Ferraro speaks: Part One

Thoughts on World Juniors, broadcasting and more

31.12.2013
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Former player Ray Ferraro (left) and Gord Miller (right) are TSN's duo on the commentary seats at the IIHF World Junior Championship. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images

MALMÖ – TSN analyst Ray Ferraro is covering his third World Juniors. He’s earned kudos for his work with the IIHF's 2013 Paul Loicq Award winner, Gord Miller.

A veteran of 18 NHL seasons and three IIHF World Championships, the 49-year-old native of Trail, British Columbia, ranks among the NHL’s all-time top 100 scorers with 898 points for six different clubs. We caught up with Ferraro over breakfast on the morning of New Year’s Eve.

What do you think of this year’s tournament so far?

What’s stood out has been the unpredictability of the games. Yesterday we did Germany and the Czech Republic. Coming into that game, I don’t think you would have found one person who thought Germany had a chance. The way the tournament had gone for them, they had a couple of injuries and a suspension to their best player [captain Leon Draisaitl] – and then they shut out the Czechs. Part of that is you’re watching and evaluating 16- to 19-year-old kids. And they’re more liable to have these wild swings, these ups and downs. It makes for at times incredibly unpredictable but incredibly exciting hockey.

There’s less lockdown to the game, there’s more space. Sometimes you look at these kids and they look like they’re kids, but most of the time when they’ve got their helmets on and you’re watching them, you can’t even believe they’re that age because of how good they are. You get the odd clunker for sure, but I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen so far.

How would you compare today’s young players to your generation?

I would say the way the game has changed, generally speaking, the skill of the players today is better than when I was this age 30 years ago. The speed is better, and they’re much bigger. I don’t know if guys today generally have as good of a feel for the game. I read a Jaromir Jagr quote the other day that I thought was awesome. He said: “Young players today go really fast till they hit the boards and then they turn around and go back the other way.” I think part of that is the way the game is presented to the players and coached. Everything north-south, everything fast. Our game was more tactical. That would be the difference I see between now and then. One’s not better. They’re just different.

If you took a minute-long shift now, you wouldn’t be going back out again. The coach would be angry at you. But I don’t think one way is better. The players today are far more skilled, way better trained. We didn’t have training like this. Not close. I played baseball in the off-season. These guys go to power skating and puckhandling camps. We just didn’t do that.

So when you see a player like Eric Cernak from the Slovaks, or Jack Eichel from the U.S., or Connor McDavid from Canada, or Pavel Zacha from the Czechs, these kids are 16 years old. And they’re playing and more than holding their own at this tournament. That, to me, is astounding.

How different is it broadcasting the World Juniors versus the NHL?

First of all, it’s far more labour-intensive, because I’m immersed in the NHL season till about December 1. Then you go to school. You compile information. It’s one thing to get info on players from Canada or the United States. Gord and I know so many people from Canada and the States. We can talk to agents, coaches, and general managers. It’s more of a challenge to build up a network of contacts in European countries. This is my third year, so it’s easier than the first year, except none of the cast of characters is the same. In an age-restricted tournament, somebody hits his head on the ceiling and out he goes. In comes another guy.

The second difference is, every so often I realize during a game, when a team is having a night when they can’t quite hold the level of the game, more than at the NHL level, I try to remember the age of the players. It’s not like they’re not trying or invested in the game. They’re just playing a team that’s better than them that particular night. Or maybe all the time. But that doesn’t mean that I, as a broadcaster, should disrespect the effort or the intensity at which they train and play. In the NHL, it’s different. If a team gets smoked, chances are they didn’t come prepared. That’s a completely different game. It doesn’t mean you let guys off the hook at this level, but you maybe take a bigger-picture look.

Do you prefer doing your analysis from upstairs or between the benches?

