PTM Interview: TSN’s Steve Kouleas Talks That’s Hockey 2Nite, Which Premieres Tonight

Steve Kouleas comes off exactly the way you’d want the host of a nightly hockey show to appear to be, especially in Canada, where such content is devoured with a fervor unlike any other sport: excited, well-informed, opinionated, and clearly passionate about the game. After spending many years with The Score, he returns to his former home at TSN to host a nightly hockey show on TSN2, which is positioning themselves to be more like “The Deuce” and less like an alternate feed.

I spoke to Kouleas in anticipation of That’s Hockey 2Nite’s premiere, which is tonight at 11:00 PM ET. It airs in that timeslot every weeknight.

Puck the Media: You were at The Score for 13 years, before that you were at TSN. What drew you back to TSN?

Steve Kouleas: I think it’s one of those situations where you always dream of playing for the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens, or Dallas Cowboys. So, even when I left, part of the original plan was “Someday, son, you’ll be back,” so you go and do your thing and get your reps, and use your ice time to the best of your ability and you realize what your skill set allows you to do.

Then, things changed over at The Score, they changed their philosophy, and the fact that TSN2 is really building themselves up, it was a natural fit. There was a time when you’re working away, you’re happy where you are you just keep things going, but in the corner of your eye, you’re always eyeing the big channels and the big places – Canadian or American. People always say “things happen for a reason.” I’ve actually lived by that philosophy, I think you make your own situation.

It all kind of fell together: TSN2 building into a major power. Naturally, it’s Canada, so a hockey show will work. There’s kind of a marriage, a perfect fit for both sides.

PTM: How easy is it to take the call where they ask you to host your own hockey show five days a week?

SK: [laughs] It’s kind of being like Conan, but instead of going from The Tonight Show to cable, going from cable to The Tonight Show. It was a great call to take. I guess now, in North America or around the world, I’m the only person in the last 10 years to be paying his mortgage by doing a hockey show at night. So I guess I had to be one of the contenders.

I came in and we did our thing and it went very well. At that particular point, I thought “you know what, you just want it more than anything in the world.” When it was finalized, I was extremely happy, but it’s great when you’ve kind of trained for your life. I mean, were all failed hockey players, so in the beginning I wanted to be captain of an NHL team. When you go to plan B, you want to be the next Dave Hodge or Foster Hewitt, depending on your situation. When this came up, and the opportunity was there, it was a natural fit. I’m just happy to do it.

Put it this way, for the last five months, I’ve been at home watching hockey anyway, so I might as well do it at work and go on and talk about it after.

PTM: What I’ve been doing at my website recently is keeping track of the new nightly hockey show in the States as well as On the Fly to notice trends and see how they differ. How do you hope to come out and be different than On the Fly and be different from what’s out there already?

SK: Everybody has their own philosophy, they do different things. I am Canadian, but I feel like I’m kind of an American broadcaster. I think what the Americans do with football and prime time is the best way to handle it. Highlights and breakdowns, opinion and analysis and arguments. If somebody says “when Crosby gets back, I wanna play Crosby and Malkin and Staal on the same line,” we have to push that. Why? Why them together? Why not Malkin and Staal together? I think the debating factor, and it’s always about entertainment.

Rick Jeanneret told me “we’re entertainers.” So I think information’s important, highlights are important. We’re gonna’ have extended highlights. It’s easy to tell you “Penguins won tonight,” but why did they win? “They won, because as we show you here … ” and sometimes, you speak and not everybody can understand it, like Shakespeare. You need to appeal to the lowest common denominator and to push even your viewers at an elite level, because people are watching who are experts, and people are watching who are just learning the game.

I’m big on the analysis, the extended highlights, the debate, the arguments. Kind of pushing the envelope. I don’t if how those other places do it, I don’t think so, but I think that’s one of the reasons were so successful. At the old place, the people said “you know what? I can relate to the show, and it’s real.” What’s real about a show is “how did two guys get an assist on a goal that should’ve been unassisted” and you show it and you talk about. Not just about the CBA or the PA.

I like to think that, in a way, it’s real, and it touches all the big issues hockey fans want to know about.

PTM: Is the goal to hit the ground running from the start, be an attention getting show from the start? Or just balance that and getting into a groove as a nightly show?

