Andrew Smith - Offseason Q&AAug 12, 2019
With the 2019-20 ECHL season officially underway and training camp a couple of months away, Doug Christiansen and the rest of the Fuel coaching staff are preparing for training camp with a simple goal, get the Indy Fuel back to the Kelly Cup Playoffs and eventually winning a Kelly Cup. With player signings trickling in, the 2019-20 Indy Fuel roster is beginning to take shape for the upcoming season.
While the offseason continues, Fuel play-by-play broadcaster Andrew Smith is preparing for the 2019-20 season. IndyFuelHockey.com sat down with Andrew to discuss his first season in the booth, his passion for hockey in Indianapolis and a few of his favorite moments in Indy Fuel history.
Now that you have had a few months to reflect on last season and digest everything, what are a few things you are taking away from last season being in the booth?
First of all, it remains an honor. That’s something I’ve wanted. Probably the better way to phrase it is being the play-by-play voice of our local hockey team in Indy has been a dream job since I was the eight-year-old sitting in the Coliseum stands in 1983 watching the Indianapolis Checkers play and listening to at the time Rick Heliste do the play-by-play when I wasn't at the Coliseum and listening to the games on the radio. It’s an honor. It’s something that, I think, like anybody, you’re always looking to improve. I’ve spent a lot of the offseason going back and listening to snippets of games and trying to figure out, “okay this what we did well, this is what I need to improve on, I like this part of the broadcast, I want to tweak this part a little bit.” So summer is a little bit of a time of reflection, but I think that’s a good thing.
(Before) the first game last year, the last time I had broadcast hockey was in college which was 20-plus years ago. So diving back in, it felt like I was riding a wave, just kind of following and trying to describe the play as accurately as I could and try to provide the detail for the fan listening at home as descriptively and as fast as hockey moves. I wasn't sure what the reception would be but the positive comments I received and the reception I received from a lot of our fans last year was very humbling and gives me a lot of confidence as I go back to the booth this year.
I'm just really looking forward to doing that. It's an honor to be the voice of our hockey team and kind of be the eyes and ears of our fans who maybe aren't able to be at the Coliseum for a game or in some cases are on the concourse and maybe not in their seats. But it's an honor to be their eyes and ears and it's a responsibility that I do not take lightly. I try to do the best, most descriptive and most fun job I can.
Growing up, how did you get into hockey?
Basically coming to the rink. I still remember the first time I came in and Doc Emrick was talking to my colleague, Shane Albahrani in Fort Wayne last week and mentioned everybody remembers their first time coming into a rink and what it's like and they almost get transported back to their childhood when that happens. I can still remember the first time I came, and I was seven/eight years old and the white ice, the speed of the game, how excited everybody got when a goal was scored. Just the exhilaration of the game just captivated me. There was everything about it that captivated me and I was hooked. I couldn't get enough hockey, I couldn't come to the rink enough, I couldn't get enough on television. Back then the USA network used to show a game of the week on usually Monday nights and then it was the playoffs.
If it was Monday night during the season or if playoffs were going on and there was a game on TV we were watching and I couldn't get enough of it. It was something, I think that was just so unique, seeing the ice, seeing guys on skates, seeing them work hard, the great saves, the speed, and then the exhilaration when a goal was scored or a big play happened was just something that, to my elementary school mind, was just amazing to me. And I got hooked and I have been hooked ever since. And as I said, I couldn't get enough of the game. So if there was a game on TV, I watched it. If there was a game on the radio, I was listening. And so I grew up at night as a kid listening to Dan Kelly in St Louis and Pat Foley in Chicago and Mike Lange in Pittsburgh. And even Don Stevens in Rochester because their station came in pretty loud and clear. And so those broadcasters made the game come alive to me. And so it kind of began a love affair with the game that has continued for three and a half decades and I'm glad I came to the rink that first time cause it hooked me and I've been grateful for it ever since.
If you follow your social media at all, it’s very obvious that you’re a Boston Bruins fan. Where did you get that love from?
