ESPN's Sean McDonough says he got better as NHL season 'went along’

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Before this season, Sean McDonough hadn’t called an NHL game in almost two decades. McDonough admitted to shaking off some early rust but considers his first season back in the booth a successful one, growing more comfortable as the season went along. “One of the things that stood out to me immediately is the game is a lot faster than it was 17 or 18 years ago,” the veteran announcer expressed to Richard Deitsch of The Athletic. “You used to be able to put your head down and look for a note or if you weren’t quite sure of what number a player was. You could look down and the guy was probably still lugging the puck through the neutral zone. You don’t have time to do any of that now.”

Best known for his work covering college football and basketball for ESPN (he also helmed Monday Night Football for two seasons), McDonough was selected as lead play-by-play voice after the network acquired the NHL’s broadcasting rights from NBC. After a period of trial and error—which he attributed to a lack of reps—McDonough was able to build chemistry with color analyst Ray Ferraro and sideline reporter Emily Kaplan, rounding into form just in time for the playoffs.

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“I thought I got better as the season went along,” said McDonough, who noted another challenge was calling games from press boxes high above the ice. “You’re trying to adjust to the speed of the sport, having not done it in a long time, to re-familiarizing yourself with the league to working with people you have not worked with before to doing a game every three weeks or so.
I thought we all got better as a group as the season went along and by the time the playoffs rolled around, I was really comfortable.”

McDonough, who has long been his own harshest critic, has, throughout his career been reluctant to revisit past broadcasts, though this year he made an exception, carefully studying tape from each game to see what he could improve on. “Sometimes I’m watching the tape and I think, oh, god, here comes the part where I told a story that was not well-timed or said an opinion I wished I hadn’t expressed. But no one’s ever pitched a perfect game in this racket. Maybe Vin Scully, but I even doubt that he’s done it,” said McDonough. “I have an appreciation for how good hockey broadcasters are because it’s not easy.”

Watching Game 7 of Stanley Cup Finals as a spectator in 2019, McDonough experienced the energy and passion of hockey fans at TD Garden, a feeling he’s been chasing ever since. “I looked over where Mike Emrick was and said to my buddies, ‘Boy, it would be great to do this someday. The atmosphere is just incredible,” said McDonough, who fulfilled his own prophecy three years later calling Stanley Cup games in Denver and Tampa Bay. “Every building we were in throughout the playoffs was electric and that’s a big part of what makes the Stanley Cup playoffs special. The reality lived up to the anticipation.”

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