Hershey hockey fans are well aware of how excited former Bears’ broadcaster Dave Mishkin could get when the Bears scored a critical goal, during his eight-year stay in Chocolate Town that ended in 2002. That’s when he advanced to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning where he has teamed up with NHL 1984 Hall of Fame inductee Phil Esposito.
“Mike Emrick came for the last regular season tilt and worked with me on the game that was televised, but my last game in Hersheypark Arena was the 7-1 loss to Houston in the 2002 semifinal round,” Mishkin said, in a recent phone interview.
As of this year’s Tampa Bay Stanley Cup victory, “Mish” has called a Hershey Calder Cup win and now two for the Lightning, but as he pointed out, they came over a period of many years saying, “Actually the Bears had a good run after I left, winning Cups in 2006, 2009 and 2010 which is very rare,” Mishkin said. “My job as a broadcaster is going along on the ride that can be either very short or very long, and I’ve experienced both, but the bottom line is only one team can finish with a win, so when that happens you to try and relish it.
“One of my favorite years in Hershey was the 1999-2000 season because that team was so much fun to watch,” continued Mishkin. “It was the year they had 20-plus goal scorers in Rob Shearer, Serge Aubin, Christian Matte, Dan Hinote, Brian Wilsie, Ville Nieminen and Yuri Babenko, along with defenseman Mike Gaul, who had 69 points. They made it to the semifinal round and lost, but that doesn’t take away from the fun of watching them play.”
The Lightning had to battle past the Columbus Blue Jackets, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Dallas Stars for 16 wins to claim its first championship since 2004.
“Some people say it was no surprise the Lightning won the playoffs, and the team did play well, but they’ve had great success in the playoffs going back to 2015 when they lost in the finals,” Mishkin said. “Then in 2016 and 2018, they got to the Eastern Conference Final and lost. The next year they tied the NHL regular record with 62 wins and got swept by Columbus in the first round.
“Despite all that kind of success, I think they felt they had to make several adjustments to the roster and how they actually played,” added Mishkin. “It’s not like they went to playing like the ’85 Oilers to the ’95 Devils. They knew they had to remove some of the risk from their game and pay more attention to ensuring they didn’t gift wrap opportunities for the other team. Those are the things they tried to implement this year.”
Just before Christmas, the team was sixth in the division, before things got turned around and went on a 23-2-1 run, playing the way they needed to be successful and then, as it turned out they got Columbus in the first round, the team that knocked them out last year.
“In the five overtime game, the longest I’ve ever broadcasted, they exhibited the kind of patience the coaches had been preaching since the training camp meaning don’t sacrifice defense for offense” Mishkin said. “Overall, three of the four teams they met were the best defensive teams in the league, based on goals allowed during the regular season. The reason they were able to do it and not face elimination once, winning close low scoring games, was because they had practiced what had been preached all year.
“At the end of the day, the Lightning had really high-end offensive guys, and if you play it step-by-step, and not jump step, those players are going to get chances,” Mishkin added. “They also didn’t have to rely on the goaltender to bail them out like happened in previous years. In a playoff run, you need your goalie to stop all the shots he should, and then hopefully he can make some saves that make a difference. The big difference was they didn’t have to ask Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal games. Having said that, he fit the bill for that requirement.”
One of the key players for Tampa Bay, who was missing their captain Steven Stamkos, was Brayden Point who played just eight games for Syracuse, before making the team in 2017-18. Point is the only player to make it straight from junior hockey to the NHL when he had AHL eligibility. He could have been sent to the AHL because they prefer not to rush guys, but he forced their hand and has improved each year.
“He was actually coming off double hip surgery over the summer so his skating wasn’t back to one hundred percent during the regular season, but he was still very effective,” Mishkin said. “The pause in the season gave him time to recover, and he was able to get to another gear by the time we were restarted. Brayden was injured in the Islanders series, but outside of a game or two you would not have noticed any difference.”
Due to the Covid-19 situation, he was in his home arena to broadcast the games and unlike his time in Hershey, where he was the only guy and had to fill all the air time, he was able – especially during the five OT contest – to go to the rest room, etc. over that six-and-a-half hour broadcast.
“I’m not a fan of having a big meal before a game, so I was really more tired than hungry because I’m expending energy the whole time,” said Mishkin. “I was hot and had a jacket on much of the time, because in the arena it was chilly, then about the fifth OT I took it off. It isn’t often that my voice feels tired after a game, but a couple hours after the game ended I could tell that I had been on the air for a long time, and then fortunately we had the next day off.”
In the past, Mishkin had experienced triple-overtime games. The first was the 1997 playoff against the Philadelphia Phantoms when Blair Atcheynum scored early in the third OT period of Game Six in the Mid-Atlantic Division Final. After that, he had two triple OT games against Washington and New Jersey.
“Some people think my partner Phil Esposito doesn’t get excited enough but he does get fired up if the ref doesn’t make a call that should be made,” Mishkin said, with a laugh. “I can tell you he does get pretty excited on the inside. We’ve worked together for close to 20 years now, so I guess he is the ying to my yang.”
Changing the topic to Tampa Bay’s head coach Jon Cooper, Mishkin said “Jon is definitely a player’s coach, but maybe that is the wrong term to use these days, because you don’t really have the task masters any more. There is much more communication between the coach and player now. Today’s player wants information to understand how and why, and Coop does that very well. He deserves a lot of credit for the shift that I talked about earlier.”
Recalling his stay in Hershey, Mishkin talked about the stability of the franchise all these years, which means there are always guys in the playoffs that have a Hershey history, like Craig Berube last season and John Stevens with Dallas this time.
“If you’re been in the AHL, the chances are you have either played in or for Hershey,” said Mishkin “That for me is the biggest take away about the franchise’s stability and its presence in the hockey world.”
In 2011, the Mishkin family made a trip to Hershey and saw Giant Center which was still under construction when he left Hershey and also saw a friendly face when he stopped at the Old Barn.
“It was funny, because I went into the old arena and saw Bruce McKinney, who was doing some taping for a Derry Township Historical Society event,” Mishkin said about the chance meeting. “That was nine years after I left and I was surprised about how different things looked, not just because of the new building, but all the changes along Chocolate Avenue. I thought Chocolate World became an attraction with a capital A”.