My stepfather's from Boston. So in our family, you know, that's kind of the team I was raised on. So again I devoured anything that could be related to hockey. So I've got books on Bobby Orr that I pretty much had memorized cover to cover. The history of the Bruins franchise, I kind of knew a lot of that growing up just because that's what I had. I had books on the Bruins. I had Bobby Orr's instructional book on hockey and so I think because of that at the time, really the only exposure you would get to hockey in Central Indiana at the time, at the NHL level, was what you could get on the radio and then the weekly television game, which was usually the Islanders or the Rangers or a team for New York. Because at the time, USA Network was kind of the extension of what used to be MSG Networks. So you looked around and every hockey fan was a fan of either the Blackhawks or the Red Wings and the Blues. But there were a lot of different fandoms. A matter of fact, during the Checkers days, if you saw NHL Jerseys in the stands, it was Islanders jerseys and of course, that was in the middle of their dynasty years.
So I think that having family from Boston helped me kind of be raised as a Bruins fan. And so I've kind of continued that. And obviously, I enjoy the sport. I've got a large photo of Bobby Orr on my wall that I'm looking up at right now as we talk. But I think that's having a team and you know, one of the things about Indianapolis is while we have a lot of Blackhawks fans, we have a lot of hockey fans period. And having that team to follow I think helps stoke that passion for the sport. And the one thing I love about coming to the rink is seeing the many different jerseys that we see in being able to kind of enjoy that love of hockey we all share, even though we might have different favorite teams.
You ran the Indy Puck Blog for several years, detailing the day to day stories of Indianapolis Hockey. What gave you the idea to start that blog?
Really, it was a case many years ago there was a group of hockey historians that kind of amateur hockey historians that had different sites covering hockey history on the site called hockeyresearch.com. Over time that kind of went away. The archives are still there if you want to go through the wayback machine and find them. So I have all of this research and all of this detail and data on past hockey teams and stories about former hockey teams and really had no place for it. At the same time, we at the time had very little media coverage. The local newspapers cut back its coverage of minor pro sports and TV stations, I know they have been much more active being around the rink but at the time you didn't see a whole lot of that.
So I felt like we needed something of day-to-day coverage of our team. And so Indy Puck was kind of a way of combining my passion for writing. I was a newspaper sports editor for several years before I got into broadcasting. So combining my passion for writing with the need to have some kind of coverage of the team to provide that perspective of the team plus a place to put all of these historical stories that I had that had been forgotten about. I kind of used Indy Puck as a means of doing that. I continued that for several years and really kind of pulled away from doing that for a couple of reasons. One, I felt like it was getting stale. Two, the team was picking up my stories for the website. So the daily beat coverage was being picked up by the website so there really wasn't much fresh content on it. And so, it just became, with the work I was doing with the Fuel plus my day job, it just became a big burden to kind of keep it going. It's still there. There's 365 days of historical and birthday posts. So if you want to find out what happened in Indy hockey history on a given date, you could still go to IndyPuck.com. It hasn't been updated in a while, but there's still a lot of really fun stuff there. And I'm still thinking about maybe how I can take this mountain of historical data that we've got, you know, records and history and things like that and maybe put it in a more presentable, easy to read form so that we can have that.
Did that get started working in hockey in Indy?
Actually the other way around. I really got started working in hockey because of Jason Burkman. Jason was the long-time PR director for the (Indiana) Ice and started off as well in that role with the Fuel for their first offseason. Jason just brought a lot of people in, but I was a newspaper reporter and so because of my love of the sport, I would come to the rink every time I could. And so seeing me at the rink and seeing that I kind of had a passion for stats and the game and things like that, Jason would have me help out as an off-ice official at times. So I was doing stats, occasionally running a camera for the team video, doing men on ice, whatever. I would just help out the stat crew and that's kind of how I got started. And they knew I was an announcer as well and I've been doing PA and play-by-play for sports here in Central Indiana at the high school and small college level for many years. So in 2012 the Ice, kind of in a pinch, needed the PA announcer and I had already been working as a staff person and an off-ice official for many years.
So I had the opportunity to do a game and one game led to me being asked to do another, which led to me being asked to do more, which eventually led to me becoming the public address announcer with the Fuel. And then eventually when the play-by-play position opened up last year, it was an opportunity to move into that role. I kind of tell people I live, in a lot of ways, a Walter Mitty existence. I have been in the right place at the right time a lot. And I think part of that is you find yourself in the right place at the right time because you work hard and you put yourself out there and you get to know people. And when people know that you do good work and they trust you, they give you opportunities and it's up to you to seize them. And if you try to do things well and professionally, I think those opportunities tend to come to you.
You went to Indiana for Journalism and cover several events all over Indiana including the Indy 500. What’s your favorite event to cover?
