Beyond The Benches

Go Beyond The Benches w/Ian Tasso

Ian Tasso started off on the east coast but has migrated to warmer climates on the west coast, currently as the play-by-play announcer for the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers. The Boston born Tasso has worked his way through the ranks to land with the Wranglers after starting out as a writer. Going from a small college radio station to the TV/Radio personality for a professional hockey team is quite the accomplishment.

Ian took a few minutes to talk with us recently, see what he had to say!

Beyond The Benches: How is it that you landed with the Las Vegas Wranglers as their play-by-play broadcaster?

Ian Tasso: There were a lot of factors. I actually went to school for journalism back in Boston, where I grew up, and to be completely honest, play-by-play just came out of nowhere. I majored in print journalism, if you can believe that, and my first real job was writing high school and college sports stories for the Boston Globe. But me and a few of my roommates – one of whom is now the play-by-play man for the Ontario Reign actually – had this little college station radio show we used to do once a week, just for fun at first, and then it just took off. We even started to pick up so much steam where we had local sponsors, were interviewing guys like the Bruins’ Brad Marchand, the CEO of the Boston Red Sox Larry Lucchino…and I just fell in love. Then just for kicks I went on live TV for the first time ever my senior year to anchor this sports news show we had, and I was like…yup, this is for me. I kind of made a conscious decision that I was tired of working on the outside in sports, looking in. Especially in a town like Boston, it’s all about finding the negative. When I worked in sports radio it was all about who should be fired, who should be traded…and I just wanted to be on the inside, where you actually rooted for guys to do well and teams to win. As far as ultimately choosing hockey…obviously Boston is a four-sport town, and we love them all…but I’ve always been a hockey guy. The year I graduated, the Bruins won the Cup, and it just felt right to start my career on the ice. Two months after I finished up school, made my way to the ECHL Job Fair in Las Vegas, and the rest is history.

iantassoBB: With all that has gone on with the Wranglers, what has it been like being right in the middle of it all?

IT: To be honest, it’s awesome. Not because of all the uncertainty, or all the stress…but because it reminds you how real something like sports is. It’s kind of funny…it’s ultimately a children’s game, that some of us just can’t get enough of that we have to drown our entire adult lives in it…but then something like this happens, where a city has it’s team threatened, and it’s just so cool to see the support pour out from the fan-base. It really has been awesome to be a part of, regardless of how this all ends up. It really reminds you why you took the gig in the first place.

BB: What are some game-day preparations that you have before calling a game?

IT: Hockey is a really funky sport, where you can do all the preparation you want, but the game is so fast, you really don’t have time to throw it all in one single broadcast. For me it’s less about stats and numbers and more familiarizing myself with the players themselves, their tendencies on ice, coaching systems, things like that…that way when the game is unfolding on the ice, I feel a whole lot more prepared for what’s going to happen next, and the rest just kind of fixes itself. Especially without having a color guy, being a one-man-show in the booth, it really helps to have an in-depth understanding about what’s going on out there, and why it’s happening. To be honest, Coach Madill here in Las Vegas has had a lot to do with that. He’s really helped me understand some of the intricacies of the game, so I’ll usually meet with him for about 30-60 minutes before the game, and I come out of that room ready to roll.

BB: How long did it take to adjust to Las Vegas living, coming from the Northeast?

IT: What has it been, almost three years now? So I’d say…about three years? In all seriousness, the two cities are so different, Boston and Las Vegas. Obviously there’s the weather, but the overall demeanor is just so vastly different, it takes a while to get used to it. The people here though have been great, I’ve been blessed with a great staff, a few great mentors, and a boss that really trusts me, and it seems like every year I get more and more responsibilities with the team, so it keeps me busy. Being at the rink every day really helps with the adjustment though. It’s where I feel most at home. The cold reminds me of the weather back East, which in a weird way, I kind of miss. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of angry texts about that…

BB: Did you grow up playing hockey? Do you get to hit the ice now?

IT: Actually, I did not. Might sound kind of weird, but I’ve never played a game of organized hockey in my life. How strange is that, right? The play-by-play/color guy for the Las Vegas Wranglers never once scored a real-time goal or even laced up skates in a real game. The truth is, I was a baseball and soccer guy when I grew up, was always playing one of the two sports…but in Boston, it’s impossible to not be a part of the hockey scene. My dad grew up playing, all my friends played, it’s always on TV, rinks are everywhere…so it just becomes a part of you regardless of whether you played or not. And as far as hitting the ice now…yes, some of us in the office lace them up every now and then…I’ve got to say every time I do it, there’s a renewed sense of respect for the guys I watch out there each and every night. That’s hard stuff out there.

BB: Where would you like to see your career go from here?iantasso3

IT: Couldn’t tell you. Having had experience now behind a microphone, in a front office for a professional team, and also writing and publishing for a newspaper…I feel like the possibilities are endless. That’s what’s so cool about sports – there’s so much you can do. And I feel confident in my skills in all facets, that I know in some way, shape or form I will contribute to a team’s success – on or off the ice – that I’m prepared to take on whatever challenges present themselves. I would like to make my way back East at some point though…I miss the ocean.

