Photo Courtesy of Scott Audette Inc. and VERSUS
VERSUS analyst Brian Engblom immediately strikes you as a big team player, and one would imagine anyone who played on any of the legendary Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup-winning teams in the 70’s – as Engblom did in 1977, 1978 and 1979 – would have to be. He appears to take the same approach to broadcasting, as he went from game analyst initially at OLN to one of VERSUS’ main studio analysts. Now, under Sam Flood’s new regime with the network, Engblom has become VERSUS’ #2 inside the glass analyst behind Pierre McGuire.
He’ll be working for the network next on Monday when they broadcast Washington-Phoenix at 8:00 PM ET. Yesterday, he spoke to me about how he came into the role, what he’s looking forward to, and how similar communication on the ice is from when he played.
Puck the Media: So how did your move to the between the benches role come about?
Brian Engblom: When the change was made and Sam Flood started taking over how the television part of the NHL was run at VERSUS, he came in and said to me that he was going to take me out of the studio and put me inside the glass, back on games. That’s where he preferred that I work, and I said “okay,” and last night was the first night.
PTM: So that will be the permanent spot for you from now on?
BE: Well, I’m hoping so [laughs]. That’s where I am right now, and I assume going forward, that’s where I am for the foreseeable future.
PTM: This came very quickly, but you mentioned getting back to calling games, was that something you were looking to do?
BE: I’m fine either way, to be honest with you. I really enjoyed last night, and I’m looking forward to continuing to do that job. I enjoyed the studio a lot, too. The studio happened every bit as suddenly as this did, that was all of six years ago. They just wanted to bring me into the studio and give it a try and see how it worked, chemistry-wise. They were happy with the result. They said “would you consider doing just studio from now on and not doing games?” and I said “Okay, whatever you want, I’ll do it.” Next thing you know, it’s almost six years later.
I think three or four years ago, I’d do a couple of games just to keep my hand in it, but really haven’t done much, except for the outdoor game we did for Comcast 3D. That’s the only game I’ve had in, probably, the last year and a half, two years. You just evolve. This is a business, like anything else, where they ask you to do something and you either say yes or no. When I went into the studio, I said “sure, I’ll give it a shot,” and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I loved working with the crew, everybody from people in the tape department to the camera guys to people in the control room, and of course Bill and Jonesy, and Bill Clement before that.
It just happened and it worked, so now I get different marching orders, and now I go in the direction. I say goodbye to the people in the studio, and get back doing the games. It’s a totally different job, totally different preparation. The game day is completely different, the subject matter really is different, because obviously, you’re game specific and not league-wide. It’s an adjustment period, and I’ll continue to go through that for probably a couple more games, at least until get back in the swing of it.
I’ve done hundreds of games in the past, so it’s not completely foreign to me, by any means. Just that the inside the glass is a different concept, I’ve never done that before. It’s interesting to go back and do something that’s new and a stretch for me. There was some anxiety going into last night because I hadn’t done it before, I had never been down at ice level. Now, having one under my belt and understanding how they wanna do it and what it looks like and what it feels like, more importantly. I look forward to doing it again next week.
PTM: How was the first time out for you? How would you rate your first time out overall?
BE: I really enjoyed it, it was terrific. It’s great being down there, because you do get the feel of the game, which you don’t nearly as much up in the press box. Especially in some of the buildings, because it’s so damn high, you really don’t get any feel. Being right down there and seeing the emotion and line changes and yelling and screaming and the exchanges between the players and what’s going on on the bench, that’s what my job entails. That’s what I’m supposed to do is, relay the feel of the game.
The things that you can do downstairs, you can’t do upstairs and vice versa. When you’re upstairs, looking down at the game, you can see the logic of it, you can almost predict some of the things that are going to happen, just by reading the open space and knowing the mind of a professional hockey player. You can pretty much see how the plays are going to develop. That’s the advantage of being there. When you’re down at ice level, sometimes you can’t see the forrest for the trees, but that’s a good thing. You can feel everything and as I said, you’re right in the action of it.
PTM: How was it working in a three-man booth with Rick Peckham and Daryl Reaugh?
