As we close out our “30 Sharks” series, we speak with the man who has been with the San Jose Sharks since day one, Dan Rusanowsky.
For any aspiring broadcaster, to have the same job for 30 years wouldn’t even be a dream come true. Instead, it would border on pure fantasy. I don’t say this to sound cynical — it’s just difficult to find anyone who loves their job so much, and is so good at it, they would not even consider doing anything else for a living. Nevertheless, this has been the case for Dan Rusanowsky, who was hired by a brand-new San Jose Sharks team in 1991.
We’ve told the stories of 30 Sharks for 30 years of the franchise’s existence — it’s only appropriate to close out our series by focusing on a figure who has been with the San Jose Sharks every step of the way.
In this, the final installment of my “30 Sharks” series for San Jose Hockey Now, we focus on Sharks’ longtime radio broadcaster Dan Rusanowsky, who shares a plethora of wonderful stories over the course of his career with the franchise, including when he was hired and how he feels looking back on 30 years of success.
Arriving in San Jose
Born in Milford, Connecticut, Dan Rusanowsky grew up aspiring to be a sportscaster.
“I think that I wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster from the moment that I was able to relate what I was hearing to the game itself,” the longtime broadcaster reflected. “For me, that happened after attending my first NHL game at Madison Square Garden in New York and subsequently listening to the call of games on the radio.”
That passion turned into a career as in 1979, the 18-year-old Rusanowsky became the voice of St. Lawrence University‘s NCAA Division I hockey program — a position he held until 1986. While at St. Lawrence, Rusanowsky received a Bachelor’s Degree and later an M.B.A. from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.
Following his career at the collegiate level, Rusanowsky returned to his home state of Connecticut where he became the radio play-by-play voice of the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks. In 1990, though, the National Hockey League had officially decided to expand. So, for the first time since 1976, the NHL would have a team operating out of the Bay Area.
While many were drawn in by the new team’s unique logo and unprecedented color scheme of teal, black, and silver, the expansion Sharks marked something different, a potential career-altering opportunity for Rusanowsky. So, when the opportunity to join the team came along, he jumped at it.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that everyone in the business knew about the Sharks’ entrance into the NHL and what the possibilities were,” Rusanowsky began. “I contacted [the Sharks] as most did during the season before their first game, and had a delightful first impression when I visited for my job interview in early 1991. I interviewed with the President of the team, the Executive VP of Business Operations, and the General Manager. It was a thorough process, and I was struck by the excitement of the opportunity and how much I loved San Jose almost immediately.”
As for his aforementioned tenure in the college ranks, Rusanowsky admitted that his time at St. Lawrence helped pave the way for his career in San Jose.
“These experiences were instrumental,” he said without hesitation. “Without them, I would not likely have been able to embark on the journey that got me to the Sharks and the NHL. At St. Lawrence, I received an excellent education and learned the rudiments of calling a successful broadcast. I honed my craft there to prepare for the next level and began the process of learning how to go about it.”
Rusanowsky would have been remiss had he not acknowledged his tenure in New Haven as a steppingstone to the NHL. It was in his home state that the longtime broadcaster’s knowledge and passion for hockey expanded.
“In New Haven, I became immersed in the hockey business in all areas, learning how interrelated ticket sales, marketing, public relations, and play-by-play broadcast coverage goes hand in hand with the operations of the hockey department,” Rusanowsky added.
Cow Palace Tales
When the San Jose Sharks began playing in 1991, they called the Cow Palace home, located in nearby Daly City. Yet, while it wasn’t the most hockey-friendly venue, the aging arena did nonetheless serve some rich memories in the early days of the Sharks.
I had spoken with numerous players who were with the club during the Cow Palace era, and each had an interesting story or two about the old barn. Dan Rusanowsky was no exception to this as he shared some fascinating tales about the Sharks’ first home.
“The Cow Palace was a unique place,” he noted. “The first thing that you’d remember was that you walked upstairs to the locker rooms. Chicago Stadium, which had been an NHL arena for many years, you’d go downstairs to get to the locker rooms and that was unique enough, but the fact that you had to go upstairs to the visiting dressing rooms [at the Cow Palace] was definitely interesting.”
The stories only got better, though — or worse depending on your perspective.
“I remember one game against the Montreal Canadiens where we basically had a 55-minute delay because of the way the Zamboni driver there cleaned the ice,” Rusanowsky remembered. “He left the marsh peg in place and said that he used that to kind of measure and judge the distance from there to the boards. The only person I ever saw do it, and he never did it again after this night because the Zamboni actually hit the marsh peg and carved a big hole in the ice. They waited 55 minutes just to replace and fix it.”