SK: We discussed that philosophy not too long ago, but I think whether you’re a fan of Seinfeld or Two and a Half  Men to Cheers going back, the first show kind of sets the standard. You take it up a few notches from there, so you’ll always be better in months two and three and four, and in year two and three, as opposed to right off the hop. I think we do want to hit the ground running with interactive highlight packs, where I’ll be speaking as well as Matthew [Barnaby], during the pack. It isn’t just I speak/he speaks. You can push your analyst always with agreeing or disagreeing with what he says.

On the first night, we’ll be bringing out all our bells and whistles and gadgets, and tell people what we’ve got. There’s kind of a buzz around here. It’s kind of funny, it took until the last year or so for everybody to get involved in nightly hockey shows, you’d think that’s something that would happen at the beginning of time. Actually, it never did until the early 2000’s, and then our show was gone as they changed formats. This is going to be, hopefully, the standard and there’ll be a lot of different things we can promise but one of them is passion, energy and entertainment.

PTM: It seemed kind of strange to me, that until the early 2000’s there was only a nightly hockey show in America, and not in Canada.

SK: It did to me as well, but now were up and running. TSN2 is going to be a major player. It’s great when you have the Leafs on one channel and Crosby/Ovechkin on the other, and then going into a hockey show. I mean, that’s must-see TV during the NHL season, so we’re very excited.

PTM: I noticed that you guys are going to have Kerry Fraser on the show every now and then. You don’t see too many referees go into TV work, what do you think he’ll bring to the table?

SK: I think it’s one of those things, we spend so much time in our business talking about calls, but nobody’s ever had a referee’s side of the story. Why was the call made, what was discussed in the meeting, in terms of what is and isn’t reviewable, what about positioning, experience? I think it’s perfect because he’ll be able to do it either from home or in studio on a specific call during that night, or what people complained about over the last couple of weeks.

It’s one of those situations where he’s not going to be on every night. He’ll be on when there’s controversy, and then on set nights. He’s been officiating in the NHL since the late 1970’s, so he’s gonna give us great perspective over the years and I’m sure some great stories to boot.

PTM: So it’ll be like when FOX has former NFL head of officiating Mike Perreira, where he sort of buzzes in on every controversial call. He’ll just comment whenever there’s something controversial as far as on ice issues.

SK: Yeah, and I think I’m surprised it took until now for Americans to do that with football. I think it’s perfect, because you want to know, for example, a high stick goal. They’re never overturned, usually the call on the ice is the one that stands, you can’t get a camera angle that really makes a difference, and Kerry will take us through video review.

All those kinds of things that we assume, but we don’t know until we have a referee in, and he’ll give you perspective about [whether or not they make] “even up calls” if they made a mistake, or do they like the two-referee system? Is there a rule they want changed? Have you ever made a call depending on your own interpretation of the rule, not necessarily what the league wanted, stuff like that I think will be fascinating, interesting.

Let’s be honest, there are rules in the rulebook that even the most avid hockey fan doesn’t understand. Like the rule about goaltender interference: no goal, no penalty, faceoff outside [the zone]. He’ll be there to explain that. I think it’s something that we all need. You know what? If Gordie Howe stayed late for practice because he wanted to learn different things about hockey when he was 52 and playing for Hartford, then surely as hockey fans and broadcasters and players, we can always learn more about the game and the rulebook by listening to people who’ve been there before.

PTM: You mentioned how much of a real dream this is for you to come back to TSN. The show’s airing in the 11PM slot, which is where sports networks sort of put building block programming, what networks want to build their network on. What’s it like to be the building block for this sort of fledgling network?

SK: It’s an unbelievable feeling, sometimes I just look in the sky and say “God, thank you very much,” I’m truly blessed. I talk to my American friends too, and say “hey, we live in the two greatest countries in the world.” Just by being born here, were so lucky and you look around the world and everything there is, and we get a chance to get up in the morning and have a Starbucks or Tim Hortons, and then go online and read and talk about hockey. Then go into work and do those kinds of things. I feel privileged and honored, and as I told the brass here, I promise I won’t let you down, and I’ll bring energy and passion to the table each and every night, and that’s what I’m going to do. I feel truly blessed.


One Response to PTM Interview: TSN’s Steve Kouleas Talks That’s Hockey 2Nite, Which Premieres Tonight

  1. Chris S says:

    Good interview. I am really looking forward to this show tonight.

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