Not even three weeks ago, MSG Networks named Erika Wachter as its new game host for New Jersey Devils telecasts. We had the privilege of speaking with the New Jersey native on Wednesday about her career thus far, and thoughts on the team that will take the ice for their season opener on Saturday in Sweden.
Wachter has always been a passionate athlete and sports fan. In high school, Wachter was a 12-sport varsity athlete, and went on to play Division One varsity field hockey at Syracuse University through her collegiate career. “Sports have always been what I’ve loved and what I’ve breathed and a part of my culture,” Erika said, “and the broadcasting aspect went hand-in-hand.”
Following her two-and-a-half year career with FOX 5 NY, she heard about the opening with MSG Networks and jumped on the opportunity. Working with MSG Networks not only provides her with an excellent opportunity to make a jump in her career, but also allows her to return home. Ever since Erika left for college, she has spent her time living in New York. Recounting her first few days at MSG Networks, she explained how everyone “was so welcoming and it felt like a great fit… They have such a great reputation and I’m excited to be a part of that and help build my career here.”
Perhaps equally important, the opportunity “to cover a terrific team, a team on the rise” really is what made it all the more appealing. When I asked about her main goal in her first season covering the Devils, she explained that it’s all about “being around the players as much as I can and building really strong relationships, because I think that will go a long way in my reporting and my covering of the team and what I’ll be able to bring to the fans each night on our pre-game shows and intermission reports and post-game shows.”
What also stood out to Erika about MSG Networks is the opportunity to travel around North America with the Devils and MSG Networks crew. With her voice inflection rising, she talked about how excited she was to get out to California and the West Coast. She couldn’t name which cities she was most excited to visit, because she hasn’t visited about 75 percent of the cities that host NHL teams. “I’m just excited to explore all these new areas, but the West Coast and California have always been spots where I’ve been dying to go,” Wachter said.
She also credits former Devils Ken Daneyko and Bryce Salvador, who are now also on the Devils broadcast team, with being great mentors since joining MSG Networks. Mr. Devil has had a very positive impact on her, noting that “it’s hard to be in a room with him and not be smiling. He’s such a great ball of energy right away and is always in a good mood and is such a good guy,” which helps her to feel at ease in her new role.
Salvador is much the same way, and “he breaks things down for you in such an easy way. I always kind of joke about it, but he is such a kind man that you wouldn’t think about him the way he was as a player. He just makes things so easy for me and he’s still new to this.” Wachter went on to say that her and Salvador communicate a lot and have similar personalities and coach-able attitudes.
On the 2018-2019 Season
Rookies…A big theme for the New Jersey Devils roster the last few years has been young players getting a chance to grow and develop at the NHL-level. This season is no exception, as players like John Quenneville, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Steve Santini all made the opening night roster. I asked for Erika’s opinion on the young guns, and she began by saying how excited she is to see J.S. Dea. “We got to see an early glimpse of him the other day. It’s huge that Ray Shero and John Hynes both feel so strongly about him from their time in Pittsburgh, and as soon as he came across the waiver wire, they wanted to snatch him. I’m excited to see what they see in him that makes him so special and what he can bring,”
Wachter also touched on Santini. “He’s a little more familiar; so with anything, once you have some experience under your belt, you’ll be a bit more comfortable in your next year. It’ll be good for him just having some comfort level.”
Lastly, she talked about how excited she was for Quenneville after “he came out that first preseason game MSG Networks covered, and went out right away and scored a power play goal and had a nice fight. He’s a really vocal guy as we saw in the NHL Network’s Behind The Glass series, and that gave a good glimpse of him; but seeing all he did personally with changing his diet and making sure he was as good as he could be to get on this team I think is huge; and that was the hardest part for him, the skills are there, it was just about could he do the other things that make him a professional.”
The Sophomore Slump…One concern for many NHL fans is the dreaded “sophomore slump,” which entail difficulties that some second-year NHLers face. Wachter doesn’t think Devils fans should be concerned about sophomores like Will Butcher, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt (who was recently sidelined with a jaw injury) falling victim to the sophomore slump, though. “I think it’s more about the confidence. These guys seem to have made a lot of progress over the offseason personally, making the changes on their own. No one in that group is resting on what they did last year,” Wachter described, going on to mention how all three young players want to build off the success they got a taste for last year.
Players To Watch…I asked Wachter if there were any players she envisioned as being “surprises,” similar to Jesper Bratt, Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman were last season. She didn’t really have any players in mind, and said it’s more about seeing how this group that has played together most of last season, builds upon the success they had last year. However, if she did have to pick one player, she’s eager to see how goaltender Keith Kinkaid does to start the season with starter Cory Schneider on the Injured Reserve.
A Special Devils Team…I asked Wachter for one of the most overlooked aspects of the Devils organization, and some of their hidden strengths many may not know about. She was able to provide an inside look into the organization, and believes the culture this team has established is one of their biggest overlooked strengths. The team is bought into Hynes’ mentality, and live that brotherhood aspect. Wachter also credits Shero with being a visible face and a passionate, family-oriented individual who also fosters the organization’s brotherhood aspect.
Unfinished Business…Every Devils fan longs for a return to the postseason after their abrupt first round exit against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wachter is no different. For this to happen, she believes there are a few key factors that will determine whether the team returns to the playoffs. The most important key success factor is consistency. Wachter described how the team “likes to embrace the underdog mentality of ‘it’s us against everybody,’ and they’re so tight as a group… Internally they know they can do it and they know they have a special group, so they’re not worried about what anyone else is saying.”
In short, the team “needs to play the way they know, they need to play to their identity, and know what they’re capable of achieving. Just getting that taste of the playoffs is enough of an incentive… they’re not happy with just getting there and having an early exit just winning one game. There’s a lot more unfinished business that they have. I think they have the right incentives entering the season, so the rest is just playing hockey and being consistent and being able to finish games, putting games away and putting teams away,” Wachter explained.
Predictions…I asked Wachter about her prediction for the upcoming season, such as whether the team will qualify for the postseason and who the team’s leaders in points, goals and assists will be. She thinks the reigning League MVP, Taylor Hall, will have to pick up where he left off and she looks to the top line to be leaders in general. She also hopes to see a full season from Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson. She thinks if they can both stay healthy, they’ll be able to bring some added firepower to the roster and they can help to take some of the load off of Hall.
As for the playoffs? Wachter was reassuring to Devils fans as she mentioned that she “feels confident that they will make the playoffs. I think they have what it takes and having this core group return is huge in making that happen.”
For the Fans…Erika had a message for the fans that she asked me to pass along.
“I hope the fans have a really fun season. I hope they like the energy that we bring to the broadcast, and that they interact with me as much as possible. I want it to be a really fun season across the board. I hope we are winning, but I hope that we are able to enjoy this ride together. Interact with us on social media. If you have any ideas of things that you want to see in our shows, we are so open to those types of things and we want to make our pre-game and post-game show the best that it can be. I always appreciate the interaction and the feedback.”