ABC 7 Sports Internship Blog (weeks 11-12)

Week 11 July 25- 31, 2016

Monday was the start of the Crosstown Classic between the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. I didn’t get a chance to leave to office and do pre-game because a team was already sent. So I spent the day inside logging the game. I asked Mark what the most difficult part of his job was, he said that it was fitting so much information into such a small window of time and then putting your own spin on it. Mark explained that the evening news isn’t the first source for news anymore, so people mostly tune it to hear your take on what they already know. It is up to you to take information that everybody knows and make it unique and memorable to the audience. Wednesday was an uneventful day of logging baseball games. Saturday I went down to cover Bears summer camp in Bourbonnais. While doing so I got a real sense of the “hurry up and wait” aspect of the job as all the media followed each other in a giant pack to a single location and then waited for players and coaches to become available. I also got to drive a golf cart while I was there so that was fun. I had the good fortune to meet Eric (I didn’t get his last name) an associate producer for Fox Sports and an MSU alum. He graduated in 2011 and we talked for a good 20 minutes about the business. He told me he never wanted to be on air because of the pressure of not saying anything that will get you in trouble and that he self admittedly didn’t have “the personality” for it. I told him what I was doing at Michigan State (BTN, Impact Radio etc.) and he complemented me on doing so much saying “the more you can do the better, especially in this business”.

I also met Aldo Perri, senior sports producer at Comcast Sports Network. He and I talked for nearly an hour about high school, college and professional sports. Mostly chatting and swapping stories. He has been in the business for 25 years so he has seen a thing or two. Probably the most interesting thing he told me is that nearly every major story he has seen “something similar has happened before.”

On the way back Mike (the camera man I was accompanying) and I talked about the internship and what I took away from it now that I was approaching the end. He told me that, judging by our interactions, that I was going to go far because of my willingness to listen, learn and adapt when the moment called for it. Mike went even farther by saying that my friendly and down to earth personality would serve me well when dealing with current and future colleagues. It was certainly pleasing the hear from him and I finished my second-to-last week at ABC 7 convinced that I had made a positive impact on a number of people.


Week 12 Aug. 1-7, 2016


Hard to believe this is my last week at ABC 7. Recently I have started to feel a bit more readily accepted by some of the regulars in the newsroom. I myself have grown accustomed to working there. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and this marks the beginning of my last blog post.

Monday started off a bit hectic, as I had to wait 40 minutes outside of Wrigley Field for my pre-game credential to be approved. There was a lot of media there so I think my name was lost or overlooked for some reason. But Larry Snyder took care of it after I called him and explained the situation. At least I got to talk to the window attendants at length about baseball, which was enjoyable. Monday was also the day I said goodbye to producer Jason Smith. I enjoyed working with him, his easygoing but fair nature was something I appreciated and he was a joy to work under.

Wednesday was another day of logging baseball games and getting Cubs post game. I was finally given authorization to ask a specific player (Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards Jr.) a few questions about his season. Unfortunately he slipped out of the locker-room while we were getting quotes from other players. I was disappointed that another chance to interview someone slipped away. It was also my last day seeing anchor Jim Rose. Despite my limited time with him, he has taught me a fair deal. Jim is the type of person that remains humble and approachable despite his near celebrity status in Chicago. I keep thinking back to the Blackhawks convention and how he took pictures and gave autographs with every person who came up to him. He didn’t need to do that but he did it anyway out of respect for the people who watch him.

Friday was a long day, my last day. It was kind of bittersweet. On one hand I am happy to complete my internship but on the other I have grown accustomed to working at ABC 7. Overall I feel this internship was a very positive experience. Through it I made substantial growth in my understanding of both the sports journalism field and about the real world workplace. I feel more confident moving forward with my career then I ever have been.

ABC 7 Sports Internship Blog (weeks 9-10)

Week 9 July 11-18, 2016


This week I got to help out with the Blackhawks Convention downtown. My duties mostly included holding the microphone during player interviews and assisting either the cameraman or the talent Jim Rose. This was perhaps the first time I was truly upset with the ban on interns asking questions. One of the Blackhawk players (Duncan Keith) played for a time at Michigan State, and for legendary hockey coach Ron Mason. Mason recently passed away this summer and I really wanted to ask Keith about his time playing for him and how Coach Mason contributed to his growth as a hockey player. I understand that it might not be that relevant to the Chicago market, but it would have been nice to have the audio of Keith talking about a legendary figure in the college hockey community. Perhaps the biggest thing I learned, or rather I was reminded, is that our job as journalists is first and foremost to the people. Rose had a difficult time navigating the convention due to numerous fans swarming him for autographs and pictures. He talked to everyone he could and never spurned a single autograph seeker. Jim is one of those people who, even though he has made it to the top he still remains humble and approachable to his audience. That is a quality I certainly want to embrace moving forward in my career. It was also a nice reminder that we tell stories and we do so for to entertain and inform the people.

