By Donovan Wilson
This week’s In The Broadcast Booth features former National Hockey League player Matthew Barnaby. The Sports Commentary had the pleasure of speaking with the popular hockey tough guy who was dubbed “the agitator” during his playing days by many players from around the league – for his uncanny ability to stir things up while on the ice and get his team going. Now in his third year with ESPN as a color analyst for NHL games — alongside Barry Melrose – Barnaby played for 14 seasons in the NHL, primarily with the Buffalo Sabres. Hear him talk about his transition from the ice to the television studio… and why he is enjoying himself as much as he did when he was a player.
TSC: You’ve worked three seasons with ESPN now… what’s the best part of your job as a hockey analyst?
MB: Being involved in hockey after playing 14 seasons brings a lot of joy to me. I really enjoy commenting on the games night in and night out, and I consider myself fortunate to have received this opportunity with ESPN. Really, I don’t believe I would have been involved with the game –in any aspect – if I did not get this chance with ESPN.
TSC: How did you prepare for the shift from hockey player to hockey analyst?
MB: Near the end of my career, I bounced around with a few teams. One of those teams was the Chicago Blackhawks. My second year with Chicago we did not make the playoffs… so I had some time after the regular season ended; and this is when an opportunity to do commentary for Score Television Network in Toronto, Ontario presented itself. They brought me on as a guest commentator to do some of the NHL’s playoff games that year (2006). I didn’t do any formal training for my new profession. One of the things that drew Score to me was the fact that I was always perceived by the media as a good interview when I was a player. I didn’t really think about a career in the broadcast booth after I retired in 2007. It just happened. After I officially retired from playing hockey, Score Network once again reached out to me, and I accepted their offer to do pre- and post-game commentary. I also got a call from the NHL on The Sports Network (TSN) in Toronto to do some work for them… and my career started to blossom. This was when ESPN gave me a call and interviewed me for the hockey analyst position that I now have. Without a doubt, I have had my bumps and bruises along the way as a hockey analyst; but I have learned and grown from the challenges that came my way.
TSC: When you’re in the analyst’s chair, you have to see the game very differently from the way you see it as a player. Talk about what it takes to make that shift and develop an analytical mindset?
MB: As a hockey analyst I have to be willing to criticize everyone, and praise anyone. I have to be willing to comment critically on the play of friends… and that is the hardest thing for me to do as an analyst. I must also understand what makes a team good and what makes a team bad and then inject my point of view. I also have to go the extra mile to watch for trends that are occurring within the game and within teams and translate that for the average viewer to understand. I cannot translate the game as if I am dealing with one of the players. I must impart my hockey knowledge in a most clear and concise manner.
TSC: You’re so adept at analyzing the game, and making it look easy; is what you do difficult… and does it take a lot a preparation – given your knowledge of the game?
It takes tons of preparation. I have to do a lot of reading and be up on what’s going on in the game and around the league. For me, the most difficult part of what I do is being brief – summarizing what I have to say in 45 seconds or less. I also have to mingle with players and be able to connect with them far and wide.
TSC: If we watch an old clip from your first season in the analyst chair and compare that to what we see today… has anything changed?
MB: The way I analyze the game has remained the same; but the way I bring the game to the viewer has changed. Today, I am much more concise and have a lot more confidence in my ability to perform in front of the camera.
TSC: You spent most of your career with the Buffalo Sabres… is it difficult to be objective when analyzing a game that involves your former team?
MB: It’s not difficult for me to cover the Sabres or any of my former teams for that matter. I am not being paid by them… I am being paid by ESPN for my expertise. I have certainly taken heat from teams and fans whenever I say something critical about the team; but it’s a part of the job. And really, I don’t worry about what people are saying about me. I never have and never will.
TSC: For athletes thinking of going into broadcasting post-career, what advice would you have for them based on your own experience?
MB: They have to be honest and professional in doing the job… and most important they have to be comfortable in front of the camera. I see myself as a work in progress. I am open to constructive feedback. In the broadcast booth, you have to really speak what you believe… and be honest in relaying information. It’s critical that you be knowledgeable about your sport. What I mean is… everyone can know the game; but it takes skill to relay the game to people across the board. Whether they are hard core fans or causal fans… you must bring the information to them in such a way that they all understand what’s being said.
About the Author
Written by Donovan Wilson
Donovan is a professional writer with more than 10 years of corporate communications and public relations experience. He currently resides in the Phoenix, Arizona area where he currently does freelance work for the Arizona Repubilc. With a degree in English from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and a Master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri - Columbia, Donovan has written for a variety of newspapers across the country. The single parent of an 13-year old boy, Donovan is a physical fitness enthusiast whom you can find on a soccer field or in the gym enduring an intense cardio workout. A sports enthusiast, Donovan has played competitive college hockey, soccer, and track and field. During his spare time, it’s not uncommon to see Donovan volunteering his services to a homeless shelter in Phoenix where he helps to feed the homeless. Currently, Donovan sits on the board of two nonprofit organizations – Green Nonprofits, Inc. and Queens Sickle Cell Advocacy Network, Inc. in New York City.