While this past offseason the New Jersey Devils welcomed a lot of new faces, last year saw a few new arrivals in New Jersey. The most notable addition wasn’t on the player’s bench, but in the broadcast booth, when the Devils and MSG Network welcomed Erika Wachter to their game coverage. Since then, Erika has seen a lot of growth and change with this Devils team in her short time here and has become a fan favorite.
Last season, we here at the Devils Army Blog were able to bring you an exclusive interview with the new face in front of the camera. Once again this season, the ever-gracious Erika was kind enough to give us some of her time to talk about everything Devils for this upcoming season.
First things first, looking back on her first year with the Devils, I asked Erika what one thing she wishes went differently:
“Well, of course, I think that all of the fans would like to have more wins and less injuries. I would probably say that, less injuries.”
Anyone who watched Erika knows that she’s an eternal optimist. While some of the fanbase was steeped in misery, she was able to find a positive that came out of the Devils less than stellar injury situation:
“I kind of think that everything happens for a reason and it obviously set up a successful offseason for the team. Everything happens for a reason, I think you learn from everything you go through, and it gave a lot of young players’ great opportunities, a taste of the NHL, and I think we saw some of that confidence in this training camp from some of those young players like Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, just to name a few.”
Erika’s optimism is infectious, and it’s a trait that she says she shares with fellow broadcaster and former Devils’ captain, Bryce Salvador. She hopes it rubs off on the fans watching her as well:
“I think that’s important, to look at everything we do in a positive way. Because it’s easy to get down when things happen you don’t like. You got to look for the silver lining.”
The new-look Devils debuted with a shootout loss Friday night at the Prudential Center against the Winnipeg Jets. Since last opening day, there has been a ton of roster turnover over, as the likes of Brian Boyle, Marcus Johansson, and Keith Kinkaid are no longer wearing the black and red. Erika is not only a fan favorite, but a player favorite, so I asked her how she handles the departures when certain Devils skate off to play for a different team:
“In this business, you connect with certain players. That’s tough because each one, it was my first year going through something like that. I was always happy, and it goes back to seeing the glass half full, so I’m always happy when the player goes off and is doing well. It’s tough to see them leave our team, but when it’s something that works out and helps them out in the long run then you have to just be happy for them overall.”
If there was one thing that Erika made obvious throughout our entire interview is that she is a huge people person, which what makes her great at connecting with fans and players alike. Whether it’s the conversations she has with the players that develop friendships or tweeting out where fans can meet her during games, it’s clear that Erika loves what she does and loves learning about the player behind the jersey:
“All those players, I not only respect them as players but as human beings and I really enjoyed my conversations with him. It’s tough to see them go, but you’re happy if they’re going to be successful or if it helps them get a new start.”
After a quick discussion about where some of last year’s Devils end up, Erika said she was rooting for Marcus Johansson, as he made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final with the Boston Bruins. I admitted that I was rooting for the St. Louis Blues, because of Patrick Maroon, but more importantly Laila Anderson (I wasn’t crying during that video of her getting the Stanley Cup ring, it just had something in my eye, and there were onion chopping ninjas near me I swear.) It’s the stories and connections like that that make Erika love her job with as much passion as she does:
“It’s all about the storylines and the human interest, which is my favorite part about this business.”
When the Devils traded for Nikita Gusev, I knew next to nothing about the guy other than he was Russian and Devils’ Twitter had a minor obsession with him. To prepare myself for the newest Devil, I watched whatever YouTube clip I could find of him. Some were in Russian, so I had no idea what the commentators were saying. I shared that humorous story with Erika while asking her what she does, from a broadcaster’s perspective, to get ready for the new arrival:
“You just want to watch them as much as you can, and also read up on them. I think it’s just important to get everyone’s perspective. And then seeing him first hand, soaking it all in. And you know Nikita Gusev is a tough one for example, as opposed to some other players, because you don’t get to have a full conversation, but obviously, his play speaks for itself. It’s just watching the video, watching them at practice, and talking to them and talking to others that have covered them before that have known them as a person. “
One of the Devils’ biggest questions entering this year was their goaltending. Is Cory Schneider on the road back to prime form? Is Mackenzie Blackwood ready to take the reins and prove last year wasn’t a fluke? Erika believes Cory is on his way back to the top (keep in mind, we conducted this interview Thursday before Schneider left Friday’s game with an apparent injury):
“I totally think Cory is going to have a strong year. Starting alone he feels healthy and he’s playing, he’s having a great season and camp so far. And he’s a consummate professional. I think that was so hard for us, the media that covers him and all the fans overall is seeing the struggles he went through the last calendar year. All that he did to get that win, you know he was probably pushing through things we didn’t even know about, but he didn’t let it distract the team. He took responsibility. If he had a tough game, he kept grinding. The fact that he’s feeling so healthy is all the difference you need. But he played great at the end of last season, playing down the stretch, going to the Worlds and he had a successful time. He’s getting ready to silence any of the naysayers.”