I also learned the importance of getting a good cut-away and why it is important. Most stations just get a generic cut away of a coach or something, but getting a memorable cutaway makes the sportscast, and the sportscaster, stand out. This is one of the reasons Mark Giangreco is as successful as he is, because he makes his broadcasts memorable. This is something I will defiantly try to implement in my own career moving forward.


Week 10 July 18-24, 2016


Monday was another average eight-hour day. I logged two baseball games (Cubs and Sox) and helped out with Cubs post-game. A funny incident happened while I was in the clubhouse, while getting set to interview Anthony Rizzo (who had a huge game that afternoon), I got caught out in no man’s land between him and the cameras. I had to crouch down with the microphone so I was not in anybody’s shot! Thankfully my legs didn’t give out during the lengthy interview and we got the sound we needed. Whoever said journalism is a boring gig has no idea!

On Wednesday I got to help cover Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s charity boxing event. I met several people who worked with MLB Network and gained a new appreciation to how much work they actually do. One woman I talked to said that she had been to over 50 baseball games this summer, and this was just after the All Star break! The camera operator I was with was a little confused as to what we should shoot (it was a charity event after all) so I stepped in and recommended shots to her and pointed out people of interest. It was a nice change of pace to kind of direct the shooting of the event.

Saturday was uneventful but for the crazy situation with White Sox pitcher Chris Sale. Reportedly he did not want to wear the throwback uniforms the Sox had so he cut up his and several of his teammates’ uniforms so they couldn’t wear them. As a result he was sent home, but the story gained national attention. It was interesting to see the newsroom take a story that unfolded over time and see the producers and talent look at multiple sources, get several different versions of the story and constantly edit their script to adapt. It was trying at times, one minute we would have an idea of what happened and then new information would be revealed forcing a change to the script. It was very well handled and I gained a better understanding of how to handle a major developing sports story.

ABC 7 Sports Internship Blog (weeks 7-8)

Week 7 June 27- July 3, 2016


On Monday I almost had a chance to conduct an interview with Elena Della Donne, star of the Chicago Sky. I went with a photographer named Kevin to a kids camp Delle Donne was sponsoring, intent on asking her about the camp and about her selection to the US. Olympic women’s basketball team. However we came late and was told by her media rep that we couldn’t talk to her without calling ahead and arranging it. In the end we only got some b-roll of the camp. While I was disappointed that I missed this opportunity, I wasn’t dissuaded, knowing that another opportunity would present itself in the future. I also had an opportunity to talk to Kevin, a veteran of the news business, about his experiences with on-air talents and reporters. He talked about how reporters conduct themselves when dealing with emotionally charged and delicate situations. While talking to Kevin, I realized that many of the lessons that I learned about news reporting at school indeed carried over to the real world. It made me feel somewhat better prepared that I knew how do things the right way and I took pride in the fact that I learned these skills at Michigan State University.

On Wednesday, I went out of the office again to get Sox pre-game I got to see Melky Cabrera’s translator speak to the media. I also got to see White Sox announcer Jason Bennetti walk around and talk. While I did not get to speak to him personally I was amazed how he managed to do his job so well while contending with Cerebral Palsy. He is a perfect example of how the brain is the most important asset to a broadcaster and that all it takes to make it in this business is a good mind and a good personality. Hopefully our paths will cross again so that I may introduce myself.

Saturday was an easy 6-hour day of logging baseball games. I talked with Dionne Miller and set up a potential day to shadow her while doing sideline at a Cubs game next Thursday. I just have to get it approved by Director Larry Snyder and we are good to go. A good end to a good week.


Week 8 July 4-10, 2016


I didn’t work on Monday due to it being 4th of July; my directors were gracious enough to give me the day off. I understand however that when I start in the real world I will probably not have the luxury to take off holidays. Sports never stop. Wednesday was my first official day of this week. Pretty normal by most standards, logged both baseball games and helped out the camera man (Pat Keating) with White Sox pre-game by holding the microphone. It was scorching hot weather at the ballpark and we had to spend most of the time right in the sun to get shots of Sox pitcher Chris Sale (who was selected to the All Star Game) throwing some pitches.

