written by R. L. Bynum
Forslund moving on to Seattle but emotionally is still with the Canes
John Forslund may have moved on to the next step of his career but he hasn’t lost an emotional attachment to his team that he followed from Hartford to North Carolina.
Forslund, who is only calling national games for NBC this season, was named late last month as the television voice of the expansion Seattle Kraken, which begins play next season.
Even when he moves to the Pacific Northwest, he’ll always have a passion for the Carolina Hurricanes.
“It’s a tough spot for me,” said Forslund, who hopes to get the assignment for the Canes’ April 4 home game against Dallas that airs on NBCSN. “I’d be lying to you if I said it’s easy to watch. It’s not, because I was so emotionally attached to that product. I still live in the market. I still pull for the Hurricanes.”
Forslund has enjoyed the Canes’ fast start as much as any Caniac.
“I feel a lot of joy,” said Forslund, who has talked with players after big games and with coaches. “I absolutely feel that. I keep track of what they’re doing and watch games. It just felt different because I knew that that’s where I should be or that’s where I was. And I did that for a long time. So it’s difficult.”
“It’s emotional,” he said. “If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be right. And I think that’s why — because I put a lot of passion into what I did. And I’m proud of what I did. And I think because of that, it kind of feels that way.”
Through it all, Forslund feels fortunate to be able to continue to call the sport that he loves.
Forslund hopes to still work national games after NBC’s NHL contract runs out at the end of the season but nothing is guaranteed. Joining the Kraken after turning down the chance to call Tampa Bay Lightning games gives him a certain path for next season.
It will be new in many ways since Forslund has only lived in New England and North Carolina and still has never been to Seattle. The interview process was done virtually.
He has experience with coming to a new area that hasn’t had NHL-level hockey from the early Hurricanes days in Greensboro. A lot is different, though, from starting play in a new arena to social media and marketing that has changed dramatically since the 1990s.
“They’ve been amping up the enthusiasm for two years; there is a strong organization in place,” Forslund said. “I’m surrounded by terrific people. And, when we get there, it’s a major city. And you now have to wedge in a new team and a new sport in the major-league landscape. Whereas in Raleigh, we were a professional team that was trying to find its niche in college basketball, college football, a little bit in NASCAR, trying to find credibility in that marketplace. So, I think it’s a little bit different. There are definitely similarities that are involved. I’m going to reach back to my experience, and hopefully do it again.”
Until next season, Forslund’s catchphrase “Hey, hey, whaddya say!” is on ice because it would show bias during a national broadcast.
“You do curtail a little bit of that,” Forslund said. “But everything else is the same: my approach, my preparation doesn’t change much. That’s the one thing that I took a lot of pride in — and I will do on a local show — I use the same vernacular, same delivery. I don’t dumb down the opponent goals if I’m doing a local feed. You know, some fans don’t like that. Some fans wanted me to act like I was disappointed. A goal — as Dan Kelly, the great hockey announcer for many years ago, used to say — is the shining moment in the sport. It should never be sold down.”
The scenario hasn’t come up yet, but Forslund says that he might go with another signature phrase, “that’s hockey, baby!” on a national broadcast if there is a particularly great play.
Although he called a couple of games on-site early and was in the arena for Sunday’s Flyers-Caps NBC game, he has broadcast most games from an NBC studio in Stamford, Conn., which creates challenges and guesswork at times.
“It’s not ideal but the fans don’t care,” Forslund said. “We have to make it good for the fans. And I hope we are. There’s a lot of guesswork involved that doesn’t give you a lot of confidence as a broadcaster. You’re missing some things that are out of frame.”
After the retirement of Doc Emrick, NBC hasn’t officially named a No. 1 play-by-play announcer and it isn’t clear who will be on the NBC call for the Stanley Cup final. Forslund, is, however, working with the same analyst, Eddie Olczyk, who was paired with Emrick.
The finale as the voice of the Canes he didn’t know was the finale
When he worked the Canes’ 5–2 win March 10 at Detroit, he didn’t know it would be his last as the team’s play-by-play voice. He traveled to New Jersey from there only to find out that the NHL had paused its season. Then, Forslund had to quarantine after he found out that he stayed in the Detroit hotel room that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert had previously occupied.
“I’ll never forget that’s my last game,” Forslund said. “I mean, it’s just a random game in the middle of a season. After all of that, that’s it. And I guess that goes into the whatever category.”
