Detroit Red Wings Radio Reverts to World-Feed Model for Three-Game West Coast Swing

Daniella Bruce becomes first female radio broadcaster in franchise history

Little Caesars Arena is popping with energy this season, but, with the National Hockey League continuing to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the Detroit Red Wings turned to an old trick. For a three-game trip to California, the broadcast team produced a world-feed–style radio broadcast and, in the process, made digital reporter/producer Daniella Bruce the first female radio broadcaster in the franchise’s 96-year history.

“It’s one thing to do a game live with people in the building,” says play-by-play commentator Ken Kal, “but it’s even more difficult when you have to watch it on a television and describe the action. [Bruce} was really relaxed, and I thought she did a remarkable job. By the third game against San Jose, she was comfortable in the booth.”

Extensive Résumé: Bruce’s Background Made for an Easy Choice

To understand the impact of the three radio broadcasts, it’s important to know the journalistic journey that Bruce has been on. The Michigan native is a life-long Red Wings fan. Cheering for the team during her childhood and adolescent years, she listened to Kal on the radio throughout the latest golden era of Red Wings hockey, which included four Stanley Cup championships in 12 seasons. After interning for local news station HOMTV, WJBK Detroit, and ESPN and graduating from Michigan State University in 2016, she decided to stay in her home state and worked for State Champs! Network, a then-linear program on the airwaves of former Fox Sports Detroit. Then, in 2017, she went to work for her favorite hockey team.

“They had a job posting for their team reporter and in-arena host,” she recalls. “I went through four or five rounds of interviews. I actually didn’t get the job, but they wanted me on the team. The Red Wings didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing yet, but they wanted to do a pregame and intermission show at Little Caesars Arena.”

That idea eventually became Game Day Live during the venue’s first season, in 2017. Since then, the club has added The Forecheck, a live-streamed pregame show occurring 3½ hours before every home game. Subsequently joining the broadcast team full-time as digital reporter and producer, Bruce participates in a number of other shows, including The Word on Woodward. In what has become a preseason tradition, the Red & White scrimmage hosted during training camp at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City, MI, highlights the organization’s best prospects.

Setback Is Opportunity: Quick Change After COVID-19 Positive Test

Nearly halfway through the 2021-22 regular season, the radio-broadcast team had to overcome a challenge that players and coaches down on the ice regularly deal with. Prior to a three-game stint on the West Coast for contests against the Los Angeles Kings (Jan. 8), Anaheim Ducks (Jan. 9), and San Jose Sharks (Jan. 11), color commentator Paul Woods was placed in COVID-19 isolation after a positive test result. Since Kal sat next to Woods for a home game vs. the Sharks on Jan. 4, he wasn’t able to make the flight either. With a short turnaround, the Red Wings radio team decided to stay in Detroit and call the games from Little Caesars Arena. Kal tested negative, which allowed him to participate in the remote call, but finding his partner took some extra time to figure out. That’s when Bruce became the perfect replacement.

“These three games were all late at night, so trying to get a former player was really difficult on short notice,” says Kal. “I talked to [Ilitch Sports + Entertainment VP, Entertainment Services and Broadcasting] Pete Skorich and said, ‘Hey, what about giving Daniella a shot?’ I thought that she had earned the opportunity to do it and wasn’t thinking about her becoming the first woman in the Red Wings broadcast booth.”

Bruce was ready to go when the decision was made. Her first matchup of the three was supposed to be vs. Anaheim on Thursday, Jan. 6, but COVID-19 once again intervened and delayed her debut a full 48 hours. When it came time to put on the headset, it was in an environment where she never expected to call a game — looking at empty seats in a silent arena — but her lack of experience played to her benefit.

LISTEN to Bruce’s comments on making Red Wings history.

“Since it was my first [time to call an] NHL game, I didn’t really know any different at that point,” she says. “There were some things you couldn’t see on a monitor as opposed to watching the game live in front of you. You can’t see how plays develop, but I got used to it pretty quickly, and, by the third period of that game, I felt pretty good.”

Even for the veteran Kal, who has done radio for the Red Wings every season since 1995, there were some aspects of the broadcast to get reacquainted with. After doing an entire season in 2020-21 via the world-feed model, the radio team was glad to be on the road again. With this recent curveball, it was back to calling games from Hockeytown.

Tech Setup: Club’s Engineers Team Up With Bally Sports Detroit

From a technological standpoint, this isn’t new territory, but, after a full season without having to put this plan into effect, the team’s engineers needed to shake off the rust. Teaming with their regional sports network, Bally Sports Detroit, the crew assembled a simplified version of the complex workflow deployed last season. This infrastructure included technology from LiveU and sending the clean feed of the game 15 miles southeast from the RSN’s office in Southfield, MI, to Little Caesars Arena in The District Detroit.

“Trying to grab the NHL feed off a website and syncing that up [to our audio feed] could be a bit troublesome,” says Eric Angott, chief broadcast engineer, Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Since they were getting all of the feeds and cutting [the main game feed] in their studio, I asked them if they could help deliver the needed feeds our way.”

This was the go-to plan for the first two games, but it had to change for the third. With that game available on ESPN+, Bally Sports Detroit was not available to help with the feeds, and Angott and the staff were forced to revert to the complicated but effective method from last year.

“It was a couple of PCs in our control room, where we picked one PC for the score, another for the game feed, and the last one to embed the audio,” Angott explains. “We pulled the clean video feed and a second feed with nat sound in the background and shipped it off to the booth.”

If Angott, the other engineers, and Bally Sports Detroit had been asked to pull this off before last season, it would have taken an extremely strenuous effort. In 2022, Bruce’s historical feat couldn’t have been achieved without the experience of the behind-the-scenes personnel.

“It was actually very easy since we had a template down and we knew what worked and didn’t work,” Angott says. “I also do games for the Detroit Pistons, and they have a different method of sending all the feeds from the arena to the RSNs and distributing it to their stations.”

For the History Books: Bruce Joins Progression of Women in Broadcasting

To the casual hockey fan, this three-game stretch would be three ordinary regular-season games on the schedule. For avid supporters of the game, especially those in Detroit, and Bruce, the games will be bookmarked in the history of this Original Six franchise. Personally, Bruce follows some of the game’s greatest female voices: former Tampa Bay Lightning reporter and current Chicago Blackhawks reporter Caley Chelios, NHL Network host Jackie Redmond, ESPN play-by-play commentator Leah Hextall, ESPN/MSG Networks analyst AJ Mleczko. For the next generation of female broadcasters, Bruce’s name can be added to that list.

“I wasn’t unaware of the moment,” she says, “but it wasn’t my first thought. That says something about the progression that women have already made in this industry. I hope there was a little girl listening, like I was when I was 10 or 12 years old, and knowing that there aren’t any barriers on what they can do.”

The Detroit Red Wings will host the Chicago Blackhawks in their next home game at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT.

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