Thursday I got the opportunity to shadow Dionne Miller as she did sideline for a Cubs game. I was impressed by how much research she did before the game and even during the times she was not on air she was taking game notes and listening to the broadcast live. That is something I will defiantly take with me going forward. The game itself was long and drawn out, we had an hour and a half rain delay and played two full extra innings. The game was originally slated to start at 7:10 pm and by the time it ended it was well after midnight. But it is part of the job, and if you are going to do this job well you have to be ready to deal with the long & hard days as well as the easy ones. A big highlight of my shadow was the opportunity I had to meet Len Kasper, play-by-play voice of the Chicago Cubs! We didn’t have much time to chat, but it was nice to meet him and make that connection to a fellow play-by-play broadcaster. I might have been channeling him a little bit while I was sitting along the 3rd base line with Dionne calling the game in my head.

ABC 7 Sports Internship Blog (weeks 5-6)

Week 5 June 13- 19, 2016


Now at My 5th week at ABC 7, I’ve started to asked more questions about the operations of the individual positions to better understand how they work. I asked Mike Johnson (one of the producers) if it was difficult to condense all of the sports content into a 2-3 minute sports segment. He said that it was different from day-to-day, it all depends on what content was there. But for the most part it was difficult with all the shows he has to produce. Mike explained that most days he has to prioritize what sports get more airtime. This year was a bit easier because, while Chicago had two baseball teams, its hockey and baseball teams had finished their seasons early. But even then, there was plenty of content that had to be cut in order to fit everything in. Mike explained that it all depended on what drew eyes for that day (a successful Cubs team getting a big win for example) and what did not. Above all, you had to localize before you could nationalize. This means that you have to include all of the local stories before you include any of the national ones, unless they are earth-shattering. Deciding what gets in and what gets left out is one of the primary roles of the producer. I also got permission to accompany one of the sports reporters out into the field when they do a stand up. This is important to me because I would like to gain a better understanding of doing sideline at a sporting event because that is a skill I feel I could use some improvement on. There is no date set up yet but I am confident that it will go through, I just have to find a person to shadow.


Week 6 June 20-26, 2016


Wednesday was perhaps my toughest day during my internship and it was during this day that I learned a very tough lesson. No matter how frantic or tense the situation, it is critical to remain calm and keep your cool, even if it is easy to snap. This was one that I took to heart on Wednesday. As I now reach the halfway point of my internship, I realize now that more that anything I am being taught how to live and work in the real world and how to thrive in a top market like Chicago. Thinking about it, I think few college students at 21 years old have real experience on what it is like working in the real world, the nuances, the unwritten rules, the decorum etc. While the technical aspects of this job are important to learn as well, they are near useless if you cannot apply them in the real world. In addition if you don’t know the ins and outs of working in a newsroom you won’t be going very far. I am thankful to be learning this lesson now as opposed to later when it could be costly. When I was back at Michigan State, I was a big fish in a small pond. Now that I am here at ABC 7, I am now a (really) small fish in a very large lake. It is a bit of a culture shock but like I said earlier, I am happy to be experiencing this now.

On another note, some more movement on shadowing one of the sports reporters on a field assignment. After talking to Dionne Miller (one of the reporters) we decided that a Wednesday would be best for me to shadow her. All that remains is to find a suitable date.

ABC 7 Sports Internship Blog (weeks 3-4)

Week 3 May 30-June 5, 2016


I did not work on Monday (Memorial Day) Both Mark and Mike gave me the day off. Wednesday I came in early at 12:00 to log the White Sox game that started at 12:10. It was the third straight day I have come in earlier then the usual start time of 2:00 pm. That being said I do not mind. I do this willingly because I know I have a job to do and I want to fulfill it the to best of my ability, even if that means putting in a few more hours of work. That is the difference between being a professional and being an hourly worker. On Wednesday I worked a 10 hour-long shift. During that time I logged two baseball games, the first half of a women’s basketball game and the overtime period of a hockey game. It was a long, and at times stressful, day but very rewarding by the end of it.

Saturday was a busy day for me. I came in at 1:00 to log the Cubs game. Afterwards I hustled over to Wrigley field to assist with Cubs post-game. Post-game went smoothly, got a few sound bites from some players handled the media ball well and things went off without a hitch. I feel quite comfortable with the “media ball” of microphones surrounding a player. I had an introduction to media balls covering hockey at MSU and while this is on a whole different level, I have yet to have an issue of getting boxed out or getting too close to someone.

