By Nate Ewell
When players like Brian Engblom and Glenn Healy reached the NHL in the 1970s and ‘80s, they were part of what was a distinct minority -- players who developed in NCAA hockey.
Now that population has grown to 30 percent of the NHL, enough that some of this year's Stanley Cup playoff matchups have featured as many as 15 former college players.
Englom and Healy, however, are part of an even more impressive takeover by former college players in the league's broadcast positions. Every national broadcast in these playoffs has featured a former NCAA star in the press box, at rinkside or in the intermission studio.
Engblom, the former Wisconsin star, works on NBC's broadcasts between the benches. The network also features Pierre McGuire (Hobart) and Joe Micheletti (Minnesota) in similar roles, plus Keith Jones (Western Michigan), Mike Milbury (Colgate), Anson Carter (Michigan State) and Chris Therien (Providence) in studio.
On CBC in Canada, Healy, who preceded Jones at Western Michigan, counts among his colleagues Craig Simpson (Michigan State) and Garry Galley (Bowling Green). Over on TSN, where Engblom also works in the regular season, viewers will find Mike Johnson (Bowling Green) and Aaron Ward (Michigan).
Is it a coincidence that these former college players -- such a small minority in their playing days -- have taken over TV?
"All of your life experiences prepare you for life after playing professional hockey," Healy said. "College is a great foundation for the dynamics needed in broadcasting."
That said, none of these former players studied broadcasting during their time on campus. They were focused on success on the ice -- and careers off the ice followed.
"I did not take broadcasting in school, but simply the education process adds to your experiences and better prepares you for wherever life takes you." Engblom said. "I'm thankful for that."
"Maybe the coincidence is that we treat this as a new profession," said Micheletti, who won the 1976 NCAA championship with the Golden Gophers. "I always remember my father saying to always continue to educate yourself, no matter your age. I personally feel it is a constant challenge to try to improve."
Micheletti credits the guidance of television pros he has worked with throughout his career, a group that includes former Williams captain Sam Flood at NBC. During the regular season he is part of one of the best regional broadcast crews in hockey, alongside Sam Rosen on MSG telecasts of the New York Rangers.
In all, more than half of all NHL teams have a former college player providing analysis on local TV or radio coverage. When Detroit and Anaheim meet, former Cornell goaltending partners Daren Eliot (FS Detroit) and Brian Hayward (Prime Ticket/FS West) offer analysis of the same game.
Maybe that's a coincidence. But the number of former college grads on our national broadcasts seems like more than that.
Nate Ewell is the Deputy Executive Director of College Hockey Inc., a nonprofit devoted to promoting U.S. college hockey. He spent eight years in media relations with the Washington Capitals. Follow him on twitter @nateewell or @collegehockey.