A Smoke Break With Smokin’ Al
It’s no secret we’re CSN fanboys. Even thought we’ll be at Sunday’s tilt versus the Flyers, we’re recording CSN broadcast of it. In addition to the action on the ice (prediction: Caps win, 3-1) , there will be something pretty special in the broadcast booth. CSN is marking Al Koken’s 30th season by cycling him around Verizon. From the Post:
During the broadcast, Koken will be featured in each of the four roles he has served throughout his three decades with the network. In the first period, he will work as the game analyst, his position for six seasons beginning in 1984. In the second period, Koken will transition to play-by-play announcer, a position he held during the 1995-96 season. Koken will assume his most familiar role as in-game reporter during the third period before hosting “Capitals Postgame Live” after the game.
Despite Al’s busy weekend schedule with Friday’s Caps game against the Ducks and Saturday night’s college hoops game, he carved out some time to do a Q&A with us about his years covering your Washington Capitals. We thank Al for his time, his service and for making us smarter hockey fans.
Us: Growing up, who were some of the announcers and play by play guys on TV or radio guys that you liked? And did you try to emulate them once you got into broadcasting?
Al: I grew up in St. Louis. Fooled around as a backyard, shinny player but there was no formal hockey teams,etc. to really be a part of. Went to a few minor league games (St. Louis had the Blackhawks top minor league team then, in 1967, we got one of the 6 NHL expansion teams. Scotty Bowman as the first coach and Hall of Fame broadcaster Dan Kelly as the play-by-play voice on KMOX radio.
Thanks to my Uncle Bill who had access to his companies season tix, I got to a good number of games. And figured out with some friends how to sneak into many others. But, most games were enjoyed on the radio with the incredible voice and calls of the GREAT Dan Kelly. One of the highlights of my career was being treated as a peer and called by my name by Dan when the Caps and Blues would play.
Us: What was your first year like at HTS? Was it an easy transition from what you were doing at WTOP?
It was tough. I knew the game as a fan , but that doesn’t cut it on TV. My first partner, Mike Fornes, was a great help. His rules were simple: when the puck was in play, it was his. When the puck was out of play, it was mine. That never happens any more today. And Brian Murray and his coaches were a HUGE help. They truly let me ask anything and helped me prep for the games with much better insight because of the access they gave me.
Us: For those of us who didn’t attend games at the Cap Centre, what was the atmosphere like and what was it like to work from there? How does Verizon compare?
Cap Centre was unique. It was darker than almost any rink, all to see the first in-arena Tele Screen better. And it was easy to drive to hours before the game, IMPOSSIBLE to get out of post game. But, our broadcast position was GREAT, one row down from the main concourse. You’d never get that know….too much revenue to pass up. Verizon has been terrific. The area will never be able to thank Abe Pollin for building two revolutionary arenas on his own dime. And now that Ted Leonsis and his partners have assumed control, the in-game experience is sensational. And you can get out of it postgame.
Us: What are a couple of your favorite memories from covering the Caps over the years?
“….finds Hunter…he’s in alone. A shot…AND A GOAL !!!!!!!!! ”
And from the ” why does it only seem to happen to them ” department, being in the EXACT same seat at Cap Centre for the two 4 overtime playoff losses. The first as color commentator, the next as the play-by-play guy.
Us: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into sports broadcasting?
My advice would be to strive for what you want, but don’t be so narrow-minded that you don’t see other possibilities. I happen to be on camera (high def be dammed) but there are MANY incredibly talented, hockey loving people who work behind the camera. Our CSN executive producer, Bill Bell, is a hockey maniac. And unbelievably talented (can you believe at one time he both directed AND produced the games himself !?) He is celebrating his 25th year with HTS/CSN. And the same can be said for our terrific producer, Steve “Huey” Farrell. And many others. Great if you want to be the next Joe B or Locker (and someone please replace him soon), but there are tremendously rewarding careers in other aspects of broadcasting.
Us: Which Caps player is our next superstar?
We all know Nick Backstrom is the most under appreciated superstar in hockey. And John Carlson is enjoying his breakout season. But, I’ll say Andre Burakovsky is the next superstar on this team. His skill set and drive to be great will take him to the next level very soon.
Us: Will Ovi win the Richard Trophy this season?