After Cubs- post game I traveled back to Soldier Field to help a cameraman with covering a gala event put on by the Chicago Bears. I helped him identify several key members of the Bears front office to get some shots of. It was kind of annoying that the event staff made us leave after only 45 minutes and before most of the players arrived.


Week 4 June 6-June 12, 2016


Monday was just another typical day of logging games and press conferences. I did the Team USA press conference as they prepared for their next game in the Copa America. The baseball game was a Cubs game, which the North-siders won 6-4. I got an opportunity to see first hand how Mark preps for watch segment, going over the package, writing notes, and testing it for time. It made me appreciate how much effort goes in to each minute of airtime on the news.

Wednesday was another standard day. I logged two baseball games, one in the beginning of the day when I first came in, and one in the latter part of the day. Over the course of my almost four weeks at this internship I have noticed that the workplace environment is quite different from what I am used to. Back at Michigan State, I worked at the local WKAR TV and radio station. The environment there was very welcoming and friendly. My contributions were always welcomed and applauded and I was made to feel like an important member by the team from both the talent and the production staff. Here at WLS, it is a bit different. The staff itself is quite friendly with each other but my place is outside of that. I am the intern, plain and simple. It is far more business likes here then I had anticipated. At times my over eagerness to work and contribute sometimes “gets in the way” so to speak. An example is that I reveal a key stat or a good cut away I found during the game. There have been times were I have tried to tell either Mark Giangreco or Mike Johnson the producer and they told me that they were busy at the moment. Where as last year at WKAR in East Lansing, such a remark would be met with an immediate “yes that’s great” or “no we don’t really need that, thanks though”. I’m not saying that my experiences so far during this internship are negative. It is just a new type of environment that I have to adjust to and a balancing act that I must master. I feel that learning to adapt to a different type of workplace environment may be the biggest lesson that I learn from this internship.

ABC 7 Sports Internship Blog (weeks 1-2)

Week 1 May 16- May 22, 2016


I started my first full official day on Tuesday May 17. I met with head sports anchor Mark Giangreco as well as weekday sports producer Larry Snyder. Mark showed me around the station, let me watch several of his sports broadcasts and ran me over my basic duties. These duties included helping out with cameramen in the field and logging games for use in the news broadcasts. Tuesday was my first eight-hour day starting from 2 pm and ending around 10 pm. Early on in the day I accompanied one of the cameramen to record pre-game footage of the White Sox before their game with the Huston Astros. My primary duty was holding the boom mic in the huge forest of other media in order to get good sound. I must admit this experience was not as daunting as some made it out to be. I have had similar experiences covering MSU Hockey in college. If anything this experience was just a bit larger in scale as opposed to what I’m used to in school. After I returned (around 5:00ish) I was asked to logging the Cubs-Brewers game so that the producer could find good highlights for Mark’s sports segment on the 10:00 news. My role in getting the highlights was limited to pen and paper as I was not allowed to touch the editing equipment due to union regulations. At the end of the day I had logged all nine innings of the Cubs game as well as two innings of the White Sox game that was going on concurrently.

Wednesdays more low-key in terms of work load. I was able to see the result of the clips I had logged the night before and learned how they all fit together to form a coherent package. It is mostly up to the performance of the talent as to which clips he wants and how fast he wants the pace of the edits to be. As the evening neared I was tasked with logging both a Chicago Fire soccer game as well as a Cubs baseball game. I was reminded of the importance of name pronunciation as I had trouble pronouncing a name of a runner who had scored a run and had to look it up. One of the producers helped me out with this and I learned to pay extra attention to the name pronunciations while logging games.

Saturday I came in a bit early to log two baseball games. Other than that, the day was very low-key. Thus ended my first week interning at ABC 7. So far the experience has been a positive one and I look forward to the rest of the summer.


Week 2 May 23-May 29, 2016


Monday was in interesting day. My ID card was finally validated and I learned how to log games on the computer using the AP ENPS software. I logged two baseball games, one Sox and one Cubs. During the Sox game, the broadcast cut out twice for an extended period of time. I was unable to log the game and we missed several scoring plays. This actually proved to be a bit of a learning experience as I was able to witness how major stations deal with this crisis. I observed the producer Mike call up one of the ABC affiliates to get another source of the video (it was a 3-run HR by the White Sox). The affiliate station was able to send him a quick bite of the video and we were able to use it on the broadcast. Through this experience I learned that for a major news station, “defeat is unacceptable” you there is always a way to get the story and it is your job to get it no matter the means.