I like between the benches better. That’s my favourite spot. When I was hired by TSN to do NHL games, that was their area. That was where colour commentators went. I wasn’t particularly enthused about going there. Even now, I think the biggest thing I have in my head is, it’s the players’ space, not my space. It’s loud. It’s fast. You get access to stuff that you can’t get upstairs. The balance is that when you’re upstairs, you see everything. When you’re down on the ice, you don’t. But you see different things on the ice that you can’t see upstairs.

We’re lucky at TSN to have both Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert doing our NHL games. Gord does the World Juniors here. They see a lot. They’re not just number-callers. If I miss something because I’m on the ice, they’ve got it anyway. For me, it doesn’t matter particularly who gets information into the broadcast, just so long as somebody does. When you’re at ice level, you see a puck spin or bounce. You don’t hear as much as you might think because it’s so loud. When you’re in a loud area, anywhere in your day, you don’t hear specific voices. But four, five, six guys down the bench, you hear just about everything.

You just signed a 10-year contract with TSN. What prompted you to make that decision?

Let’s start with the term, which was really important to me. I don’t like uncertainty. I prefer to know my course.

Number two, for so many years, my hockey career and my broadcasting career were about me. I was the focus of every decision I made. But I got remarried 10 years ago to Cammi Granato, and we have a seven-year-old and a four-year-old. So it can’t just be about me anymore. It’s time for something different. My older son, Riley, plays soccer every weekend. If I’m working the way the national games are structured at Sportsnet, if that was to be, likely I’d be gone every weekend and never see him play soccer. So for me, while some people say the national games are the be-all and end-all, and they are if your career is the number one thing in your life, for me it’s 1A. It’s below my family.

Number three, TSN has shown incredible commitment to me and the fact that I really like the people I work with. I really didn’t want to go anywhere. The term worked and the math worked, so it was a pretty easy decision.

In 1984, you scored a CHL-record 108 goals with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Last year, the top goal-scorer in the CHL was Brendan Leipsic of the Portland Winterhawks with 49 goals. Do you feel pretty comfortable that your record is secure?

Honestly, I don’t think it’ll ever be broken. The game is just different today. I got seven goals one night against Prince Albert and we won 11-4. How many of those games do you see anymore?

I got traded that summer from Portland to Brandon in a six-player deal. I was one of the five guys that got traded to Brandon. I didn’t want to go. It was a long way from home. As I was thinking about trying to force a trade back to the West, closer to home, which would have been easy to do, my dad, who was everything to me, said: “Why don’t you just go give this a try? They wanted you. They made a deal for you.”

So I showed up a day before the first game. I got three goals in my first game, three in my second, and was off and running. It was by far the turning point in my career. I played a lot. I scored a lot. Hartford went from looking at me as an undersized guy who might not be able to play in the NHL to saying, “Hey, maybe this guy can play.” Going to Brandon was the key to all of that.

People might be surprised that you didn’t end up on the World Junior team in 1984.

Thirty years later, I don’t know. It’s something I always wished I’d been able to do. I had 50 goals at Christmas. I don’t know what I could have done. They picked the team. There were no camps. There wasn’t even a selection process like this year, where they had three extra guys. You were either on the team or you weren’t. There were no cell phones then. I thought the date was something like the 16th or 17th. I went back to my billets’ home, fully expecting there’d be a message there. And there wasn’t. I thought they’d probably call later. The next day, I was like, “Gee, I wonder what’s going on?” I had 50 goals, and I was certain I’d get picked. I just never did.

At that time, the Olympics were in 1984 in Sarajevo. There was a lot of talk that professionals would come eventually. Of course, it took a long time. But I was going to be a pro the next year. If I wasn’t going to play in the World Juniors, chances are I wasn’t going to be on the Olympic team. Of course, I probably had a chance there, although I never got a call for a tryout there either.

So two events I’d love to have played in, they were that one year, and that was it. The coaches picked a bunch of other guys. I couldn’t come up with an answer. Maybe if I’d had 53 goals?

In Part Two, Ferraro offers his IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship memories, his thoughts on the selection of Kevin Dineen as Canada’s Olympic women’s team coach, and his advice for aspiring broadcasters.

LUCAS AYKROYD

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