As the NHL season is finally under wayt, we wanted to visit the dark days of the lockout by chatting to someone who makes his living from the NHL and hockey. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Antti Makinen, a Finnish NHL sports caster for NelonenPro. Makinen has become well known in the Finnish hockey media, mainly due to his active Twitter use and his enthusiastic commentary during games. One of the memorable moments came during the New Jersey Devils – Philadelphia Fylers series, well words wouldn’t do it justice, so you can watch the clip here.
When the lockout first started did Makinen feel like he didn’t have much to worry. “When (the lockout was announced, it didn’t bother me. I was sure it would only last a week or so. After the first couple of weeks, it started to disturb my thoughts.”
At the start of the lockout there was a lot of optimism about the length and many pundits and analysts thought it would be something the league could get sorted out before the season started, or at worst, it wouldn’t affect most of the season.
However, as the lockout continued, Makinen says it started to affect things. “My employer (Nelonen Pro) had to do a lot of rescheduling. NHL is a big thing to our channel and they had their hands full to reschedule. For me personally it was a bit of a 50/50 situation. I had all the time in the world to play with my two year-old son, but on the flipside, the worry was on the finances.”
For a play-by-play professional, the job is similar to a professional athlete. There’s a constant need to keep up with your skills and hone your craft. Makinen didn’t fall on empty for the lockout as he found some sports casting work for Finnish SM-Liiga games. During the SM-Liiga gig, many of Makinen’s Twitter followers regularly tweeted him asking which game he would be calling. “Calling the SM-Liiga games helped me a lot,” Makinen says. “It was a job that helped pay the bills and it also helped mentally as I had something else to think about than the lockout.”
Riding the highs and lows
So for someone whose livelihood depends on the NHL having games what are some of the emotions that you go through? Mid October was probably the toughest for many fans as it was the first time of that infamous ‘cautious optimism’. “I had a couple of rock bottom moments during the lockout,” Makinen admits. “The toughest one was in a middle of October when my own sources told me that the deal is close. Then of course Bettman came out and said that they (NHL and the NHLPA) were speaking different languages.”
But for someone who is active on Twitter and also a fan of the game, Makinen didn’t resort to outbursts that many fans (like myself) resorted to in desperation. “I tried to maintain optimism publicly, but it was really hard,” Makinen says. “I have to that my wife for all her understanding. She really supported me through the lockout.”
However, the end of the lockout meant a big relief to those whose livelihoods depend on the NHL. As Makinen points out he doesn’t have to worry about the summer months as the NHL Play-Offs are likely to go on long into the summer months. “(The season) will be a busy one, but I think it’s a good thing,” Makinen says. “It’s a bit weird to start the season in January as normally this is the hardest part of the season for me. However, our batteries are fully loaded and we are ready to go.”
The world of sports casters
For me personally, the sports caster world and work has always been interesting. It has puzzled me to think how someone can keep up with the changes in a game as fast as hockey. If you ask my parents, they would say that as a child, I was always pretending that I was calling a hockey game, ski jumping event or a rally.
It felt only natural to ask Makinen about his career and how he got into sports casting. “I used to play hockey and I won two Finnish championships in the junior levels,” Makinen says. “I was also a member of the Finnish U17 and U18 team. My career came to an end when I was 18 and I broke my back. After my playing days were done, a manager of a local radio station called me and asked if I wanted to try to work with them on their hockey radio. I had no plans after everything had turned upside down, so I tried and as they say, the rest is history.”
However, Makinen didn’t get to always work on hockey, even though his knowledge of the game. “Hockey has always been my thing, but I had to prove myself in TV before I got to do hockey,” Makinen explains. “I have done colour commentary for football from all over the world, I’ve done Superbikes and a lot of other motorsports. I’ve also called some basketball and floorball games.”
As hockey players, what we wanted to find out was how many games per week Makinen does. According to the man himself, he does five to eight games per week. “I just counted that between 2010 and 2012 I did a total of 407 games,” Makinen says. “I bet no one can match those numbers back here.”
Impressive statistics, given that Finland is seven hours ahead of the Eastern Conference, which means countless of sleepless nights for a man who calls Tampere his home and does many of his games from Helsinki (approximately 70-80 mile trip).
Statistics form an important part for any commentator and Makinen is no exception. His preparation includes looking at stats and stories about past meetings of teams. “When the game is on, it’s just a free-fall to me. It’s my thing to go inside the game and live in the moment.”
As mentioned at the start of the article, Makinen has come up with a few living legends in terms of things said on the air, during a game “They’re just things I’ve said. I’ve never planned what to say and just say what comes to my mind,” Makinen explains. “I think it’s impossible to plan what to say in different games and situations. If you have to worry about what to say and where you say it, it will destroy the broadcast.”
Indeed, a good sports caster can add so much to a game and the experience that the fan receives and where not directly employed by the NHL, sports casters add so much value to the overall product that the NHL sells internationally. Fans who live and breathe their teams’ trials and tribulations already live in every stride of their team, but a sport caster such as Makinen can add enthusiasm and a new level to the game.
Makinen, who lists 2011-2012 first round Penguins vs Flyers series as one of his favourites along with Blackhawks’ cup win as his friend goalie Antti Niemi won the cup, parts us with some of his wisdom to people looking for a career in sport casting and play-by-play commentary. “It’s a long way, so be patient. Give it your best every time you are working and there are no shortcuts. Most importantly, don’t try to be someone else, be yourself and find your own way of doing things.”
Thank you to Antti Makinen for taking part in the interview and good luck with the NHL season and hopefully the fans will enjoy every game televised this year.