Matt McConnell shares his fond Pond memories
Matt McConnell is entering his seventh season as the play-by-play TV broadcaster for the Arizona Coyotes. As such, he will witness the inaugural home game for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights as a visiting announcer Oct. 10.
McConnell is no stranger to watching new NHL brands break out, having done so on the home side twice before. He formerly held the play-by-play position with the Minnesota Wild and Atlanta Thrashers, joining the latter at their inception in 1999.
But he most notably got his start in the league on the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim’s radio network for their first three seasons as a franchise. That gave him the privilege of witnessing an exceptionally extravagant opening-night ceremony, and ultimately parlayed him to jobs in Pittsburgh, then the aforementioned Atlanta, Minnesota and Arizona.
Continuing its #25DuckDays series, Pucks and Recreation recently spoke to him about his experiences with the Anaheim team in its formative years.
How did the opportunity arise to become the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim’s first play-by-play broadcaster?
I got very lucky, I had applied to the Ducks and (Florida) Panthers (the other 1993 expansion franchise). I was working at the time in the IHL, in Peoria. So, like every aspiring broadcaster, I sent my materials to the new teams.
The rejection from Florida came almost immediately, so I took a job for the Richmond franchise (in the ECHL). I came home to a message, and it was Tony Tavares asking to call him ASAP. He was the president of the Ducks.
You know, I thought it was a prank, something that my friends would do. So I checked the area code, and it checked out. So Tony Tavares asked me to come out and interview. Two days later, I was offered the job. They originally offered Jim Jackson, but he took Flyers job while the Ducks were on hold. So, I ask him every year if he wants a Christmas present.
Did you watch the movie before taking the job?
I don’t know if I had seen it prior to. I believe I had. Once I got the job, I made sure to see it, though.
The pregame ceremony at the team’s inaugural season opener was exceptionally long and extravagant. Have you witnessed anything before or since that compares to that display?
It was pretty extravagant. Disney is in entertainment. I remember they did a dry run two nights prior, which we attended, and it was something else. Especially Wild Wing repelling. This year, the Coyotes are Vegas’ first home game, so we’ll see what they do.
Do you have any other specific memories of your time in Anaheim that you would like to single out?
The people that were in place in Anaheim were great. Lisa Seltzer, the director of broadcasting, she taught me how to act like a pro, how to carry myself. She is still a friend.
I worked with Charlie Simmer. He was a legend in Southern California, with an ego the size of a grain of rice.
You know, credit to (head coach) Ron Wilson and (general manager) Jack Ferreira for building a competitive team from the start. That Ducks team won 19 road games. Had they won more at home, they’d have made the playoffs. And what’s not to like about living in Southern California?
Was there anything else unique about calling games for the Mighty Ducks compared to other teams?
I don’t know if it was unique, just that it was new. I had some personal gratitude that I beat the odds and made it to the NHL. Lisa was a longtime producer for Chicago. She pulled everyone together, and it created a real camaraderie.
How much excitement was there for the first season?
It was a new team, Disney is behind it, a new facility. All of that paired with the new rivalry with L.A. made it a perfect storm. The team was very competitive. They didn’t miss the playoffs by much. They got blown out in the first game, but broke through against Edmonton.
You know, the first road game was a victory at (Madison Square Garden in New York). Terry Yake had a hat trick. The Rangers had done their team picture during morning skate, which very rarely happens. Ron Wilson used it as motivation. So later, a top hat sent to Terry by Michael Eisner (former Disney CEO) which was filled with candy. Terry gave candy from it to everyone on the bus.
How much did the movies influence the interest of young hockey fans in Southern California?
It was more the Sun Belt hockey expansion. Had (Wayne) Gretzky never been traded (from the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings), there may not have been a team in ’93.
They were awarded right around the movie. The Pond was built in 19 months, which I’m pretty sure was a record. They were putting in the seats during my interview. The expansion rules were different, but they were awarded very quickly.
Was there increased interest in the team as each of the following two parts of the trilogy were released?
I don’t know if there was or not. The interest was what they were doing on ice. When Paul Kariya went pro, they had sectioned off some fan seating to watch camp. And they had to keep opening sections until they opened the entire lower bowl. When Teemu came, everybody loved him. One of five best guys I’ve ever known. They took off in popularity then.
What was your favorite part about working for the Mighty Ducks?
The people. The broadcasters were fully integrated with the organization. We did speaking engagements. The fact that the team was competitive and had a clear direction helped too.
When you were the broadcaster for the Wild, did you ever visit any of the Minnesota landmarks that appeared in the films?
I never went to Mickeys’ Diner, but I have seen the big hockey stick, Paul Bunyan’s Axe. My dad worked in Virginia, Minn., where Matt Niskanen and the Cullen’s are from. So, I had a familiarity with Minnesota before going there.