He knew his contract was running out but was surprised when the Hurricanes’ offer in June was as an independent contractor, with a stipend and a bonus based on attendance.
“It was a guaranteed stipend, which was significant in terms of a pay cut, and then everything else would have been based on percent capacity allowed by the government and actual people in the building. And that was game to game,” Forslund said.
“There was a lot of risk involved then, and it was all hypotheticals,” he said. “We didn’t even know if the NHL was coming back in the summer, let alone the next season. So I couldn’t work with it. And there wasn’t much dialogue, you know, back and forth. So I realized it was a dead end for me.”
It wasn’t a turn of events he expected.
“I was bitterly disappointed,” Forslund said. “I get why they presented me with what they did. I’ll never understand that. I worked there for 23 years. Worked hard. I asked myself a lot of questions when that came to an end — was it all for naught? Why did this happen? There’s only a couple of people that can actually answer that question.
“That’s in my past now,” he said. “I’ve gotten beyond it. I love the fans there. I loved everything about it. I raised my family there. Do I wish I had to go through all of that? No. Am I alone? No. It’s been done to other people. And certainly, with respect to this pandemic, a lot of people have gone through a lot worse than I went through.”
Chuck Kaiton, who lost his job as the Canes’ radio play-by-play voice in July 2018 when he also was offered a huge pay cut, was there for moral support just as Forslund had provided it to him.
“Absolutely. Back and forth when he went through his, he was great with me when I went through mine,” Forslund said. “He congratulated me on this position. He’s the brother I never had, really. I have a lot of respect for Chuck.”
They are longtime friends going back to before Forslund joined the Hartford Whalers in 1991 when Forslund worked with Hartford’s American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Mass.
Forslund called Mike Maniscalco, who replaced him on an interim basis for last season’s playoff games and officially was named the permanent play-by-play voice early last month.
“I called Mike right away in the summer when I knew that it was a dicey, touchy situation,” Forslund said. “I just wanted him to know that, whatever happens, I was going to be OK, just do what you need to do. Just do your job. You can do it. That type of thing.
“I’ve let him find his way. He doesn’t need me to get involved in this,” Forslund said of Maniscalco. “One thing about this type of gig — you have to spread your own wings. You’ve got to figure out your own style and figure out who you are. That’s really important as a broadcaster. It’s very difficult to emulate people. You don’t want to do that. So I’ve let him go and, you know what, I hope it all works out.”
A call from an old friend
One of the first calls he received was from Ron Francis, the Seattle Kraken general manager and former Canes star and GM.
“It was a personal phone call. It was a phone call on July 1 that was all about how are you? How’s your family? Kind of get reacquainted again,” Forslund said. “We had grown apart based on his departure. And, you know, the fact that that’s just the way it works sometimes. And then, at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘Listen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what kind of options you will have. But if you’ll consider us, I’ll put you in touch with [Kraken CEO] Tod Leiweke.’ ”
By the time the season resumed in Edmonton and Toronto bubbles, he was calling numerous games televised nationally in the U.S. and Canada and was grateful for that opportunity. It also gave Kraken executives many chances to see Forslund’s work while, at the same time, he watched the rollout of the name of the team and other announcements.
“I think it was mutual,” Forslund said. “We kind of went back and forth, and then realized, you know what, this is a really good situation, and then they offered me a tremendous opportunity that it didn’t take long to say yes to.”
Forslund turned down a chance to become the play-by-play voice of the Tampa Bay Lightning before this season.
“We had a strong conversation about their position and I just decided at that time — and Seattle really wasn’t in the mix yet — I’m going to continue on with my national work and we’ll just go from there. We never really got down a road with them too far.”
Part of it was the timing, so he decided he just wanted to work national broadcasts this season.
“I just decided this is a lot too soon. Let’s just cool our jets for a bit here and see what happens. I knew there was some interest from Seattle, but I didn’t know how much,” said Forslund, who didn’t really get into contract talks with the Kraken until around the holidays.
Glad to only be doing games on television
One aspect of the Kraken job that he likes is that his play-by-play call will only be on TV because Seattle hired Everett Fitzhugh to be its radio play-by-play announcer. Forslund’s call the last two seasons was also heard on the radio.
“I went against what they told me to do,” Forslund said. “They told me to do a television show and it didn’t matter what went out over the radio. And I was really opposed to doing it that way. And in a couple of the other cities that have a simulcast, those are the marching orders. And I think it’s just a total disservice to the listener.”