On Wednesday I arrived earlier then the usual 2:00 start time. This was due to both baseball games starting early. I had to log at least one of them so I came in at 12:30 to log the Cubs game. Amount 4:00 Larry Snyder, one of the sports producers, asked me to head down to US Cellular Field and assist the cinematographer with White Sox post-game. I went down to the south side and completed this task. Post game was very similar to pre-game which I did last week. Several interviews with players in the clubhouse while I hold the mic. Today was also the last day for legendary broadcaster Ron Magers. Mark read a loud a text that was sent to him and Ron by my idol Pat Foley (play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Blackhawks). The text spoke to Ron’s professionalism and his ability to excel in any role or challenge that was presented to him. This complement impressed upon me just how hard you have to work and excel to separate yourself from the herd. Excelling in any situation is certainly a goal of mine now as I continue forth in my professional life.

Saturday was a quieter day, but I was able to assist one of the cameramen in getting post-game from Wrigley Field. This was a different experience as I rode in one of the camera trucks and got to assist in the set up and take down of the camera before and after Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s post game remarks. It turns out that the staff at Wrigley imposes harsher regulations on the media then the staff at US Cellular Field. Not the least of which is demanding that you park several blocks away from the stadium and walk your equipment to the media area. Thankfully we were well prepared with a portable wagon to transport the heavy camera equipment. It really does pay to be prepared for anything in this business. Had we not been prepared with the wagon, we would have had a miserable time carrying all of that equipment in the hot summer sun.

The Legend of Ron Mason: A Tribute to a Spartan Great

The following article was written for Impact 89FM during my time covering Michigan State hockey for that station. This article was published following the death of former MSU hockey coach Ron Mason in the summer of 2016 and pays tribute to his legacy at Michigan State.

Link to original article:

image1-2-702x336The Legend of Ron Mason: A Tribute to a Spartan Great

When Ron Mason’s early Monday morning death took us all by surprise, it took this author a few days to let the impact of his passing sink in.

Simply put, Michigan State University lost a legendary figure.

Before there was Tom Izzo or Mark Dantonio, there was Ron Mason. During a time when football and basketball were nowhere near the ticket they are today, hockey at Munn Ice Arena was the gold standard at Michigan State.

In many ways, Mason’s program was the harbinger and inspiration for modern day Spartan basketball and football.

Izzo has been the model of consistency for the men’s basketball team for over 20 years now. His program has won numerous championships, garnered national attention, and has produced top tier professional talent. Dantonio is on the same path as well, as he gets set for his 10th season in East Lansing with multiple Big Ten and bowl championships to his credit.

These successful programs are in many ways living embodiment’s of Mason’s hockey program of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and his influence on starting a culture of excellence at Michigan State cannot be under-emphasized.

Ron Mason was a coaching star in the college ranks before coming to MSU. He had won a NAIA championship with Lake Superior State in 1972. After six seasons with the Lakers, Mason spent six more with Bowling Green. In that span he turned the Falcons into a powerhouse, winning multiple Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoff and regular season championships.

Mason took a bit of a chance coming to East Lansing in 1979. At that time, the hockey program had fallen into disarray behind an aging Amo Bessone. Almost immediately, things changed at Munn, as Mason’s refusal to accept anything less than excellence won over the players who worked hard and drove out the ones that didn’t.

Mason soon had Michigan State going toe to toe with the powerhouse Falcons and quickly became the dominating force of the CCHA. Tom Anastos, one of Mason’s first recruits, remembered what it was like being a player under the legendary coach.

“I loved learning from his competitive spirit and his relentless commitment to excellence,” Anastos said in an MSU press release. “Being a part of the championship teams he created here at MSU was truly special and something I’ll have forever.”

In his 23 years at MSU, Mason guided the Spartans to 19 NCAA tournament appearances, seven Frozen Fours, and a national championship in 1986. In addition, he led MSU to 17 CCHA regular season and playoff championships.

For as much as Mason put a priority on winning, he put an even higher priority on building a lasting program and growing the game of hockey.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson, who is today one of the icons of the sport in the Midwest, looked to East Lansing as a model to resurrect the Wolverines’ storied program. The two coaches are on record as having a tremendous amount of respect for each other, and the “Ron vs. Red” games between the Spartans and Michigan during the ‘90s are regarded as some of the best games ever played between the two schools.