Oh boy, that's a tough one. I've had the good fortune of my newspaper journalism career to cover some of them. I was under the basket when Reggie Miller hit the three-pointer to beat the Bulls in the playoffs in 1998, and the same thing, they hit another runner at the buzzer to win another game. It was just some compelling games. I was there for Reggie Miller's last game. I saw a Peyton Manning break the touchdown pass record. I would say the Indy 500 is probably my favorite event outside of hockey. I've worked as part of the PR staff at Speedway for the last few years and in the pits now and on race day. But the 500 is such an iconic event and such an amazing thing to be a part of that, you know, with my love and passion for history, being part of such a historical event, knowing you're going to see history made every year when the checkered flag falls that a new person puts his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy, it's pretty cool.
I just love to be a part of the event. I love watching the stands fill up on race day. The last couple of years I've had a chance to interview Jim Cornelison before the race. And he's obviously a guy who comes to games here in Indy every year and it's always good to see him as well. So the 500 for lots of reasons is probably my favorite thing to cover as far as a big event. I was the broadcaster for Franklin College football and basketball for several years and done some high school games for a long time. I enjoy those too. I enjoy every game because every game is a story and it gives me an opportunity as a broadcaster or as a writer to help tell that story. I'm just as excited about calling a touchdown pass to win an NCAA division three playoff game or calling a high school softball state championship as I am about being in Kyle Busch's garage talking to him, you know, stopping Alexander Rossi or James Hinchcliffe and chatting with those guys or doing a one-on-one interview with a Colts linebacker. I enjoy really all of that because sport is incredible and in an opportunity to tell a story, no matter whether it's the Indy 500 or the Super Bowl or whether it's a high school game or whether it's the Kelly Cup playoffs or game one of the preseason for the Fuel, every game is important and every game tells a story.
You’ve worked for the Fuel since Day 1, do you have a favorite memory or a favorite aspect of working at Fuel games?
Boy, there are so many. Probably a couple. One this past season, just being in the booth the first time, putting on the headset, turning on the microphone for the first time and saying Indy Fuel hockey is on the air. That was just a culmination of a lifelong dream for me. So being able to do that and being given that trust, being able to provide a broadcast that I hope is compelling is one thing. So that's probably personally a favorite. I would say in terms of a game. There's one that really stands out and it was our first year. The South Carolina Stingrays, we're having an incredible season. I think they had won 22 or 23 games in a row. It was an ECHL record winning streak and they came into Indy and actually Keegan Asmundson, who later played goalie for the Fuel, was the starting in goal and it was his first career start for South Carolina. He had just been signed out of college and he played well. But the Fuel played a great game that night, ended up winning. And the crowd knew what was happening, especially in the last minute, minute and a half of the third period, you could feel that emotion getting bigger and bigger and the crowd getting louder and louder. And when we announced after the game that the Fuel had snapped the longest winning streak in ECHL history, the place erupted and it was really neat. I think that game was really the moment you kind of looked up and you felt this team, that was kind of the moment where you felt like that bond with our city, that bond with our fan base had been cemented. So that really I think was that was that moment to me where you really sensed that there've been a few others.
You know, Kyle Stroh with the first hat-trick that first year, Tommy Olczyk's shorthand hat-trick a couple of years ago where he scored three shorthanded goals in a game, which tied a league record and obviously the game against Kalamazoo where it was winner take all for the playoffs. That felt like a playoff game and that was just an incredible game, a well-played game and again, you could just sense that emotion and that feeling of exhilaration and relief that, you know, after all those years and all those near misses that we're finally going to the playoffs and we're finally getting to enjoy playoff hockey. Even though the series with Toledo didn't turn out the way we hoped it would, it was tremendous hockey. Even though it was a sweep, all four of those games were incredible games and well played. They were all one-goal games. It was just it was great and I'm looking forward to more of that. I think with Coach Doug, what we have coming in terms of the roster he's putting together, I think we're going to have a lot more of that to that coming up.
Time for some rapid-fire questions
Flying or driving?
Steak or chicken?
Beer or wine?
Sweet tea. I don’t drink
So that answers this question. Coffee or tea?
Actually coffee. I have a reputation at my day job at school of being a coffee drinker. My students buy me coffee mugs all the time.
Netflix or Hulu?
Probably Hulu. I don’t watch a lot of TV other than sports but if I’m going to pick between the two, it’d be Hulu.
Biggest pet peeve?
People who use bad grammar. That’s the old copy editor in me.
Twitter or Instagram?