When the Chicago Wolves open their 20th training camp on September 22, it not only marks the unofficial beginning of the team’s season but is also the first chance for everyone – on and off the ice – to see how their offseason work has paid off.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research on new players, and it’s been kind of fun trying to find new tidbits,” said Jason Shaver, who enters his sixth season as the Wolves play-by-play broadcaster. “It’s also a little bit taxing. I’m more or less looking at Google searches all day long. Once we get going I’m looking forward to meeting the new faces and getting to know them and to find out what research was true and what isn’t. There are some interesting things that may or may not be true.”
It’s a strange (and strangely familiar) new world for the Wolves organization this season, thanks to a partnership change to the St. Louis Blues and the return of four-time champion head coach John Anderson. So while Shaver is mulling over how he’ll work certain player notes into his broadcasts (one potential Wolves player, for example, won a World Championship with the U.S. national in-line skating team versus Sweden), he’s delighted to have a whole new roster with which to get acquainted.
“There’s always excitement when you look at teams on paper,” he said. “The Wolves are always going to sign players you’re excited to see on paper. The coaches who have come through since I started here in 2008 have always had nice-looking resumes and had success in the past. It’s nice to work for a team that feels like it has a chance to win a championship. I’m cautiously optimistic for the season. John’s history speaks for itself, and Wendell has gone out and signed really good players. It looks to be a good season, but you’ve got to play the games.”
Shaver has seen – and called – his share of games since starting his professional career with the Iowa Stars in 2005. But the more hockey he’s seen play out, the more his pregame process has evolved into a welcome routine. While much of his work ends up not making a broadcast, he’s learned the value of doing as much before a game as possible.
“Typically you want to go into every game with an excess amount of information. You have your own research, the statistical research the American Hockey League provides, and information the teams give you,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re going to use but there’s a lot of stuff at our disposal. On a regular game day I’ll spend 90 minutes or so at morning skate going over stuff from the last game, going over stats, seeing where a guy sits, that kind of thing. I’ll try to talk to a couple players on the other team, get their research, talk to guys on our team and see what I find out.
“After the morning skate, I like to spend a few hours relaxing and slowly going over everything so there’s no time crunch but you’re making yourself aware of what might be available on a given night. When I get to the rink on game night I might stroll past the locker room and see what the mood is. You don’t want to impose but there might be something happening you can use later on. People think you just show up and talk on TV but the reality is a lot of work behind the scenes. 90 percent of it you don’t use but you don’t know what that 10 percent you will use is.”
The other element of a successful Wolves game for Shaver, beyond just extensive preparation, is his color analyst Billy Gardner. Good friends outside of the rink, Shaver appreciates the opportunity to bond with his partner in the offseason and continue to build their chemistry.
“Billy and I stay in fairly good contact throughout the summer. We’ll golf together and have a meal,” he said. “He’ll barbeque at his place. Billy is a great guy who opens up his house to me and he knows a lot of people in Chicago that I’ve been able to meet through him. Both of us traveled a lot this summer so we didn’t get together as much but when we do we’ll sit and discuss what’s going on and the state of the Wolves. That’s one of the benefits for me of working for a guy as great as Billy. I enjoy it so much and we have a great relationship.”
Something else Shaver still enjoys is the rush of adrenaline before a game. As the 2013-14 campaign is ramping up, he’s reveling in the opportunity to get back to what he loves most.
“There’s an excitement in big games. If it’s a must-win game especially, you’re excited to see how it unfolds,” he said. “When I first started with the Wolves, doing TV was a different animal. When you see the videos of me from my first season on air I don’t look as confident as I do now. With repetition comes comfort. When you’re going on live TV, I think you always have butterflies in your stomach and that’s the appeal of the job. I don’t expect to ever lose that, but if I do I think I need to find someone else to do.”