Usually, this would mark the highlight of an evening. Of course, as the veteran Sharks broadcaster continued, it was evident just how unusual the Cow Palace really was.
“So, that same night if I’m not mistaken, there was a wedding on the ice and that was between the first and second period,” Rusanowsky continued. “So, the minister was asking, ‘Do you take this woman…’ and the fans in the stands were yelling, ‘Don’t do it,’ ‘It’s a trap,’ all kinds of stuff. So, and again, if I remember correctly, Guy Carbonneau scored the only goal in a 1-0 Canadiens win.”
That wasn’t the only tale, however, that involved the NHL’s most storied franchise.
“Another time and it was ironic because Montreal, again, was in town, they had a dramatic faceoff with about three seconds to play [in the third] with the Sharks down by a goal,” Rusanowsky added, describing the scene. “So, Kelly Kisio won the faceoff and Pat Falloon tied the game with a half-second left on the clock. That’s a goal that’s kind of commonplace now but it was that new that year because that was the first year that they started to use tenths of a second in measuring clock times. So, had that happened a year earlier, that goal wouldn’t have counted.”
Finally, Rusanowsky wrapped things up with his Cow Palace memories by recalling a story featuring the Sharks’ first enforcer — and a fan favorite, to boot — going up against, for all intents and purposes, the NHL’s heavyweight champion.
“And, of course at the Cow Palace, Link Gaetz fighting [Detroit Red Wings’ enforcer] Bob Probert, one of the great heavyweight bouts really in the history of the league,” a fond Rusanowsky recalls with a chuckle. “It happened right there, right in front of the Sharks bench and so they had ringside seats for that one. Of course, the exploits of ‘The Linkster’ remain resonant to this day.”
While he has had the privilege of calling nearly 2,300 Sharks games over the course of 30 years, Dan Rusanowsky was even more honored when some former NHLers became colleagues upon joining the broadcast booth, including former Sharks Jamie Baker, Mark Smith, and Scott Hannan, as well as former Stanley Cup champion, Bret Hedican.
Rusanowsky spoke about his experiences with his player-turned-broadcaster colleagues, specifically Baker and Hedican, whom he worked with the most.
“Oh gosh. They both have such great knowledge and understanding of the game,” noted the veteran broadcaster. “Of course, Jamie’s moved on, but Bret is still part of our broadcast team, and [I was] working with Scott Hannan and Mark Smith in a similar way this season.
“It’s interesting because Jamie’s a center ice man and Bret’s a defenseman, and Scott Hannan is a defenseman and Mark Smith is a center ice man. So, they have different ways of looking at the game and it’s really interesting to see their perspectives. Of course, the newer guys are learning the broadcasting side while Bret is extremely polished and Jamie did a tremendous job in the years that he was here.
“I think they all provide a perspective for being in that locker room, being in the trenches, and definitely lending that perspective and relay it to the fans who are listening in a way that they understand but also in a way that educates all of us. It’s been a real privilege to work with those guys.”
The Legacy of Patrick Marleau
Throughout their 30-year history, the San Jose Sharks have had so many fan favorites, All-Stars, and future Hall of Famers suit up for them. From Owen Nolan and Teemu Selanne to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks’ all-time roster includes some of the greatest players — and fascinating characters — to ever grace an NHL rink.
Yet, as of May 2021, the Sharks, aside from the league-wide No. 99, have yet to retire any numbers. That, however, is sure to change in due time. One number you can be sure will be hanging from the rafters of the SAP Center will be No. 12, which belongs to the great Patrick Marleau.
Aside from brief stints in Toronto and Pittsburgh, Marleau is a lifer for the San Jose Sharks, having played 21 of his 24 NHL seasons with the club.
This past season, Marleau became a part of hockey immortality when he surpassed the late, great Gordie Howe to become the league’s all-time leader in games played with 1,768. Needless to say, this was a milestone that encouraged a great deal of reflection and celebration for Marleau but also for the San Jose Sharks and the entire National Hockey League.
Dan Rusanowsky was one of the countless people within the Sharks organization who felt immense pride for Marleau and his milestone achievement.
