ESPN puts Emily Kaplan right in the middle of her NHL coverage

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The referees were concerned when they saw who was occupying the space between the players’ benches in the NHL’s opener last month. ESPN was broadcasting the game between host Lightning and the Penguins, and the network had put reporter Emily Kaplan in the middle of the action.

“Someone from the NHL came up to me and said, ‘The officials have all asked about you,’” said Kaplan. “Who is this girl between the benches?” Will she be alright? Does she need a helmet? “

Kaplan, 30, knows how to keep his head on a pivot to avoid pucks, sticks and bodies that could crash into his little world at any moment. But she sees them as mere occupational hazards in her new role in ESPN’s NHL coverage.

“I keep telling people, ‘I want a black eye because I think that would give me credibility,’ she said. “Most hockey players tell you, ‘No, believe me, you don’t. It hurts.’ “

Kaplan already has enough credibility in NHL circles, having covered the league for ESPN.com since 2017. But the network has broadened his job description significantly since taking over the league’s broadcast rights this year. In addition to reporting in the glass, Kaplan appears on ESPN’s hockey studio shows and co-hosts a podcast with Linda Cohn.

“She’s the model reporter on air where she touches all platforms,” ​​said ESPN Senior Vice President Mark Gross, who oversees production of the NHL games.

When the NHL returns to ABC for the first time since 2004 with the Blues-Blackhawks game on November 26 at the United Center, Kaplan will be back in his own little world.

“It’s such a cool way to be in a game,” said Kaplan, a native of Montclair, New Jersey, who has lived in the Ukrainian village of Chicago since 2016. “The chirp I hear, I find myself cracking up because the guys are just hilarious. You can see the way they interact with each other on the bench. “

Kaplan has never played hockey, but she has a love for the game that dates back to her childhood, when she watched Rangers games with her father. Dave Kaplan was the editor of Sunday sports for the New York Daily News. So not only did she get into hockey, but she also turned to sports writing.

One of his father’s friends at the time was Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King, who also lived in Montclair. When Kaplan was in high school, King took her to see the New Jersey Jackals, an independent baseball team nearby. He made arrangements with the PR director to meet with the manager and a player after the game.

“I told Emily about some of the things you need to talk about and everything,” King said. “She didn’t need any advice. She didn’t need any help. She has just taken over. She requisitioned the interview. And then I asked him to write a story on the deadline about it, and there was no mistake. It was really good for a kid who was in high school.

Kaplan went to Penn State because he was offering a major in sports journalism. She interned at Sports Illustrated and then worked there after college. She graduated in 2013, just before King launched his football website, MMQB, at SI. He took her on board.

“One of the underestimated things about our business is that if you aren’t curious you won’t get there,” King said. “And Emily was extremely curious, and she was a worker bee. If you have these two things, all of the other things can fall into place.

Kaplan made a name for herself in NFL circles, but she knew she was on the wrong side of the MMQB depth chart. ESPN called her about a soccer job and she went for an interview. Kaplan thinks she mentioned hockey several times because when ESPN called her back a few weeks later, the soccer job had failed, but a hockey job was suddenly on the table.

“They said, ‘This is our greatest need right now. You can be one of two people who cover hockey for us, ”Kaplan said. “I thought it was an opportunity. Although the NHL is a lot smaller than the NFL in this country, I saw it as an opportunity to own a rhythm, to challenge myself that way. And again, it was a sport that I grew up loving. It made sense to me.

She immersed herself in the job, spending the first two months on the phone, introducing herself to general managers, coaches, agents, public relations people, pretty much everyone in the NHL media directory. She went to the United Center on match days for morning skates to meet the visiting teams. She was frustrated with the limited attention of the stories because ESPN did not hold the rights, but those days are gone.

Now Kaplan isn’t just read, she’s seen and heard.

“She got that pretty quickly right off the bat with our first game in Tampa,” Gross said of Kaplan’s television adaptation. “If you are sure your knowledge then you are just talking to the camera and not looking into the lights. Emily feels like she is just having a conversation and not trying to be the stereotypical broadcaster. “

Kaplan attributes her smooth transition to her appearance on “Around the Horn”. She debuted in May 2019, but not after pushing her back for a few weeks out of terror. The producer finally convinced her to go for it and roll with it. The show’s requisite brevity taught her to reduce her words, which helped her prepare for the in-game reporting.

But Kaplan also wants to tell hockey stories. She believes players’ inherent preference to keep them to themselves is holding back the sport.

“I’ve always had this belief that hockey players are just great people with amazing stories, but they never want to show up and share,” Kaplan said. “It’s kind of my mission to get guys to open up and share stories about the game.”


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