Of the countless players Mason put into the NHL, many of them have returned to East Lansing and the family atmosphere that permeates Munn Ice Arena.

Mason didn’t just make an impact on his players and fellow coaches; he left a lasting impression on all who filled the stands at Munn and followed MSU hockey.

“Ron was more than just a hockey coach, and he was second fiddle to no one,” said MSU academic advisor Jeremy Dewar, who grew up watching Mason and the Spartans in the 1990s.

“Ron had a favorite phrase, ‘Commitment to Excellence,’” said Dewar. “This meant excellence on the ice, of course, but more importantly, Ron made a commitment to raise young boys into great young men, to represent MSU with the highest class.”

Mason’s “commitment to excellence” made him both respected by his coaching peers and revered by his players and fans.

“I admired him as a coach and leader at that time and developed great respect for his commitment to success and student-athletes,” said MSU athletic director Mark Hollis.

When Mason retired from coaching in 2002 to become Michigan State’s athletic director, it could be argued that had he continued coaching, he might have set records that would still be intact today.

Regardless, Mason enhanced his legacy at MSU in this administrative role. It was during this phase of his career that he began the process of bringing Michigan State’s athletic department into the modern era.

His two biggest accomplishments came near the end of his tenure. These were the 2007 national championship in hockey (achieved by his chosen replacement Rick Comley) and Mason’s instrumental role in the hiring of Mark Dantonio in 2006. Mason retired in 2008, surrendering his position to Hollis.

To MSU hockey fans, Mason represents the gold standard of what this program can and should achieve. No other coach reached the heights or touched so many as Mason did.

Many Spartan fans, alumni, and players have had memorable interactions with Coach Mason. For myself, I can only claim one small conversation with him. But it is one I will never forget.

It was during the intermission of a game between the Spartans and the University of New Hampshire. The date was Nov. 7, 2015. Mason was walking throughout the press box as he did on occasion. He stopped by to say hello to writer Neil Koepke, who I was standing next to at the moment. Koepke introduced me to the great man and soon we started talking hockey.

The conversation soon turned to the Spartans’ ailing power play, which was a major topic of conversation at that week’s press conference. After some X’s and O’s talk, Mason brought forward his words of wisdom.

“Sometimes the power play goes through droughts like that,” he said. “It just takes one or two goals to break it out again and start a streak.”

Almost prophetically, the Spartan power play came to life in the second period to give MSU a 3-2 lead. After that goal, the Spartans surged forward and never looked back, earning a 7-4 victory by night’s end.

I guess that was one of the great things about Mason: he knew exactly what to say and when to say it. On top of that, he had such a grasp on the game of hockey. No wonder he was so good!

Ron Mason was, and still is, a legend. His legacy at Michigan State, both on and off the ice, is forever frozen in the memories of the people he touched over the course of his life.

I think a quote from The Sandlot says it best.

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”

One Goal Away

The Following is an article I wrote on the 1959 Michigan State hockey team written for Impact 89FM. It was written in honor of the 56th anniversary of Michigan State’s first ever NCAA tournament team and a turning point for the Spartan hockey program.

Link to original article:


One Goal Away

When people think of the glory days of Michigan State hockey, they tend to think of the Ron Mason years of the 1980’s and 90’s, when MSU was a national powerhouse in the sport. However, lost in the pages of time is the fact that Michigan State hockey rose to national prominence several decades earlier.

By the time classes began in the fall of 1958, there was genuine optimism surrounding the Michigan State hockey team on campus and within the stands at Demonstration Hall. That year, the Spartans were coming off their most successful season since the team was reinstated 10 years earlier.

Head coach Amo Bessone, who took charge of the program back in 1951, had to claw tooth and nail for equipment, scholarships, even ice time for practice. Nearly everything was scarce for Bessone as he worked to get his team established, and the record showed it. Michigan State went a combined 41-93-3 from 1951-1957. But despite this lackluster record, Bessone’s players never showed any despair.

“The thing was we felt we could play with those teams,” said Weldon Olson, who played for MSU from 1951-1955.

Olson was one of the first players to be recruited by Bessone.

“He did a lot of yelling from the bench,” Olson said of Bessone. “But he was a good, basic teacher of hockey.”

Bessone’s teaching started paying dividends in the ‘57-’58 season.

