Hahn to Call 1,000th Game on Saturday
For Hahn it is a milestone marker in what began as a small group of people trying to help San Jose land a hockey franchise. Back in the late 1980s, Hahn’s wife, KPIX Evening Weatherperson Roberta Gonzales had just taken a similar job at San Jose’s KNTV. Thus, Hahn was about to move to Silicon Valley. The family began researching the city by getting the San Jose Mercury News mailed to them and in doing so found out the city was working on funding an arena.
Upon his arrival, Hahn hooked up with other South Bay people who saw the potential of professional hockey in San Jose and went to work. Their first meeting was at the House of Pizza which still sits on the edge of downtown.
“When we originally started, we named ourselves ‘NHL Hockey San Jose,’” Hahn said. “We did that because that’s what we wanted to do, bring the NHL to San Jose. This was right after the arena was approved. We formed that group for two reasons, one being we wanted to bring the NHL hockey to San Jose. We figured if we used the NHL registered trademark they would recognize us and make us stop doing that. Our hopes were that it would get their attention. Which it eventually did.”
The NHL politely asked the group to stop using its name.
“We got a letter from the commissioner saying to stop using the trademark name,” Hahn said. “But it was in a nice way. It was perfect, we got their attention. We then changed our name to Pro Hockey San Jose from that point forward. Basically what we did was sign up people to join this organization so they would get a quarterly newsletter and a T-shirt and we hoped they would be on the original season ticket holder list.”
There was a lot of nitty-gritty work in those days.
“We would put flyers on windshields at 49ers games,” Hahn said. “They would have an NHL exhibition game every year, so we would go up there and we would sit outside even if they didn’t want us there. We would go to pizza parlors to show hockey games and recruit there. There was a lot of knocking on doors and changing people’s perception of what hockey was in the Bay Area.”
Hahn and his group were aligned with Howard Baldwin, the one-time owner of the Hartford Whalers, but it didn’t pan out for Baldwin to get the franchise rights.
“What we were doing is we were working with Howard Baldwin and Morris Belzberg,” Hahn said. “They came to us and said they knew what we were doing. They wanted to liaison with us to get introduced to the mayor and things like that. We had already had a relationship with Tom McEnery, so we used our connections to get them together.
“The Gunds then cut a deal with Belzberg and Baldwin and said we will sell you the North Stars if you give up your San Jose rights to us,” Hahn added. “They flipped the North Stars to Green who ended up moving them to Dallas. Just in the six months that they owned the North Stars they were able to flip them to Green and make eight million dollars in the process.”
Had Baldwin’s group been in charge of the club, Hahn would have been the play-by-play announcer from Day One, but the Gunds had a different management group in mind. However, in a weird twist of fate, Hahn was able to make a recommendation that would put him back in the game. The management group which didn’t hire him for the initial play-by-play position asked him if he could recommend a producer.
“Short term, I was out of luck,” Hahn said. “So I’m like great, you send me a form letter that I didn’t get the job and then call me because you’re looking for a producer. So I recommended Mark Stulberger. I had been working with him on the Kings and they end up hiring Mark. Then Mark comes back and calls me and tells me that Joe Starkey has been named the voice of the Sharks but he has conflicts with Cal football, basketball and 49ers football. Can you fill in when there are conflicts? I was on the first-ever broadcast at home. I did 15 games each of the first two seasons that Joe couldn’t do because of conflict. I did all those TV games.”
Hockey is a superstitious sport, so Hahn kept quiet about his record while calling games initially.
“The first TV game I ever did, we lost 9-0 in New Jersey,” Hahn said. “It wasn’t until the second season I told anyone this because I knew how superstitious hockey people are but I was 0-for-15 games that first year. Whenever I showed up, they lost. Early in the second season, we won at Tampa Bay in the old Expo Hall, that was my first win.”
At the end of the second season, the Sharks decided they wanted an announcer to be available for every game and since Starkey was busy with his other options, Hahn finally got the full-time gig.
Over the course of his career, Hahn has been a Sharks staple on the air, but he has had numerous color men until he and Remenda found their unique chemistry on the air. In fact, Hahn was the one who called Remenda about being on the air. That helped start Remenda’s career.
“He wasn’t interested at the time (doing Sharks color on radio), but eventually he got the gig and then Steve Konroyd left and they gave him the opportunity to do TV,” Hahn said. “I’ve had some chemistry with all my guys. Probably the other guy that I had the most chemistry with was ‘Stemmer’ (Pete Stemkowski). He was old school and we had a lot of fun. The magic word in this business is chemistry. When you have it, it makes up for other things that you don’t have. But people enjoy when the people they’re listening to have a connection with them. It creates a 3-way dynamic. I don’t really know how it works, but it does.”
