Sam Rosen has been doing Rangers play-by-play for the MSG Network since 1984, and on Saturday night, he’ll call the 2010-11 season opener from Buffalo, alongside Joe Micheletti. He spoke with The Sports Section about the upcoming season, his call of the 1994 Stanley Cup clincher, and interviewing for the Yankees play-by-play job back in the eighties.
I was reading that you played baseball in high school at Stuyvesant. Was baseball your sport back then?
Growing up I was an all-sports fan. I went to Knicks games, Rangers games, Yankees games. I snuck into a couple of Giants games — I hope they’re not mad at me for saying that. But growing up, baseball was the sport I played and was involved in. I played through high school and college, and then my career took over. When you’re convinced that you’re not going to make it as a baseball player, you do to the next best thing and find a broadcasting job.
Was broadcasting baseball something you wanted to do?
You know what, you always dream about that. When I hooked up with Madison Square Garden, and hooked up with ESPN, I did college baseball for ESPN from 1984 to ‘88. I did the College World Series and enjoyed that. Quite honestly, in the eighties, when MSG got the Yankee contract, there came a time where the play-by-play job became open, and I interviewed for it. The guy who was our boss was Bob Gutkowski. And we talked about the Yankee position; I was doing the Rangers at the time. And he said, “Sam, quite honestly, I can find good baseball announcers. I can’t find enough good hockey announcers.” He said, “We love you on hockey, and we want you to stay on hockey.” So I stayed with hockey and I’m not sad that I did it. Those are the things that go on in a career, and it’s fine. I follow the Yankees, and I’m still a big Yankees fan, but the Rangers are my love and one of the biggest parts of my life.
You said that you’re still a Yankees fan. As a broadcaster for the Rangers, do you still consider yourself a Rangers fan?
I try not to let my rooting interest come out during the broadcast. But there’s no doubt, I grew up a Rangers fan. I grew up going to games on Sunday nights and running up to the side balcony to get the best seats at the old Madison Square Garden. When the new Garden opened up, I was there. It’s ingrained. I’m a Ranger fan, lifelong. One of the dreams growing up is you want to be a part of the teams you root for. I’ve had a part of that throughout my life. I’ve done the football Giants, I’ve done the Knicks, and I’ve done the Rangers for so long. And I had a touch of being near the Yankees. I had a lot of fun one day doing the pre-game show, filling in for Al Trautwig. Buck Showalter was the manager at the time, and it was before the Rangers had won the Cup, and he gave me a “1940” dig. So we had some laughs.
You mentioned the Rangers winning the Cup. You had to know that if it happened, those last few seconds — and your call — would be played over and over again. Had you planned out in advance what you were going to say?
You know, you always run things through in your mind. I did it before Game 5 when the Rangers were up three games to one. I don’t think you memorize any words, but you kind of roll things around and think of the direction you want to take it. Then what happens is the game takes over. In Game 7, it was 3-2, the tension was growing, you could feel them getting closer and closer. Then there was an icing, and that stopped play. And then a face-off, and then there was another icing, and that stopped play. So all the things you were building up in your head kind of fly away and now you just go with the last 1.6 seconds. The puck is dropped, and finally what came out was: “The waiting is over, and the Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions.” What came out to me was — I know that no matter what happens, this moment, the Rangers winning the Cup for the first time in 54 years, would last a lifetime. And that just kind of came out. I’m proud of the way we did it. John Davidson and I were both emotional having been around the organization for so many years.
How often do you speak to John these days?
We speak quite frequently. When he gets back to New York we always get together. The wives are very close. We’ve watched his kids grow up. John’s one of the closest friends I have. He’s just a great person. He was great to work with. He made the entire Rangers broadcast better because of what he brought with his personality and expertise. I was very lucky to work with John for 20 years. I can’t say enough about the person he is, what he did and what he meant to the Rangers organization and to the MSG Network.
Changing gears a bit, what have you thought of the younger players during the pre-season. Has anyone — Derek Stepan, perhaps? — really stood out as someone who could make an impact this season?
Yeah, I think Derek Stepan would be that guy. The one question I had would be, could he make the transition and make the huge step from college, where they don’t play nearly as many games as you do in the pros? But could he step right from college into the NHL? That’s yet to be determined, because we haven’t started the regular season. But from what we’ve seen in the pre-season, he looks like he can handle it. There’s an opening in the Rangers center position. They need guys to step up and play at a high level in that center position. I think that’s something that was lacking last season, and Derek Stepan has the chance to be that guy, to step into the roll to be one of the top centers on the team.
Going into the regular season, what do you think this team’s ceiling is?
It’s hard to say there’s a ceiling for any team in the NHL right now, because there’s so much parity in the league. As the Flyers showed last year, you get in and it’s a whole new season. I think the Rangers have a good chance to be a playoff team because they’ve improved their skill level and talent level and brought in a couple of veteran players, like Alex Frolov and Ruslan Fedotenko, on short-term deals. Then you add to that the youngsters that they have, like Michael Del Zotto, coming off a very good rookie season. Derek Stepan, we talked about. They have a couple of youngsters down in the minors that may be close to making the team. If all those things come to together, the team has a chance to be pretty good. And you always start with the fact that they have one of the top goaltenders in the league in Henrik Lundqvist, and one of the best offensive players in Marian Gaborik.