Be: It was great, both those guys are pros and real easy to work with. I’ve done three-man booths before, all in the same place, but I’d never been down at ice level before. I’d done it, I’m going to say four or five times before. Not a lot, but enough to know what it feels like, so I wasn’t really worried about it. It is different when you’re not side by side, you can’t pinch somebody and let them know you wanna say something. Actually, in those other occasions, a lot of times you have to sort of jump in anyway and you develop a feel for it. It’s not all about hand signals and gestures when it’s a three-man booth. I wasn’t really worried about it, you develop a feel and a rythym for what the other two are doing, what their cadence of calling the game is maybe the best way to do it. The business of the game, I know well enough, you’re informed when the commercial breaks are coming up and things like that. That was all clear, and with the whistle you can’t say anything then.
It does create some problems because you can’t manually get somebody’s attention but, you know, you’re bound to step on each other a little bit, as long as it’s not a lot and it’s annoying to the fans, and that’s no good. I didn’t feel like we stepped on each other that much last night. You just sort of have to keep going and sort it out as it goes.
PTM: Does it help when you have a game like you did last night where it’s entertaining and there’s lots of goals, as an analyst, or does it hurt getting you into sort of a flow of what you want to talk about.
BE: Well, the game is the most important thing. Whatever it gives us, whichever direction it sends us, that’s where we’re going. It’s obviously a lot more entertaining for the fans and for us, when goals are being scored. Goals are, actually, maybe the wrong word. If there’s action, and there’s scoring chances. I don’t mind seeing great goaltender saves, too. The puck doesn’t have to go in all the time. When you get deflected pucks, or fluky goals, that doesn’t do a lot for me. That’s obviously part of the game, and you cover it, as the reporter part of you does, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Fluky goals as compared to two or three ten-bell saves by the goaltender, I’d rather have the saves anytime.
It’s really about action and physical play and interaction of the players on their own team and obviously between the two teams. When you get teams that have bad blood between each other, that’s going to be the most fun. You never quite know when that’s going to happen, I don’t even think the players do. It gives you a lot more to look at and to talk about, and it gives me a lot better feel of what the picture of the game is down there.
PTM: As an analyst in general, what do you set out to keep an eye on when you’re preparing for a game and does that change at all with this role?
BE: Whatever the story lines are with the two individual teams, that’s what we’re there to convey. We start with the story lines, where they’re at now, where they are in the standings and how well they have played lately? Who are their best players and how are they playing? How do they match up? Then the game takes on it’s own shape from there, and then we’re reporting on everything from really nice goals to fluky goals, to two teams that ended up not liking each other at the end of the night [in Tampa Bay on Tuesday]. It starts with the basis of knowing what the story lines are with each team, and that’s our job. To get a feel, starting with the morning skate, talk to the coaches, a couple players and, of course, looking at the last half-dozen games, looking where they are in the standings. All those sort of things come into play.
It’s a complete difference in the studio. The studio, you’re dealing with league-wide issues. Many times a game that’s on our air, we didn’t spend much time talking about it because there were other issues league-wide that we were covering, and that’s the job of a national studio presence, to deal with what everybody’s talking about. Whether it’s suspensions to a player or trends or anything else, and the game is left to the crew that’s doing the game. We’re assuming you’re constantly reading about 30 teams and, I think 1000 players played at least one game in the league last year, probably 700-750 at least this year and counting.
It’s really hard, it’s a moving target all the time in the studio, and you try and keep – as best you can – an idea of what the teams are doing and where they’re at, and that’s a very difficult job because there are so many players and so many teams.
PTM: When you finally got down in between the benches, you’re on the ice, was there anything that immediately jumped out to you? I know you played for many years, you won Stanley Cups, but was there anything that jumped out to you from that position?
BE: No, I just went down there and looked at the game from a different perspective. Obviously, I appreciated the up close and personal part of it, and seeing it literally at eye level. That was great, and just getting myself accustomed to that view. I don’t know that there was anything specific, I know the players all big, I know they’re all fast. I’ve been to a lot of morning skates, even still over the years when I’ve been in the studio, so I know all those things. It didn’t really surprise me, it was just sort of an environmental issue for me getting used to the feel of it again, and doing my job. I wasn’t down there as a fan.
It’s different. I can’t afford to be a fan and sit back and miss things, and sort of watch one player, which is what I do when I watch the game as a fan. I’ll just watch a couple of players, and I’ll watch ’em all over the ice, I don’t care if somebody scores a goal. It doesn’t matter me. I’m just watching a few players. I can’t do that, of course, when I’m down there. You have to go where the action is and take in as much as you can.
