Where they set up is around centre ice way up behind the Wranglers bench, at the top level just behind the new yellow seats installed in September, tucked in tight near what would be the eastern wall of the South Cariboo Rec. Centre.
If the rink had a nosebleed section, this would be it. Except for having to stand and crane your neck to see into the far corner near the visitor’s bench, there’s a good view of the ice surface. It’s a tight squeeze back there though with all the equipment and wiring.
It seems the best way for them to get into place to cover a game is cameraman Nathan Foote goes in first, then colour commentator Carlee Mohorich can slide into place, before play-by-play man Josh Hall can have a seat at the end of the table near the steps leading down to the boards.
Things start to loosen up – rhetorically anyhow – when the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s newest team takes the ice.
The 100 Mile House Wranglers are halfway through their inaugural campaign. In a season of fun and galvanizing firsts for the new local team and community, it’s also a rookie broadcast crew capturing the action for the webcast viewers at home.
Like the expansion club Wranglers, this team of volunteers is pretty good for a bunch of newbies thrown together in early September.
Mohorich, 17, and Foote, 16, are both Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School students – Grade 12 and 11 respectively.
Hall, 24, is a reporter on The Wolf radio station. He’s familiar with broadcasting, but like Foote behind the camera and Mohorich doing colour, doing live play-by-play is a brand new thing.
All three are sports fans. More precisely, Vancouver Canucks fans. Doing this has changed the way they appreciate hockey, when it’s on television, anyway.
Foote still watches games like he used to, but he’s also consciously noting the camerawork delivering the action. Same goes for Mohorich and Hall in a way. They pay attention to the delivery of broadcasters John Shorthouse, Jim Hughson and John Garrett.
The KIJHL isn’t the “Big Leagues,” and the 125 viewers or so the Wranglers webcasts get on average isn’t Hockey Night In Canada numbers, obviously, but they still want to put on a good show for those folks – mostly families and friends of 100 Mile House and visiting team players – who spent the $8 to tune in.
Things like pronunciation, accuracy and variety are key, Hall explains.
“I know it’s not just people from 100 Mile watching. It’s people from the other team. Parents, some fans. They want to hear their kids’ names pronounced right, and I don’t want to sound stupid. There’s one guy on one team, he’s from Iceland. So, you look at the roster well before you go live.”
Foote is at the rink an hour before game time to set up the equipment, and about an hour of prep time goes into every game for Hall, as well. He looks for different stats and personal things about players, like birthdays, hometowns, etc., to talk about throughout the broadcast, he explains.
“You want to make sure you know what you’re saying.”
100 Mile House has the best home game attendance in the league this year and no shortage of promotional activity with respect to fan appreciation and engagement. There are always several hundred in attendance and the players talk about other rinks not seeing half the number of spectators.
Although the webcast numbers are a bit tricky to come by, Wranglers president Tom Bachynski was able to procure some. The record number was close to 450 viewers for the home opener.
That’s a huge number, Bachynski says, adding he hopes for viewership in the 175 to 200 range as the season progresses nearer to playoffs.
“We seem to be getting a lot of accolades on our Facebook page about how good our announcing is and how our camera work is good. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback.”
And don’t think fans at home won’t notice or complain if the work is shoddy. The organization had a stand-in videographer for Foote one game.
“They were all over us about what terrible work the guy did,” Bachynski recalls.
It’s all part of the KIJHL experience and other teams have their broadcasts as well. Bachynski and Hall talk about learning from what those other clubs are doing, with the end goal of continuing to produce a better and better broadcast and making sure the viewers enjoy the experience.
“It’s a great component for us because not everyone can get up to a hockey game,” Bachynski says.
“I’m always curious to see what product other teams are putting out as far as the quality of the play-by-play and videography and that sort of thing.”
The 100 Mile House crew admit there’s still a ton of room to improve, but things have changed for the better since the start of the season.
Mohorich was actually so nervous about it she almost didn’t take the job when a career councillor at school – knowing she’s a huge hockey fan and thinking about a career in sports journalism – thought of her for the volunteer position. (She has since changed her idea about a career in media. Not because of anything to do with her on-air experience, but since she saw what journalists make for salary.)
Mohorich admits she’s still a bit nervous with the headset on, but she’s getting more talkative all the time and going back and forth with Hall, who, partly because of his role as play-by-play and partly because he’s more used to what broadcasting entails, drops a majority of the verbiage.
“You don’t want to screw up because people are listening to you,” Mohorich says.
“After the first time, I found out I actually liked to do it. Josh said the last game we did was one of the best ones I’ve done. I’m getting more comfortable each time.”
Foote gets a lot of praise from his cohorts. He must have a knack for videography because it wasn’t even a real hobby or interest of his before this gig came up. There’s not much to it, he explains. The camera is good and he tries to tune things around him out during the game and follow the puck. But people seem to like his zooming in-and-out and panning work.
“I try and make it look like an NHL game. It’s not as easy at it looks. That’s mostly what I’ve learned. It’s pretty fun. I enjoy doing it.
“As long as they need me, I’ll be here.”
Career aspiration-wise, doing play-by-play is a nice fit with some of Hall’s future plans.
“Anybody who knows me, knows my long-term goal is to be in sports broadcasting or news. I very much enjoy reporting, but sports are my thing. I would love to cover the Canucks one day in some capacity.”
Doing play-by-play wasn’t something he ever planned on doing, but it’s a good learning experience and a big help with developing new rhetorical skills and style. Being good at it means being fair, but also being honest, Hall adds.
There’s only one broadcast for every game, so in a way he makes sure he’s catering to the other team’s fans, too. They don’t just want to hear a 100 Mile House “homer” all game, so he does bite his tongue sometimes.
But, he also talks about calling it “like it is.” He mentions an especially heated game against Kamloops in November when Wranglers forward Mathieu Longhurst got into it with Ian Chrystal of the Kamloops Storm.
Chrystal got the best of Longhurst with some early punches before the Wrangler could get his gloves off.
“I was like, ‘Those were some cheap shots’,” Hall recalls.
“If you don’t think they were cheap, fine. But, I’m play-by-play. I’m going to call it like it is. It’s pretty clear that’s how it was.”
When it comes down to it, the broadcast crew can’t help but be fans of the Wranglers. They’re the hometown team, after all.
On top of that, Foote and Mohorich go to school with a number of the players.
“It’s nice to have something to go and watch and something to do on the weekend,” says Mohorich, a lifelong 100 Mile House resident.
“And they’re good. It’s good hockey.”
Adds Hall: “To have them winning helps, but I would be a fan if they were losing, too.”
“They’re the biggest ticket in town.”