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When ESPN broadcast its first World Cup of Hockey exhibition game Darren Pang started to receive text messages from friends all over the hockey universe.
They all had a simple request for Pang who was one of the lead personalities on ESPN’s broadcasts in the 90s and early 2000s.
“It was like ‘Bring back NHL 2Night!'” Pang said.
This was in reaction to the familiar theme song played during the World Cup broadcast that was the soundtrack to ESPN’s NHL television coverage. During that stretch Pang was one of the network’s top personalities, calling games and doing studio work. Since the league moved to Comcast/NBC properties after the 2004-05 lockout, Pang has worked mostly for teams – the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues – as lead television analyst.
But with ESPN getting the World Cup of Hockey’s broadcast rights, Pang will get to work with his old buddies once again on select games and he’s beyond thrilled for the opportunity.
“I knew that just because they lost (hockey) didn’t mean that they lost the love for it,” Pang said. “There’s producers that are working all over the NHL that started their careers at ESPN in one way or another and for many of us to go back and work again for them, honestly it’s incredibly special.”
The 52-year-old Pang’s journey with the network started when he was 29 years old. He was doing local radio in Chicago, when he got a phone call from his radio producer, Mitch Rosen, telling Pang that ESPN was interested in the former goaltender’s services.
Pang then went to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut where he did a demo game. Afterwards a producer said to Pang, “I think you’ve got the edge.”
Three weeks later, Pang got a phone call and a 50-game contract with ESPN.
“That year I ended up being the sideline reporter for the Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden,” Pang said. “I got to go on the ice my first year and broadcast on a network and interview the only American at the time to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in Brian Leetch – at Madison Square Garden. Are you kidding me? I hit the jackpot.”
Since then, he’s done three Olympic Winter Games and countless nationally televised contests with ESPN where he was one of the top analysts . Pang has also worked five Winter Classics for NBC and done panel work for TSN.
He and Steve Levy called the longest broadcasted NHL game when the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in five overtimes in 2000, which is a badge of honor for Pang.
“(Levy) had quite a run. We had a great run. That Pittsburgh/Philadelphia game was one for the ages,” Pang said. “Leves is the master of the overtimes.”
Pang says working at the network was “the springboard to my career.”
Added Pang, “It’s just been an incredible ride, but it wouldn’t have been that ride if not for a couple of producers.”
About four months ago, as ESPN was formulating its plan for the World Cup broadcast, a producer named Bill Graff contacted Pang and asked him if he was interested.
“I texted him right back and said, ‘of course I am. I’d be highly honored if you got me on board and I don’t care what I do.’ These are events where you tell players all the time – you check your ego at the door and I have to be honest with you, when you’re around a long time, you just say ‘whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. I don’t care what it is.’” Pang said.
Pang then asked Fox Sports Midwest for permission, and they had little hesitation to let him jump into the World Cup broadcasts.
“I asked once and they said ‘no question. What a great honor it is for you,’” Pang said. “And so if they had said ‘wait a second, that’s a competitive cable network, you can’t go.’ Well then that would have been disappointing, but I was really pleased they said ‘no problem whatsoever.’”
When Pang entered the network’s offices in Bristol for meetings in advance of the tournament people came up to Pang to re-introduce themselves.
“You walk around the corner and people say, ‘Hey Panger, I was just starting as a producer. I ran around and I got coffee for people and now I’m a producer for this show,’” he said. “I was probably like everybody else. I was surprised they had interest in getting back to it and getting such a big event. When it did happen I was really happy for guys I’ve known for a long time that love the game of hockey.”
This World Cup is somewhat bittersweet for Pang. He was close with ESPN broadcaster and hockey fan John Saunders, who died on Aug. 10. Saunders was supposed to anchor ESPN’s World Cup coverage. Pang sees the tournament as a chance to honor Saunders’ memory.
“We want to embody what John Saunders was all about, how he treated people,” Pang said. “We want to make sure – this is a great broadcast, fan friendly and they enjoy putting ESPN back on and watching hockey.”
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