Forslund did radio play-by-play in the American Hockey League for seven years, so he knew how to do that well. But doing both TV and radio at the same time was a challenge.
“I love doing radio. It’s organic. You have to really describe. You have to do what you need to do so that the listener sees the game. And so that’s what I had to do is adapt my play by play to serve a radio audience with the Hurricanes,” Forslund said.
There’s no telling what kind of hockey Seattle fans will get during the Kraken’s first NHL season but there’s no doubt that they are getting one of the best hockey voices.
ESPN+ docuseries to focus on NCCU basketball, HBCUs
The first of eight episodes of the all-access docuseries “Why Not Us: North Carolina Central Basketball” will debut Friday on ESPN+.
The Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith are the executive producers for The Undefeated series that follows the Eagles program. It also will include conversations with notable HBCU graduates such as director Spike Lee, actress Taraji P. Henson and fashion and sneaker designer Jerry Lorenzo.
‘Why Not Us’ will spotlight the importance and uniqueness of HBCUs by chronicling the NCCU men’s basketball team and the challenges they encounter throughout a season in my home state of North Carolina,” said Paul, who grew up in the Winston-Salem area and played at Wake Forest, pointing out that HBCUs don’t have the funding or resources of most other programs.
“Despite the obstacles they face, ‘Why Not Us’ shines a light on these amazing Black student-athletes who attend HBCUs, and how these historically significant schools continue to enrich not only the Black community but our nation as a whole,” Paul said.
WFNZ, N.C. shows and Jones’ podcast make Barrett Media rankings
Charlotte’s WFNZ made Barrett Sports Media’s 2020 rankings of the top 20 mid-market sports radio stations in the country at No. 10, a drop from No. 7 in the 2019 rankings. Raleigh’s WCMC (99.9 The Fan) was No. 18 in 2019 but didn’t make the 2020 ranking.
Barrett defines mid-market as lower than a top-20 national market. The results for this, and other rankings, are based on 2020 performances. Fifty stations were eligible.
Barrett ranked WFNZ’s 6–10 a.m. “Mac Attack” with Chris McClain and Travis “T-Bone” Hancock as the No. 4 mid-market morning show. WFNZ’s 10 a.m.–2 p.m. show “The Clubhouse With Kyle Bailey” is the No. 10 mid-market midday sports show and “The Adam Gold Show,” the statewide noon–3 p.m. show that airs in the Triangle on WCMC, is No. 15. There were 47 shows eligible for the morning list and 54 eligible for the midday list.
WFNZ’s 2–7 p.m. show “Afternoons with Nick Wilson” came in at No. 13 on the mid-market afternoon show list and was the only ranked state show.
In 2019, WCMC’s “Adam & Joe” was No. 6 on the mid-market afternoon show list and Bailey’s WFNZ show was No. 13 on that list. “Adam & Joe” gave way to “The OG” with Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio in the afternoon drive time slot and Bailey shifted to his current midday time slot.
Bomani Jones, a former Durham resident who got his radio start in the Triangle, made Barrett’s list of top 20 original podcasts. His “The Right Time with Bomani Jones” came in No. 13. There were 110 eligible podcasts.
WFNZ brand manager Terry Foxx was No. 7 on the list of top 20 mid-market program directors.
Barrett ranked Colin Cowherd’s Fox Radio show as the No. 1 national show, followed by “The Dan Patrick Show”, neither of which air in the Triangle market. “The Jim Rome Show,” which comes in at No. 5, airs on The Ticket and “Greeny,” which is No. 6, airs on Buzz Sports Radio.
McClatchy eliminates 81 Garner jobs but sets minimum reporter salary
In a cost-saving measure, McClatchy is eliminating 48 full-time and 33 part-time jobs at its Garner production facility that has printed The N&O and The Herald-Sun. The newspapers will be printed in Fayetteville starting in April, which will mean that the already-early print deadlines will shift 30 minutes earlier.
Days after that announcement, the chain set a minimum reporter salary of $42,000 a year ($45,000 in certain larger cities) as of March 1, meaning raises for reporters who now make less than that. This will have more of an impact at the chain’s smaller newspapers.
Better seats for media at Canes home games
Although press conferences, like with every sports entity, are done via Zoom, media members covering Hurricanes games get better seats during this season without fans.