In the masses of games he’s called, there is still one signature game for Hahn.
“It’s still Game 7 in Detroit when Jamie Baker scored that goal,” said Hahn of that game in the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs. “That’s still it to me. One it was like holy cow, we have a chance to win this game and knock out the No. 1 seed after losing 71 games last year and two, when that game was over and know I don’t mind telling you, it choked me up. Because a lot of work did go into the things we did for Pro Hockey San Jose.
The best moment yet to come in Sharks history will be a bit bittersweet for Hahn.
“We will have to probably get to the Cup before something will top that for me,” Hahn said. “Unfortunately, if we get to a Conference Finals or the Finals I won’t be calling that game anyways. So I’m not sure if anything will top it.”
With the 1,000-game milestone coming up, Hahn will have a little time to reflect on his role helping forge the dynamic of what is Sharks hockey.
“Now to see it where it is now, in only 20 years, for it to take as big of a hold as it has is incredible,” said Hahn.
Looking back on his San Jose time, Hahn is very appreciative for the great people he’s come across and a couple come to the top of the list. And some of the memories are historical and some are simply great memories.
“There have been so many,” Hahn said. “When Wayne Gretzky came in here and tied Gordie Howe’s record, (even though it turned out to be a bad moment for the Sharks). They ended up tying us in a game that we should have won. But I was part of a moment in hockey history. That is one of the small things that stick out. Little things like the night that Mike Ricci got cut in three spots in one night. Every time he came to the bench, he had another wound. He had blood coming from over here so they put a bandage on it, and then over there so they would put a bandage on that. And finally the third time he just came to the bench and Scott Thornton looked at him and they just started laughing. Here is Ricci with blood all over his uniform and more new blood coming off of his face and all these guys are just laughing. Those are those hockey moments that happen along the way. He always laid his heart out especially in the playoffs. He’s one of those guys that did take it to another level. That’s why he won a Cup and why the organization hated to see him on his last legs because those kind of players are so hard to find.
“My first year full time, Igor Larionov still sticks out to me as one of my all time favorite Sharks,” Hahn continued. “We actually had a top line because of him and eventually a top five-man unit. Then when I read his book about all the things he went through in Russia that he had to battle through just to get into the NHL and escape the authoritative regime and the way he was treated over there, he was amazing. If he was in the League that entire time he would be one of the all-time All-Stars. And yet after all of that, he’s still one of the classiest people you’ll ever meet.”
Hahn appreciates the current team and their accomplishments as well and enjoys the Sharks current status as one of the NHL’s top franchises.
“In more recent times for us to beat Calgary here in Game 7, the first Game 7 in our building, that was memorable,” said Hahn of that 2008 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals series. “The dramatic moments are always the highlights, like in Game 7 when J.R. did what he did. Joe’s goal in Game 5 in Calgary when it looked like if we lost this game we were going to lose the series. Then out of no where Douglas Murray takes that shot and with five seconds to go we win that game.”
Hahn has had some fortuitous timing in his career with his wife getting the job in San Jose before there even was a team being critical to his Sharks fame. However, his start in broadcasting was due to a bit of lucky timing as well.
“There was a charity event in my high school where all of us vowed to each only a bowl of rice for three consecutive days to simulate what people in third world countries would have to survive on,” Hahn said. “It was a challenge by our social studies teacher to teach us what it’s like to live in poverty. The local radio station came out and they were looking for a kid to interview. Somehow I got picked and they played the interview on the station. I guess it went well, so he called me two days later and asked if I could co-host with him on his morning talk show. I had to get permission to miss three hours of school. I did and it just so happened that one of the biggest celebrities to come through town was there that morning and I got to interview him: Colonel Sanders from Kentucky Fried Chicken, the original guy. There was one Kentucky Fried Chicken in Whitehorse and he was there on a promotional appearance.”
From that simple time being the interviewer at a small town radio station, Hahn has moved on to be the interviewer on television in America’s fourth largest media market. Hahn wasn’t sure if the person who gave him the big break knows what became of his young hire.
“I don’t know that he does,” Hahn said. “His name was John Dumas. He was a realtor who also worked in radio and he gave me my first break. From that point I got the bug. Within a year, I worked at the local TV station behind the scenes.”
Now the only debate is if the Sharks are a bigger part of the Hahn household or if Hahn is a bigger part of the Sharks world. Hahn’s eldest son works in the visiting locker room on game nights and both boys are active in youth hockey.
For the Hahn family, hockey seems like a 24/7 thing. For Hahn himself, it has been Sharks hockey for 1,000 games.