Style Features

Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Kevin Weekes

When it comes to hockey, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who knows more about the game than Kevin Weekes. As a goaltender, he played more than 348 games in the National Hockey League for teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. In 2009, he made history as the first Black analyst for the sport, and this year, he brought his expertise as a broadcaster to ESPN for the network’s NHL coverage.

What will your role be at ESPN?
For ESPN specifically, I’m doing studio, live games, intermissions and some color commentary. Right now, there are a lot of moving parts, but I’m like a Swiss army knife. It helps being versatile, and I’m enjoying it. I’m also doing a bit for The Sports Network (TSN) back home in Canada.

What can we look forward to this NHL season?
We have the league on more platforms and on bigger ones. It’s not only ESPN, but TNT is coming aboard as a major partner. That helps to amplify the players and change the perception of the sport. I hope it can elevate the game to the level it deserves. But it’s also important that the fans are back in person. They are the soundtrack of sports. Go into any venue, and it’s their passion that is the drumbeat and orchestra behind the players.

Tell me a story from your days as a player.
I remember being in Philly when the Phantoms used to play at the old Spectrum. They would get 12-plus thousand people a game. It was the season opener during my rookie year in the American League, and I had just turned 20. It was Frank “The Animal” Bialowas Night. They had a tiger in a cage from the Philadelphia Zoo on the ice. Who does that? This was my “welcome to pro” moment. Strobe lights going off in the Spectrum, fans going nuts—I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

In baseball and even football, we’re seeing a bigger focus on analytics. Is that happening in hockey?
It’s certainly around. Each team is unique for how they do their business, but some do skew a little more analytic-forward. Personally, I think it’s a tool. It can bring some valuable, quantifiable information, and the key thing is what you do with it. However, not everything is quantifiable. Look at Patrick Kane for example. This is a guy who would play on three of four different teams when he was growing up. There are things he has that you can’t quantify with a metric.

Tell me about the young coaches that we should be paying closer attention to.
Jay Leach is now one of the assistant coaches with the Seattle Kraken. Another is Ryan Mougenel, who replaced Leach in his previous position as head coach of the Providence Bruins. I also would mention one of Mougenel’s assistant coaches, Matt Thomas. Jason Payne is a tough guy who played pro for a long time. He’s now the head coach in Cincinnati. My guy David Nemirovsky does an outstanding job. Finally, I would say Mike Van Ryn, who Blues fans know well. Those are some emerging guys that I would keep an eye on.

Who is the best skater in the game?
Connor McDavid is a fighter jet on the ice.

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