“It is a record that may never be broken,” a matter-of-fact Rusanowsky said. “It stood from 1961 until this past month, and will likely last another 50-60 years. As I mentioned, it may never be broken. Careers simply do not last this long very often. Patrick Marleau is the quintessential Shark: Drafted by the team, developed into a superb player, and one who became the hallmark of consistency for the club.
“Going into this season, he has played in over 900 consecutive games at age 41, he’s played in over 1,600 as a Shark, and he’s scored 10 goals or more in 22 consecutive years leading up to this one. He has game-winning goals against 30 of the 31 current teams, with only Vegas left.
“He has treated everyone, including me, with the greatest of class and professionalism, and he has worn the Sharks sweater as well as anyone in history. When you realize what he has had to endure to achieve these amazing numbers, it truly is remarkable. The best thing is that he has never thought he’s bigger than the game or anyone else around him. He’s simply a great person. The fact that he has beaten Gordie Howe’s record is particularly amazing, given Mr. Hockey’s longevity and legendary career.”
When the 2020-21 season ended, Patrick Marleau had 1,779 games under his belt. In spite of his accomplishments, though, the 41-year-old is not ready to retire just yet.
A Lifetime of Memories
From those first two years of futility in the Cow Palace to the shocking upset of the Red Wings in 1994, all the way to reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 to the countless highs and lows in between, the San Jose Sharks have been through it all in their 30 years of existence, and Dan Rusanowsky is proud to say that he has been there every step of the way. It is an experience the veteran broadcaster would not change for anything in the world.
“Just being in this position is a tremendous honor and privilege to not only preach the gospel of hockey to several generations now of hockey fans but also to continue the tradition that is in our audio broadcast, whether it’s on the radio or not,” Rusanowsky fondly noted. “Right now, we’re on the Sharks radio station, online, on satellite, and everywhere. Audio broadcasting is the theatre of the mind, so the idea is to spark the imagination of somebody, whether they’re a longtime fan or a 13-year-old kid doing their homework and listening to the game and falling in love with the game. That’s how it happened for me. So, it’s a privilege to be able to do all those things and especially to have been able to do it for the number of years that I’ve had.
“All in all, it’s just been really great to be a part of that and I think that it’s an achievement and a fulfillment of a lifetime to be in the best league in the world and to work with great professionals in my field all around the league.
“But, I think my favorite memories all around would have to be in the playoffs.”
Understandably, Rusanowsky couldn’t help but reflect on some of the aforementioned highlights from the Sharks’ rich history.
“Of course, I was in the booth [at Joe Louis Arena] when Jamie Baker scored that dramatic goal against Detroit that shocked the hockey world in ‘94,” he beamed. “The next year, Ray Whitney in double-overtime in Game 7 in Calgary. A lot of people forget about that one but that was an electrifying moment. Then, of course, the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. [Joonas] Donskoi in overtime and Martin Jones playing such great goal in [Game 3] against Pittsburgh and again in Game 5 that forced Game 6.”
Rusanowsky wasn’t done there and, frankly, who could blame him?
“And the double-edged sword that was the Vegas series that has happened and the great rivalry that came from that,” he added. “Winning Game Six with Martin Jones making 58 saves [in 2019] and Hertl scoring a shorthanded goal in overtime. Then, of course, Game Seven, which, right now, stands as the greatest game that’s ever been played in the history of the Sharks in terms of drama, excitement, and what was at stake at the time. So many games against L.A., Anaheim, and all these great rivals, St. Louis in the Western Conference Final in 2019, I could go on for a long time.”
In 2013, Rusanowsky was recognized for his contributions to broadcasting as he was officially inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in the sports category.
The veteran sportscaster also became a published author in 2018 when he co-wrote “If These Walls Could Talk: San Jose Sharks,” with reporter Ross McKeon. The book, which covers some behind-the-scene stories of the Sharks franchise, was released as part of Triumph Books‘ “If These Walls Could Talk” series.
Over the course of their 30-year existence, so many have come and gone with the San Jose Sharks. For Dan Rusanowsky, he is in the enviable position of saying that he has been with this proud organization since day one — and he wears it like a badge of honor each and every day.
What started as a unique opportunity in 1991 manifested itself into a lifelong relationship with one of the most successful professional sports franchises ever. Rusanowsky may be too modest to admit it, but the franchise’s longtime radio personality has nonetheless helped build the San Jose Sharks into what they are today.
Whether you love them or hate them, no one can deny the impact that the San Jose Sharks have had on the Bay Area, on the state of California, and on the National Hockey League.
Here’s to 30 years of the San Jose Sharks, and many, many more.
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