BB: Who are some players for the Wranglers that have stood out so far this season?

IT: There’s quite a few, which is strange since it’s been such a tough year for the team record wise…but one guy that’s jumped off the page is Chad Nehring. He’s just such a fun player to watch – the kind of guy that will score a goal on one shift, lay some guy out at center-ice the next, and then block a shot off the chest in the final seconds of a tie game. He just does it all, and that’s what hockey is all about. You need guys like that, who can contribute in all facets of the game, and he’s a special player.

BB: How imperative do you feel it is for a player to make their way through the ranks of the ECHL, AHL, etc?

IT: I think it’s very important. Guys learn a lot about themselves when it comes to the challenges you encounter at the various levels. A lot of the players in our league especially, they were the best guys on the team when they grew up. And it’s very humbling to end up in the ECHL, when you see all the talent around you, and all the players fighting for jobs on the 30-some NHL teams there are. I think that’s what really causes the best to elevate their game, because they have to. They have no choice if they truly want to play at the highest level.

BB: If you were putting together the best all-time team, of NHL players, who would be on the ice for you?

IT: You have to start with Bobby Orr. Easily the best defenseman that’s every played the game, in my mind. Nobody else has been able to score from the blue-line what he did, and quite frankly, the guy revolutionized the position. Next to him I’d have Nicklas Lidstrom, and of course Patrick Roy between the pipes…I love that guy’s fire. As for forwards, I know it’s a bit “homer” of me, but I love a guy like Cam Neely. Someone who can beat the living snot out of you and then score three goals while you’re lying on the ice bleeding. Of course you have to have Gretzky out there, how could you not…and then to top of all off, let’s go with Mario Lemieux. I love that he played for the same team his entire career. You just don’t see that anymore. Plus, to leave the game and come back like he did, and STILL produce? Insane. Good luck beating that team.

BB: What would you consider the all-time best hockey movie ever made?

IT: That’s a tough one. The younger Ian would say Mighty Ducks, no question…but the older, more refined Ian will tell you Slapshot. I guess they always say don’t lose touch with your inner child, it’s bad for your health…so let’s go with the Ducks. Love me some Gordon Bombay. Knucklepuck!

iantasso4BB: What do you think of outdoor games being played in warm climates? Should this be something that should continue happening?

IT: It’s certainly interesting. I think four years ago while I was living in Boston I would have said it was blasphemy…but now living out here in Las Vegas for three years, I think my tone has changed. It’s truly amazing to see the sport of hockey thriving in warm areas, such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix…but that’s exactly it, it does thrive. The fan bases out here are so unreal, that I say why not, let them enjoy it like the East Coast boys do. There may be nothing like skating while the snow falls, but who am I to say they can’t throw down at Dodger Stadium? I think it’s great for the sport.


BB: Who was your favorite playing growing up and why?

IT: Jumbo Joe Thornton. Still, to this day, my favorite player, hands down. That guy caught a lot of flack in Boston for never winning a championship, and kind of got sent off in a cloud of smoke…but if there were anyone I’d like to see hoist the trophy besides my Bruins it would be Joe. He’s just so tough in the offensive zone…few guys possess the puck with the strength that he does, and it’s so difficult to separate him when he has possession. Time in the offensive zone wins you games, plain and simple. And he’ll set you up with as much of that as you need. He’s another one of those guys that can do it all in a game, and I think that’s what’s made him so successful in his career. To this day, the only Bruins Jersey I own is a Joey Thornton one with the captain’s C on the front. I’ll never get rid of that one.

BB: How long do you think you could last with no technology?

IT: Five minutes. My girlfriend always makes fun of me that I’m on my phone too much, and she’s right. The only issue now is you can do so much with it. Sure, you can call and text…but you know as well as I, now you can facebook, tweet, write, email, cure diseases…and when you’re in the sports media business like we are, you almost have no choice but to constantly be up to date. Every now and then it’s nice to set the phones and computers down and relax, but even that’s difficult sometimes. I always feel like I’m missing something big!

BB: If you could do a sit down interview with one person, hockey or otherwise, who would it be and why?

IT: To be honest, I would love to go overseas and pick the brains of the men and women who fight for our country. When I was in school, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Naranjo, a former U.S. soldier who lost his sight while fighting in Vietnam, and now is a world-renowned sculptor. It’s absolutely fantastic to look at what he’s been able to accomplish since then, all while being without the ability to see. You should check it out online some time, it’s really humbling. Anyway, hearing his stories of what life was like overseas; fighting for his country, and just how you change as a person during the whole process…it was incredible. Over here working in sports, we sometimes take ourselves too seriously. We stress and overanalyze and freak-out…and over what? I think it’s important for everyone to take a step back and look around. There’s a whole lot happening in this world, and if you don’t stop to smell the roses…you might miss some pretty wild stuff. Taking with Mr. Naranjo really changed my perspective on things. And I would love to travel a bit further down that road some time.

A big thank you to Ian for taking the time to talk with us and make sure you head over to Twitter and give him a follow @Tasso_Sports!

(Photo Credit: Ian Tasso)