JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, hockey players gotta play hockey and news people gotta be news people.
Well, at least the first half of that is right.
One fine recent day, the Jacksonville Icemen hosted some First Coast News on-air personalities at practice, then the boys on blades traded in their skates to try anchoring a newscast. The results, not surprisingly, weren’t pretty. They were also unsurprisingly hilarious.
“I get to fulfill my dreams!” said First Coast News reporter Nick Perreault, who grew up in Michigan rooting for the Detroit Red Wings. “I’m like a kid in a candy store!”
Nick, sports anchor Mia O’Brien and I suited up to join Jacksonville’s ECHL entry during a team tuneup at the Jacksonville Ice Sportsplex. Coach Jason Christie interjected jabs with the players.
“You guys are going to be the news anchors!” he said to captain Garet Hunt with a wry smile, all while putting the squad through its drills and rolling out the welcome mat for his three walk-ons.
We were as much spectators to one-another as participants, as we each interacted with numerous players, all of whom were truly hospitable.
“Helmet … shin pads … make sure you have fun!,” said forward and fan favorite Wacey Rabbit, one of the team’s top scorers.
In one direction, Mia was skating along, GoPro camera in hand, with defensemen seemingly twice her height.
“Look at me go!” she said during a moving selfie, “Doing multiple things at once!”
In another direction, Nick was getting drilled – hammered, more like it – by Hunt, another perennial fan favorite who, at 5’9”, backs down from no opponent.
I was no help to Nick, acting as instigator by asking Hunt to demonstrate maneuvers that usually earn a trip to the penalty box or even game misconduct.
“So, is this how you slewfoot a guy?” I asked defenseman Dajon Mingo in mock innocence, as Hunt put the forbidden backward tripping move on my esteemed colleague.
Hunt seemed only too happy to put on a clinic including the slewfoot, cross-checking, elbowing and, of course, eventually dropping the gloves for a faux fisticuff that drew plenty of noise, flying equipment, and laughs aplenty … but fortunately no injuries!
A few slapshots, an end-to-end race (I was slowest, of course), and it was about time to shift on-the-fly to the First Coast News studios.
“I think going to the studio is going to be a lot easier than playing hockey,” Hunt surmised. “It’s all guys here, there are some girls there, so it can’t be too bad switching jobs!”
Forward Cam Critchlow, along with Hunt and Mingo, came to deliver the news, and although the material was from the previous day’s noon newscast and not aired live, the laughs were even louder in the studio than on the ice – if that’s possible.
Under the glare of lights, we helped get Critchlow and Hunt oriented to the choreography of which cameras to address and when, all while Mingo awaited his turn as weather anchor for a day. Although much of the exercise entailed reading news copy and controlling teleprompter cadence with foot pedals, Critchlow and Hunt proved to be naturals, saving the best moments for the unscripted.
“I can’t find my papers!” Hunt exclaimed at one point.
“That’s me!” Critchlow laughed early on, during an odd existential moment of seeing himself on several monitors at once.
“We’re going off the cuff!” Hunt said in another moment, and it was off the cuff that the guys shone the most.
After an introduction by his hockey mates turned fellow newsmen, Mingo invoked his inner Ollie Brown (Family Guy), with the briefest of weather reports: “It’s cold!” drawing hysterics from his mates and the studio crew.
At one point Critchlow, a native of Prince Edward Island, Canada, did an impression of famous coach-turned-sportscaster Don Cherry, “He’s a good Canadian boy!” tapping his fingers on the desk as Cherry often does during Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts.
The rest of the "newscast" was a flurry of serious reads somehow made jovial by our hockey heroes.
“I screwed up, so … do we restart?!” was one of countless exclamations. In another moment, Hunt’s cell phone rang while Critchlow was trying to read a story about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
It all wound down with an aerial view of Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
“There’s our home,” Hunt acknowledged from the desk, followed by an apparent turnabout from his earlier prediction. “That’s where we work, way easier than working here!”
Like a late punch – er, punchline – Hunt held up a scrambled pile of news scripts, “Like, they wanted me to read all this and I can’t – look at this!”
At last, like the most seasoned of news anchors, Hunt turned to Mingo. “Thanks for doing the weather with us, Dajon.”
Mingo’s final summation?
“It’s still cold!”
“Thanks for having us here, and go Icemen!” they concluded.
We sure hope to have them back.