The Spartans earned their first winning season that year, finishing 12-11, and earned their first wins over the University of Minnesota. They also managed several big wins, including against the University of Michigan. In addition, MSU won the mythical Big Ten championship (there was no Big Ten conference or trophy at the time) as well as the Michigan Press Trophy, which was given to the best college hockey team in the state of Michigan.

With 16 letterwinners returning the following year, including senior goaltender Joe Selinger, Michigan State seemed poised to take another big step in the 1958-59 season.

Paul Hruby was a senior that year, having entered Michigan State as a freshman from Illinois in 1955. He was one of the many seniors that contributed to the Spartans’ success.

“A lot of the players who came in in ‘55 stayed. They were students and they chose to stay in school. They were not just guys who just came to play hockey, but stayed there as a team,” Hruby said. “So he [Bessone] had about a corps of 16 players that were there for three years.”

Even more valuable than the team’s experience was the chemistry shared among the players.

“Everybody was happy. You knew everybody [and]you all worked together, we worked at the ice rink, we worked in the dormitories together,” Hruby said.

The lynchpin of this chemistry was senior captain Elwood “Butch” Miller. His soft-spoken, friendly nature, but tenacious play style made him a well-respected leader on the team.

“Just looking at him, he exuded leadership. He was a good player; a tough player,” Hruby said of Miller.

Another player who held Miller in high regard was Melvin “Red” Christofferson, who was a junior during the 1959 season.

“Butch was a good hockey player, he was a good hitter and a real good defenseman,” Christofferson said.

As the season got underway, an unexpected turn of events shook the college hockey world. Denver University and Colorado College, the winners of the last two national championships, were deemed ineligible to participate in postseason play due to recruiting violations. Because Denver and Colorado College were regarded as two of the best teams in the west, their disqualification gave teams like Michigan State a solid chance to make the national tournament.

The Spartans started the season in early December, with a home series split with the University of North Dakota. But it was when the Spartans won two-straight East Coast tournaments that they started to gain momentum.

Michigan State went 3-0 in the Boston Invitational beating Northeastern University, Boston College and Boston University. As the new year dawned, the Spartans won another tournament, going 3-0 against Brown University, Princeton University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In an eight-day span, the Spartans won six games with no losses against some of the best teams in the east.

Ken Zacks, a student manager from 1958-61, remembered the two tournaments as the springboard for Michigan State’s historic season.

“Winning two out of three [tournaments]with some good East Coast teams made a big difference, and we just kept going from there,” Zacks said.

Indeed they did. Michigan State went 2-1-1 over the next four games against the Golden Gophers thanks to their hard-hitting and gritty play.

“We had some really rugged individuals. We took a lot of penalties but we seemed to get through that okay,” Christofferson said.

It was after the series with Minnesota that Michigan State embarked on one of the more unusual road trips of the season.

One cold night in late January, Bessone called Zacks into his office to tell him that the airplane to take the team to Houghton, Michigan wasn’t coming. The Spartans were scheduled to play Michigan Tech in a few days and were desperate to find alternative transportation. Zacks and the Spartans traveled via bus to a train station in Grand Rapids. From there, they traveled by rail to Chicago where they embarked on another train that traveled up through Wisconsin and into the Upper Peninsula. The team made it in time for its series against the Huskies, but a day behind schedule.

“We usually got there in time to practice on their home ice. We didn’t practice. We had to go out on the ice the next day and play the game, and we were tired,” Zacks said.

The Spartans ended up winning the first game against the Huskies before surrendering the second game in overtime.

Heading into February, Michigan State boasted a 10-3-1 record. The Spartans continued their impressive run, picking up a decisive sweep over Michigan for the second-straight year. Playing and beating the Wolverines was something the former Spartans looked back on with pride in their later years.

“Our arena was so full, and it was always a battle all the way. But we liked the guys. We talked to the Michigan guys off-ice and were friendly to them, but once on the ice with them we were mortal enemies,” Hruby said.

During these games, it was quite common for fights to erupt between the two teams. But during some games the fans themselves would take their frustrations out on the maize and blue or the spectator wearing green and white sitting next to them. Sometimes these brawls would carry over to the ice, as it did once during the 1959 season.

“The thing about Michigan was, you know, we were used to fighting on the ice. But when we played Michigan, we could stand on the ice and watch the fans fight. And one night they tore the screens right out, chairs all over the ice and us hockey players are out on the ice watching these other guys fight,” Christofferson recalled.

Things got so bad that representatives from the University of Michigan sent a letter to Michigan State faculty representative H.B. Tukey asking for his help in putting an end to hostilities between the two schools.