As for defense, Erika was just as confident. Even with Ty Smith sent back to the OHL, the addition of P.K. Subban should help leaps and bounds.
“I think they went out and accomplished something they wanted in getting P.K. Subban, which is going to beef up the core right from the start. The fans always have their opinions. Like we’ve seen Will Butcher already have such a great training camp, so he’s already taking his play up to the next level again.”
As for last year, don’t use it as a way to judge any of the players, Erika warns:
“I think last year was hard to judge any of the players overall because it was a down year for everyone. Everyone had some type of struggle. The team didn’t perform to what they’d like.”
If Erika is confident in this Devils team, she’s even more confident in the general manager at the helm of it all, Ray Shero:
“Ray doesn’t ever surprise me with what he’s doing and all the magic he’s doing behind the scenes. I think whatever moves he makes or doesn’t make, is for a reason and will help the team in the long run. In Shero we trust.”
Every New York area hockey fan blog and website sent the better part of two months reading up on who was better, Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes? Maybe I’m a bit biased here, but I’ll put my money on Hughes. Even though they’d be the ones reporting on whoever heard their name called first overall draft day, for the most part, the broadcasters were on the outside looking it at the whole number one pick drama:
“For our purposes of the MSG broadcast, we didn’t have all much we needed to be doing. I guess it was a little nice in a way to be able to soak it all in, listen to the interviews, meet Jack, and see what’s happening with the Rangers and having them both in our backyard and bring them into our studios. It was good for my preparation to get to know them as people.”
Erika added that the first regular-season matchup between the two, October 17th at the Prudential Center, will be the real test of the two players and where the rivalry stands. Erika and MSG network will not be covering that game, but she will be in attendance. For that game, she will take on the role as a Devils’ fan in the stands watching Kaapo Kakko take on Jack Hughes for the first time, at least the first time it matters in the NHL.
With so many exciting additions, it’s hard to pick a favorite. For me, the most unexpected was the addition of P.K. Subban. Erika agreed, adding in how excited she was to have P.K. Subban be a part of MSG broadcasts:
“It was already such an exciting bit when we got Jack Hughes, the number one pick, fans are through the roof. And then the next day, it didn’t even seem real that you see all these rumors that P.K. Subban could come to the Devils. I get excited as a broadcaster for this team having a personality like P.K. Subban, and even Jack Hughes has a great personality, all these new guys do. We could have so much fun with P.K. There’s so much he can bring on the ice and our content overall. P.K. was the one that was just like ‘wow”, this is really going to be the year.”
If goaltending was a big question for the Devils this year, Taylor Hall’s contract status is a question underlined in red marker. It’s a topic that strikes fear and speculation in the heart of every Devils fan. That didn’t stop me from asking Erika her thoughts on the New Jersey Devil’s white elephant entering the season:
“I don’t think it’s going to be looming until it becomes to that point. The energy is so high, the excitement is so high on this team. Taylor is pleased with his new teammates. His agent and Ray Shero have been having discussions. All’s positive and nothing too surprising from the Devils. This is what they’ve been saying all along. They weren’t in any rush. They wanted to see Taylor come back from his knee. A healthy Taylor Hall is what they want.”
One thing she did add was a surprising timetable for when a deal should get done, or at least things should begin heating up. Granted, this deadline isn’t a point of no return, but it seems better for everyone if a contract extension is signed before we reach this far pole in the horse race. It’s also a date hockey fans pay a good amount of attention to as it is:
“Talking to some of my colleagues, probably a good gauge point is around the Thanksgiving point. You want to have some sort of deal done by that point. Then some of the players might start recognizing it from the rest of the room and it might turn into a John Tavares’ type situation, which, I’m sure, affected the Islanders in some way a few seasons ago.”
The ever-optimistic Erika had one more message for fans: don’t panic, don’t even worry, just let the process happen. Trust the process, but trust Ray Shero even more:
“For now I think everything’s fine. It’s positive, they’re having conversation. You have to trust in Ray to get down to what’s best for this Devils’ team. Until it’s time to worry, I wouldn’t worry.”
Erika had quite the eventful offseason herself, celebrating her engagement. After exchanging congratulations from the entire DAB community, I asked her the question I’m sure all of you clicked on this article for and read through to see. Will the New Jersey Devils be invited to her big day?
“We’ll see, and maybe if we win the Stanley Cup, we’ll all have rings to celebrate.”
Once again, all of us would like to thank Erika Wachter for her gracious time during what is a very busy time at the beginning of a new hockey season. Erika and the rest of the MSG Devils’ broadcasting team can be seen on pregame and postgame broadcasts on the MSG family of networks. MSG Networks have won more than 150 New York Sports Emmy Awards, beating out all other New York sports stations. They obviously know what they’re doing, and Erika is a huge part of their continued success.