PTM: Who are some of your favorite players to watch play when you’re watching as a fan?
BE: It varies from night to night. If I’m watching Detroit, I love watching Lidstrom, I love watching Pavel Datsyuk, because they’re so talented and so smart, I can see what they do away from the puck. I like some of the young players, Drew Doughty, I like to see what he does and watch his development. SOmetimes, I’ll just watch a goalie while the puck is in the zone. Obviously when the puck is at the other end of the ice you can’t watch him. Sometimes, what they do and how they move. I’ll say to myself “I haven’t really watched a goalie in a while, but obviously he’s making a save.” That may sound funny, but of course they’re tracking the puck all the time to get a read or a feel for a goaltender when the puck is on his side of the red line, because that’s when he has to really be paying attention. It varies from night to night. It might be an unknown player that I think is just really playing well, that becomes noticeable. I’ll just say “Oh, I’m gonna’ watch this guy and see what he’s doing.”
PTM: You’re down there last night, obviously, you can hear everything and see almost everything. Has the way players communicate between each other and the way players communicate with coaches since your playing days?
BE: I don’t think a lot’s changed. I mean, it’s still basically the same situations. Players on opposing teams get mad at each other, and there’s a lot of bad language, that’s never going to go away. The talking amongst players on the same team, there’s communication that’s always been around. Yelling “heads up!” [Tuesday night] Tampa, I think it was [Sean] Bergenheim, was going through the neutral zone and he was right in front of his bench and had his head down and, I think it was [Paul] Gaustad was coming at him, was going to smoke him. Half the bench just instantly went “look out!” and he looked up just in time, or he would’ve been just crushed. That’s usual, that hasn’t changed, those things happen. Defensemen yell to each other if they’re open, or if a defenseman’s going back for the puck, his defense partner will say “guy’s right on you.”
You can’t hear everything. There’s a lot of crowd noise to, so you can’t profess to hear everything that’s happening all over the ice, I’m not going to fool you and say I can hear everything, some things I hear from time to time. I’m sure it’s different in different arenas. That’s the first one I’ve done. It wasn’t bad down there, but at the same time I am inside the glass, and there is glass on either side so I can’t hear every thing on the bench, not in that arena. I can’t hear everything on the bench because there is glass between me and the players. At some places there isn’t. I haven’t been through that situation yet, so I can’t comment. I just observe and lift my head as much as I can.
PTM: Is there a rink in particular that you’re looking forward to being down there in the thick of it?
BE: I really haven’t given it any thought, to be honest with you. Some of the places have bigger areas to work than others. As far as favorite buildings I like going to, I would say Chicago, Boston, Madison Square Garden is great. It gets a little congested down there because I’d done sideline years ago with ESPN and I liked to stand down there. Environmentally, I’ll have to go through all around the circuit at least once and then I can answer that question better about which buildings I enjoy, because my work environment is obviously very important to me. It’s different from if I was a fan, just going into Chicago Stadium, the Bell Centre in Montreal or Ottawa or wherever. Those environmental issues and workspace will be very important to how much I enjoy doing the job [laughs].
PTM: Now that you’ve got a game under your belt doing this, what are you looking forward to most out of this new role?
BE: I hadn’t really thought of it in those terms. Just sort of matter of fact, getting used to the environment and feel of it again and just pushing that forward. I look forward to doing games and seeing how it feels in different buildings, for one thing, just my own situation from game to game. It’s great having the action there, that’s the one thing, obviously, that the studio doesn’t have. It’s a sterile environment even when you’re speaking to each other, and to a television audience it’s very sterile and quiet, whereas it’s exactly 180 degrees away from that when you’re doing a game. You’ve got the fans yelling and screaming, you’ve got the game going on and you’re right in the thick of it. There’s an energy that is completely different there and it’s an adrenaline rush, there’s no doubt about that.
Now that the games get more and more important as we go down to the end of the season, you get playoff games. That intensity rises, too. Playoff hockey is terrific at the NHL level, I mean, you can smell it in the air as soon as you walk into any building in the NHL at playoff time. I am looking forward to that, being right in the middle of that again.