a mistake. You know, if we go on the air and say, “Oh, the Flyers’ seven-game winning streak” and it’s nine games, that’s a mistake and people will quickly point [it] out or think: “Oh, it’s because you’re a woman.”
After poring over the statistics packet that is put together every day by the research department, the team headed to the studio for a few pre-tapes, including the segment with Williams, who worked with the Islanders from 1977 to 1981 and Devils from 1981 to 1982. She continues to work with pros, including Long Island native and Red Wings prospect Robert Mastrosimone.
Once the clock struck 4 p.m. ET, the opening animation ran and Redmond, Hersch and Cavallini welcomed viewers to the telecast. Under the bright studio lights and situated on a replica rink, the trio began by recapping the five games that were played Monday night.
Cavallini, who won gold with Team USA at the 2018 Olympics and spent her afternoon going over the stats, brought her expert insight to the telecast as she broke down the netminders including Connor Hellebuyck’s play in the Winnipeg Jets’ 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Cavallini, analyst: [This show] gets people to see that there are opportunities out there and, you know, one of the big things is that these women do these jobs on a daily basis. This is my first time, but everyone else, they do this all the time, and so to see them be able to put a show together like this is really incredible for women of all ages to be able to see, and see that maybe one day I can do that.
The all-female broadcast marked the goaltender’s debut.
Cavallini: It was a lot easier once the lights turned on, so it was kind of one of those things like a hockey game … you prepared and that’s pretty much all you can do. … I trusted being alongside Jackie and Jamie, that if I stuttered or if I made some mistake that they were going to help me through it, so felt a lot better once the camera got going.
The episode also showcased Redmond, who hails from Canada and grew up playing hockey, skating with USA Hockey star Amanda Kessel. In previously recorded segments, the pair went through on-ice drills, including how to speed up your hands on shots.
Hersch: I think the first year, the whole argument that I’ve heard most in terms of a negative response is: “Well, this is sexist. This is excluding men, like, why, you wouldn’t do this for the men.” I think my response to that is always: We’re not excluding men — and there are men involved in our show today, by the way. We’re not like, “Nope, you can’t do this.” It’s literally just about recognizing the fact that most of the time these roles are filled by men, so because there are women who are also in these roles, let’s just have one day to celebrate that. … So, that was the first year; I think we got a little more pushback. Last year was far less and then this year I’ve only seen positive things so far about that, so I think it is starting to become normalized.
Halfway through the show, they switched to a different, smaller studio that contained cameras on a track which are remotely operated from the control room.
At one point, they welcomed Rowley from Montreal, who just seconds earlier had to have a technician turn off a monitor behind her that had bars suddenly pop up on the screen — bars, by the way, are the colorful lines that show up when there’s a technical issue, so not the best thing to have on television. The direction came from the control room and was communicated via headset as they were preparing to go to her live.
During the segment, the rinkside reporter noted that she was “honored to be on the show” and told viewers “if I can do it, you can do it.”
Just like that, two hours went by quickly. Once the on-air talent said goodbye to viewers, there was a quick change in the control room and studio as the next show’s staff and talent stepped in — just like on a regular day.
Hersch: I think it’s huge [to have the show] because the thing that you know we’ve been seeing a lot more of lately is “if you can see it you can be it.” And I love that because that just kind of sums up how I felt my whole life really about representation and the importance of that.
I just go back to a couple years ago someone asking me if I’d ever considered doing play-by-play, and I said, “No, like, what? No, never.” And I thought more about that and I thought, “Why? Why haven’t I considered that?” and it was because I just literally had never had any sort of role model. … Just to have someone that looks like you, sounds like you, no matter what you are, I think is important to have those examples.
Redmond: For me, it’s obviously really special. I think it is a great illustration of the women before us, and how much they have done, whether they’ve been broadcasters or athletes that have really pushed for females that play sports and females that want to cover sports. So I think from that standpoint, like when I was a kid, could I have ever imagined an all-female hockey show? I don’t know. I don’t know that I would have, as an 8-year-old, thought that that was a realistic thing.
We had a girl on the show last year, and this hit me the other day. … Logan is a young girl out in Vegas, huge Vegas Golden Knights fan, wants to be a reporter when she’s older. … We had her on the show last year. We were like, let’s bring Logan on the show as our Vegas correspondent and have her give us the details heading into the Vegas Golden Knights game. She posted that interview earlier this week, was like, “Can’t believe it’s been a year since I was on an NHL network.” … It obviously really impacted her and I just think it’s super important that, you know, young girls or anybody … know that there is opportunity for them.
It’s been a year and she is probably going to chase that career path because she’s a huge fan on her own. But I like to think in some sort of way that coming on the show might have been like a big deal to her, something that gives her confidence thinking not only is this fun [but] maybe I can do it. So, that’s my very long-winded way to say it’s really special to me. Hopefully, lots of youth and young kids watching feel that way when they watch the show or at the very least, will support the people in their lives that want to do something similar.