Instead of sitting in the hockey press box on the fifth floor of the PNC Arena, they are in the West Priority Lounge at the top of sections 101 through 107. With this setup, reporters don’t have to get into elevators.
Only one person on the team’s communications staff sits with members of the media.
— Pace Sagester, a 2012 UNC journalism graduate, left the Carolina Hurricanes after six total years with the team and the last 1½ years as Director of Communications and Team Services last month to work in communications at UNC. … Mike Brown, who has been with the team since June 2018, was promoted to manager of communications. … David Piper, a UNC senior majoring in advertising and public relations, is now the team’s communications coordinator. Piper was a communications intern with the team from September 2018 until last March.
— Saturday’s ESPN broadcast of the first North Carolina-Duke game with both unranked since 1960 attracted only 1.87 million viewers, the fewest since at least 2008, according to Austin Karp of Sports Business Journal. It was also the first time the initial meeting between the rivals was played before the Super Bowl since 2002. The Super Bowl ratings were down as well, the lowest since 2007.
— Five-time National Sports Media Association North Carolina sports writer of the year Wilt Browning has died at the age of 83. His journalism career lasted 41 years, including as a writer, columnist and sports editor at the News & Record of Greensboro from 1977–96. He retired as sports editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times in 1998. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
— Brian Morrison, who retired as the ACC’s associate commissioner in June 2019 after 33 years with the league, is part of the five-person 2021 class for the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame. Joining Morrison in the class are Bill Benner, a former Indianapolis Star columnist; Pat Forde, a veteran sports writer now with Sports Illustrated; veteran writer Dana O’Neil, now with The Athletic; and former Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette writer Loren Tate.
— “Return Man,” a well-done McClatchy podcast and seven-part series, is edited and reported by longtime Charlotte resident Bret McCormick, who works at the Sports Business Journal. It looks at the life and the death of Jim Duncan, a small-town football star and later NFL player who died suspiciously.
— Chapel Fowler, a May UNC journalism graduate, has joined the Fayetteville Observer to cover recruiting as well as college sports for all of the North Carolina Gannett newspapers. Previously, he was sports editor for the weekly Chatham News + Record and did some stringing for The N&O. His first day was Monday and his first story Tuesday was on the top junior football prospects in the state.
— Sam Jarden, a 2019 UNC broadcast journalism graduate, has joined TNT as a social media manager. He’ll oversee and create content for the social media accounts for the NBA on TNT, NBA TV and Shaqtin a Fool. He interned last year with Sporting News Canada.
— Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who played last season with the Seattle Seahawks, has retired as a player and will work as an NFL game analyst for Fox next season. He already had experience working with ESPN and Fox when he still was an active player.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
In The Charlotte Observer, Scott Fowler caught up with Jack Sock, who was the No. 8 tennis player in the world in 2017 but has fallen to No. 257. He’s relocated and is plotting a comeback.
In The N&O, Andrew Carter wrote about the challenges Warren County’s boys basketball team has faced — from losing a game by a state-record 103 points to persevering just to play and go to school in one of the state’s most rural and poorest counties. Accompanying the story are photos from Robert Willett.
In the Richmond Times-Dispatch, David Teel wrote about retired ACC commissioner John Swofford, who took the small-town values he gained growing up in North Wilkesboro to become a gracious, unassuming but powerful league leader. Among the interesting nuggets in the story: He was the ticket manager at Virginia when he was offered and accepted the assistant athletics director job at UNC — at halftime of the 1976 ACC tournament final between the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels.
In The N&O, Luke DeCock wrote an interesting story ahead of last weekend’s UNC-Duke game about the previous unranked battle between the two rivals in 1960.
In The Athletic, Brian Hamilton wrote about Virginia senior Jay Huff, a Durham native who is getting his chance to shine after playing fewer than 500 minutes in his first three seasons. Somehow, an air conditioning duct played a role in developing his game and jump shot.
In The Charlotte Observer, Jonathan Alexander helps you understand Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson a little better after you read his story explaining his mother’s legacy and the envelope he can’t bring himself to open. His mom died in 2019 at the age of 57.
On HighSchoolOT.com, J. Mike Blake wrote about Cox Mill volleyball star Raven Gray who is as committed to her faith as a Seventh-day Adventist as she is to her sport, which leads to conflicts and adjustments. But her faith always comes first.