by Nick Nollenberger | AHL On The Beat
One of the most recognizable figures in the San Jose Sharks’ 27-year history, Dan Rusanowsky has been brilliantly describing Sharks hockey on the radio since the franchise’s beginning in 1991.
The 2013 Bay Area Radio Hall of Famer called his 2,000th NHL game on January 16, 2018, in Glendale, Arizona. It was a feat that almost never came to be after a near-fatal car accident in 2000 that forced him to miss 27 games, the only games in Sharks’ history that he wasn’t in the booth for.
Before Rusanowsky helped ignite the South Bay’s passion for the game of hockey and described the franchise’s most memorable moments, including its first and only trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, Rusanowsky spent five years in the American Hockey League with the New Haven Nighthawks.
A native of Connecticut, the 57-year-old grew up just 10 miles from New Haven, where he frequently attended Nighthawks games at the New Haven Coliseum.
“I really looked at that league (AHL) as major stepping stone… I just thought it would be a dream to do games in that league (AHL)… let alone in this one (NHL),” said Rusanowksky.
Before joining the AHL in 1986, Rusanowsky spent seven seasons broadcasting games at his alma mater, St. Lawrence University, but nothing could have prepped him for the National League like the time he spent in the AHL.
“The five years I spent in the AHL where the most important five years you could ever imagine,” he said. “You learn about the business side, which I think is the most important part. It’s not just learning about the game and the creative art we are doing on the air, but it’s also part of a business.”
Without the advantage of modern computer stats, Rusanowsky would often rely on faxed league statistics along with pertinent information he’d collect from fellow broadcasters, including former Springfield Indians broadcaster and current Carolina Hurricanes broadcaster John Forslund.
“We would play Springfield 14 times a year, seven at home and seven on the road. It would allow you to really get to know these guys. John and I would chat about our teams and talk about our dreams, like we still do today.”
Rusonowsky’s famous vernacular and uncanny ability to describe moments from seasons prior has endeared him to Bay Area sports fans of all ages over the last quarter century. Those skills were refined during long bus trips while in the AHL.
“I’d take my materials onto the bus, spread them out and work on the bus the whole trip and map out the game,” he said. “That’s how I developed some of the systems I have, just by being prepared and organized, because when you’re broadcasting a game by yourself, you need to know where everything is, and you don’t have much time, so you’ve got to make sure everything is buttoned down.”
Prior to the Sharks’ Stanley Cup run two years ago, one of Rusonowsky’s fondest memory in all of his years of pro hockey came in 1989 when the Nighthawks made an improbable trip to the Calder Cup Finals.
“Until we made it to the Stanley Cup final, that was one of my greatest memories in hockey.”
Revered and respected throughout the game, the one-day Hockey Hall of Famer is still appreciative for his time in the AHL.
“It all leads back to New Haven for me. Everything I’ve learned about the business leads back to the AHL. The NHL would not have happened for me without the AHL, it was totally different than college hockey and I feel very fortunate.”