As the season progressed, the Spartans improved not only as a team, but also individually. But it wasn’t just Bessone and his staff doing the coaching, it was also the players pushing each other to improve.

“I never had a coach before coming to Michigan State,” Hruby said. “Luckily, a lot of the players helped me to get better. They would help me with skills. Before practice there was always 10 or 15 minutes where this guy [Richard] Dickey Hamilton would come and help me catch backhand passes and talk to me about how to play a little better. We helped each other. Hockey is such a team game that you can’t win unless you guys are a team.”

As a team, the Spartans finished the regular season with a historic 16-5-1 record. Thanks to their success, the Spartans earned a bid to the 1959 NCAA Tournament in Troy, New York. For the first time in history, Michigan State would be one of four teams playing for a national title. It was a tremendous honor for a program that was struggling to get off the ground just nine years before.

“It was fun. It was eye opening. But you know, I don’t think I really got the impact of it until later on,” Christofferson said.

The Spartans’ first challenge was defeating Boston College in the semifinals. The Eagles were regarded as one of the best teams in the east, and were hungry to avenge a 6-0 loss they suffered at the hands of Michigan State earlier in December.

“They were a tough team. They were the best in the east and we knew that. But by that time our guys were seasoned,” Zacks said.

After a tight first period, both teams were tied 1-1 entering the second. Then the Spartans rattled off three-straight goals to take a commanding 4-1 lead. Boston College would score two more goals in the third to make it interesting, but Selinger and the Spartans prevailed. They defeated Boston College by a score of 4-3 and advanced to the championship game against the University of North Dakota.

The deciding game was played on March 14, 1959, a Saturday afternoon in the RPI Field House. Michigan State athletic director Clarence “Biggie” Munn had been a supporter of Spartan hockey since its reinstatement in 1950. Every home game, Munn could be found sitting in the front row watching the trials and tribulations of the hockey team over the years. While he was constrained in giving hockey the support and resources it needed, Munn was always a friend to hockey. Now, leading up to one of the biggest games in the program’s history, he penned a short note to his friend and hockey coach, Bessone, about the upcoming clash with North Dakota. The note was sent Friday, and arrived on Saturday.

The letter read: “You did it once & you can do it again. The very best of luck.”

The Spartans and Fighting Sioux had previously each won two games against each other during the regular season. Now, a single game would determine who would win the national championship.

The Spartans opened the scoring first and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room after the first period. Midway through the second however, UND scored three-straight goals all within the span of three minutes. The sudden offensive surge put the Fighting Sioux up 3-1. Michigan State could not respond, and found itself down by two goals going into the third period.

As they have done so many times before, the Spartans fought back. Goals by Andre LaCoste and Doug Roberts tied the game at three.

With time ticking down, LaCoste had a chance to give MSU the lead. LaCoste had the puck close to his stick with a wide-open net to shoot at. Just before he made contact with the puck, a North Dakota defenseman knocked LaCoste’s stick out of his hands. There was no penalty called and the Spartans had missed out on their best chance to end the game in regulation.

With both teams tied 3-3, the national championship would be decided in sudden-death overtime. Just a few minutes after the extra session had begun, senior forward Bill MacKenzie had a breakaway.

“Big Billy MacKenzie got a breakaway and Amo [Bessone] said a couple times [afterward]there was nobody else that he wanted to have that breakaway more than Billy. And he went down the ice, pulled the goalie and shot the puck over the net,” Christofferson said.

Shortly after MacKenzie’s golden opportunity, North Dakota capitalized on a long shot that was mishandled by Selinger. Fighting Sioux forward Reg Morelli tapped home the rebound to give UND the win and the national championship.

“Our guys tried so hard,“ Zacks said. “He [LaCoste] told me 10 years ago he never forgot that and had nightmares for almost 50 years.”

While the Spartans might not have won the national championship that season, they had laid a strong foundation in East Lansing. Hockey could indeed succeed at Michigan State, and six years later, Bessone would claim the national championship that had eluded him. The 1959 team planted the roots of Spartan hockey, which continue on today.

Even though their playing days are far behind them, the surviving members of the 1958-59 Spartan hockey team are proud of their accomplishments and their head coach.

“Coach Bessone was just such a nice guy that you wanted to do everything you could for him,” Christofferson said. “It’s an experience [playing for Bessone]that you will never experience again. It was, he was all for the kids.”

Hruby summed up his feelings for Bessone, and his teammates in a different way.

“Michigan State is a place of great people,” Hruby said.