For the media geeks among us, one of the coolest moments during the NHL playoffs this season came in the final seconds of the Western Conference Final. The San Jose Sharks were about to beat the Blues and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in the 25-year history of the franchise. Calling the game on NBCSN, Kenny Albert gave a shout-out to Dan Rusanowsky, the team's radio announcer from day one.
"I thought about it a few minutes before," Albert says. "From our broadcast location, Dan and Bret Hedican were just to our right. I would look over and watch him when the Sharks scored some of those goals in the third period of Game 6, and they were just so excited going to the Final for the first time. I've known Dan for over 25 years. When I broke into the American Hockey League, I was with the Baltimore Skipjacks. He was with the New Haven Nighthawks. We had some mutual friends, and the teams played against each other.
"We're in the fraternity of play-by-play guys. I know when the Rangers, who I work for, went to the Final two years ago for the first time in my 19 or 20 years how exciting it was. I sensed the emotions he was going through. He's one of the folks who's been here since the beginning, so it was nice to be able to mention him on the national broadcast."
Within five seconds, Rusanowsky started receiving text messages regarding Albert's call.
"I'd asked him earlier in the series how many games he's worked because I knew he's done almost every game" Albert says. "He mentioned to me it was all but 27."
Rusanowsky missed those 27 games during the 2000-01 season after he was injured in a major car accident. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and the Sharks were hosting the Devils that night. Rusanowsky's usual routine would be to attend the morning skate, then go home to work for a few hours before heading back to the arena. On this day, he made a stop first because he had been invited to a restaurant opening in downtown San Jose.
"I was on my way back to the freeway to go home, and a guy ran a red light and hit me in the driver's door at about 50," he says. "I had some very serious injuries, life-threatening injuries. But that experience, with the way the fans treated me, is when I realized how much of a home my wife and I have here. They had these banners and get-well cards that fans signed -- I still have all those in my house. I'm not going to forget that ever. Those are the moments when you realize where your home is and what people mean to you."
And vice versa. There are a handful of Sharks employees who have also been with the club from the get-go. But Rusanowsky's role as a broadcaster has given him much more visibility, allowing fans to develop a personal connection to his work. It's why so many of them were so happy for him when Albert mentioned him on the air during that milestone moment.
"It's been the dream of a lifetime just to be in the NHL and do games," Rusanowsky says. "But to call a Stanley Cup Final, that's what I always wanted to do. And what makes me happy is just to see the fan base being rewarded after all these years of loyalty. To me, this is a bigger event than a sports team competing for a championship. This is a coming-out for a city in an international way. This city has gotten more exposure in the last week and a half than just about any time they ever had. To me that's what this is all about. When I first started here, people on the east coast would say, 'Is that near San Diego?' They had no idea where it was."
One dominant theme in this Cup Final has been the Sharks' finally breaking through after years of disappointment, and Rusanowsky has been tapped to offer memories that give texture and context to the storyline. For example, there was the night that Doug Wilson, the team's G.M. since 2003, played his final NHL game.
"We all thought there was a good chance the Sharks were going to set an NHL record for most consecutive losses," Rusanowsky says. "They'd tied the record. We were in Winnipeg and it was Valentine's Day. Ten minutes into the first period, he gets nailed. He's out. We didn't know it at the time but that was the last game he ever played in the NHL. And the team won the game. I think they carried a garbage can around the locker room like the Stanley Cup because the streak was over."
Working with the Sharks has also given Rusanowsky the opportunity to call games overseas. He has two vivid memories of the Sharks' visit to Tokyo to start the 1998-99 season with two games against the Flames.
"We saw a guy on the street who looked like a combination of Drew Remenda and Harry Caray," he says. "Think about that for a second. I'll never forget that. And there was a reception for the team at the U.S. Embassy, and it was in the same room where Hirohito and MacArthur met. That was pretty amazing. You just felt a sense of history."
Then in 2010, the Sharks played an exhibition in Germany and opened the regular season against the Blue Jackets in Stockholm.
"Those were some big, big moments," he says. "But it's nothing like this. Nothing like this."
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