In a season that has resulted with the landmark broadcast deal for the Calgary Inferno, the CWHL has featured a remarkable group of broadcasters, comprising a growing chapter in CWHL lore. In any sport, athletes and coaches may be the focal point, but the role of the announcer is just as critical to the fan experience. Weaving a remarkable narrative that fascinates fans, serving as the gatekeeper towards providing a compelling portrait for the mind’s eye, Nicco Cardarelli’s talents behind the microphone are solidifying a fan base keen on keeping up with their on-ice hockey heroines.
Even for the most casual hockey fan in Canada, the likes of Don Cherry and Ron MacLean are household names. With the women’s game raising awareness of its brand and product through online broadcasts, the on-air talent has been just as crucial, taking on the role of ambassador. Among such talent, Nicco Cardarelli has enjoyed six years of announcing the world-class talent that graces CWHL ice, one of the longest tenured members of the league’s media team.
“Aside from calling the games, because there truly is nothing I love doing more than calling play-by-play, I would say the most enjoyable part of being involved in women’s hockey is getting to know the amazing women who are trailblazing a path for the future.
I have been fortunate to get to know some amazing players, who are even more incredible people off the ice. These women deserve all the positive media attention in the world, and I am very fortunate to be entrusted to call their games and be (the) footnote in their story.”
Providing a continuity that has helped to define an influential time for the CWHL, one that has been highlighted by the introduction of the highly popular All-Star Game, player compensation, expansion to China, along with games contested in NHL venues, Cardarelli’s dedication to the female game has extended beyond the boundaries of the professional game. Representing key milestones in his career, such events that have represented unique broadcast work both occurred in his home province of Ontario; the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Ottawa and the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s World Juniors in St. Catharines, respectively.
“Besides CWHL, I also call play-by-play (PxP) for Canadian Blind Hockey, and League 1 Ontario Soccer, both of which have women playing. I also just called the first ever Leafs Gaming Day NHL19 tournament for the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
Having witnessed the evolution of professional women’s ice hockey first-hand, Cardarelli has also established himself as a constant presence for the CWHL’s clubs based in the Greater Toronto Area: the Markham (formerly Brampton) Thunder and the Toronto Furies. Announcing the action for both, he has become a familiar voice for their growing fan bases, possessing the potential to one day hold a revered spot among such sporting enthusiasts, akin to Joe Bowen with the Maple Leafs, and Jerry Howarth, formerly with the Blue Jays.
Yet, Cardarelli’s CWHL debut holds a connection to his academic roots. As the 2012 Clarkson Cup Playoffs were contested in Niagara Falls, Ontario, the event served as a bridge between two unique phases in his tutelage.
“I was finishing my second year of broadcast school at Niagara College, and a teacher mentioned an opportunity to call some hockey games…I remember him saying it was basically the Stanley Cup of Women’s Hockey. Of course, I said yes, as I was very excited about the idea.”
The opportunity for Cardarelli to make his CWHL debut at the event would result in a brush with history. Of note, the Finals resulted in Liz Knox of the Brampton Thunder becoming the first rookie goaltending to start a Finals match. In addition, Patrick Rankine of the Montreal Stars became the first coach to capture a pair of Cup championships, while the Cup victory also allowed scoring champion Meghan Agosta the opportunity to join the Triple Gold Club for Women (which recognizes Winter Games gold, an IIHF World Championship, and the Cup victory).
“I ended up calling three or four games at the 2012 Clarkson Cup, and I have been fortunate to be calling games for the CWHL since then.”
The journey that has unfolded since has taken on a unique place in the league’s heritage. Perhaps one of the most under-recognized facets of the female game are the commendable contributions of men in its evolution, especially at the burgeoning professional ranks. The fraternity of administrators, coaches, media and volunteers, of which Cardelli is proud to be part of, have been just as essential to the league’s growth.
From a CWHL perspective, just a small fraction of this exceptional legacy also includes Richard Scott, who donated the Angela James Bowl. In addition, the likes of Brad Morris and Chris Emmanuel (administration), Patrick Rankine, Scott Reid and Tim Bothwell (coaching), Rob del Mundo and Ben Smith (media), superlative photographers Dave Holland and Brandon Taylor, along with trainer Evan Robinson plus long-time Thunder volunteer Don Simmonds, constitute a significant brotherhood whose role in league lore is a lasting one.
Undoubtedly, some of the highlights of Cardarelli’s CWHL career has involved the privilege of calling many games that held a special place in league history. In reflecting on the many seasons worth of games that Cardelli has announced for the CWHL, his favorites are both found in the postseason.
Surprisingly, said games were both contested in the semi-finals, each destined to hold historic effects. While the 2014 edition of the Toronto Furies would defeat the defending champion Boston Blades to capture the Clarkson Cup, as Natalie Spooner became the first competitor to win both Winter Games gold and the Clarkson in the same year, the path to glory was just as suspenseful. Against the Montreal Stars high-powered offense, a valiant Furies team forced a shootout, knocking their opponents off their perch while staking their claim in the championship conversation.
Four years later, the impact of expansion was felt throughout the postseason. Led by Kelli Stack, the first American-born player to win the Angela James Bowl, the Kunlun Red Star would eliminate the Calgary Inferno, who appeared in the previous two Cup finals, in the deciding game of the series. Contested in the neutral site of Markham, Ontario, triple overtime was required to determine the winner as Alexandra Carpenter scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history.
Calling the longest game in Clarkson Cup playoff history, which saw the Red Star win their first CWHL postseason series, they would also become the second ever first-year team, behind the 2011 Toronto Furies, to reach the Cup finals. The victory also brought with it a sense of gratification for Cardarelli, providing a unique personal milestone, while his superlative work was also recognized by one of the game’s icons,
“There are two that immediately come to mind… the 2014 Toronto Furies shootout win vs. Montreal to go to the Clarkson Cup Final, and the triple overtime game last season where Kunlun Red Star knocked out Calgary. I had never called a triple-OT game before, so that was pretty wild, especially learning that Ron MacLean complemented my call of the game-winning goal on Hockey Night in Canada.”
Taking into account that one of the foundations of a successful hockey team involves the feeling of unity, one which can create the environment of a second family for many players, it has also served to reinforce some of Cardarelli’s values. While he has definitely found inspiration in the work ethic of the wondrous women who grace the ice, along with the presence of influential mentors, the meaning of commitment was imparted early on by what has proven to be his most important source of encouragement, certainly embodying the positive effects of teamwork.
“My biggest influences as a broadcaster are people who are not in broadcasting; my family. My whole family has been so supportive of me as I pursue my goal of becoming an NHL PxP announcer. My parents instilled a work ethic in me and a drive to succeed that has helped me persevere through the challenging times. My sisters, my brother-in-law, and my cousins have been my biggest fans.
I have been lucky to network with incredible broadcasters like Brian Williams, Chris Cuthbert, and Gord Miller, and I am beyond grateful for their support and advice, but I would never have gotten into sportscasting at all without the support of my family.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images obtained from Facebook