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Before the Sharks: How Rusanowsky Landed His First Pro Job

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Credit: St. Lawrence University

Dan Rusanowsky’s path to the San Jose Sharks went through St. Lawrence University and the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks.

It was a chance friendship that helped Rusanowsky land his first pro job with New Haven.

Rusanowsky was a student and play-by-play announcer for the St. Lawrence Saints’ men’s ice hockey team from 1979 to 1986.

From 1983, courtesy of St. Lawrence University

From 1982, courtesy of St. Lawrence University

From 1983, courtesy of St. Lawrence University

In 1985-86, Mark Morris, fresh from a pro playing career that ended with the New Haven Nighthawks two years before, was hired by Saints head coach Joe Marsh for his first coaching job, as an assistant coach.

That’s when Morris met the 24-year-old Rusanowsky.

“Dan was enthusiastic. He was one of those guys that was just a fanatic about the program,” Morris recalled. “I picked up on that early on. We became fast friends.”

Marsh’s approval didn’t hurt.

“Joe was a real good people person. He surrounded himself with a lot of good people,” Morris observed. “Dan was one of them.”

Speaking of good people, just look at that season in St. Lawrence. Morris would go on to coach for over three decades for Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Manchester Monarchs, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, among other stops. Graduate assistant Don Vaughan would become the head coach of Colgate from 1992 to 2023.

And of course, there’s Rusanowsky.

From 1986, courtesy of Mark Morris

Rusanowsky’s enthusiasm, naturally, extended itself to the young broadcaster’s devotion to the craft.

“You could tell by the inflection in his voice, and the time he put into his job, that he wasn’t the average college kid that was just announcing a game or are on the air,” Morris said.

I’m sure all of this is familiar to San Jose Sharks fans who have enjoyed a front row seat to Rusanowsky’s picture-perfect calls for the last three decades.

So when Rusanowsky asked Morris for an introduction to Roy Mlakar, the president and GM of the Nighthawks, Morris was happy to oblige: “This guy really loved his job, and you knew that he’d be good for the game.”

Impressing Mlakar, however, was another story.

Mlakar liked Morris and respected his opinion, in part, as Morris remembered, because Morris helped Mlakar in a pinch as a last-minute guest at a Nighthawks promotional luncheon years ago.

“He introduced me, that was a good entree,” Rusanowsky acknowledged to San Jose Hockey Now recently. “I had no idea what to do or where to go.”

Rusanowsky had talked with other AHL organizations but hadn’t received any bites yet: “I talked to Adirondack. I talked to Maine. I talked to Baltimore. I talked to a few others.”

Mlakar found Rusanowsky’s college play-by-play raw and noted his inexperience with the most important component of representing an AHL franchise.

“How can that broadcaster help market the team? Bring revenue to the team, which is really the most important thing? There were a lot of different hats,” Rusanowsky said.

Mlakar didn’t immediately hire Rusanowsky. Steve Carroll, the current radio voice of the Anaheim Ducks, was New Haven’s announcer at the time.

But in another twist of fate, after the 1985-86 campaign, Carroll decided to return to his first love, baseball, specifically the Iowa Cubs. Mlakar remembered Rusanowsky’s enthusiasm. The fact that Rusanowsky was from New Haven helped too.

Mlakar gave Rusanowsky his first pro offer, more than anything because, as he put it, “just his willingness to do anything for the job.”

Rusanowsky became the play-by-play announcer and a jack of all trades for the Nighthawks from 1986 to 1991.

Fellow New Haven Nighthawks Alumni Mlakar, Carroll, Nickson Pay Tribute to Rusanowsky

In 1991, the expansion San Jose Sharks, impressed by Rusanowsky’s work with the Nighthawks, anointed him their first radio play-by-play announcer.

The rest, literally, is history. Rusanowsky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last week.

GOTTA SEE IT: Rusanowsky’s Hall of Fame Speech

“Even to this day, you can just tell that he puts a lot of time and energy into his job,” Morris said.

Rusanowsky still hawks the Sharks like he sold the Nighthawks.

“That’s what you do,” Rusanowsky said.

It’s funny to think about the twists of fate, the sliding doors that led Rusanowsky to a Hall of Fame career with the San Jose Sharks.

What if Morris hadn’t introduced Rusanowsky to Mlakar? What if Carroll hadn’t left the Nighthawks for baseball? What if Morris hadn’t done Mlakar that favor?

But Morris, a big part of getting Rusanowsky the gig that caught the Sharks’ attention, pooh-poohed those questions.

“It’s hard to hide talent,” he said. “When you’re passionate about something, it shows.”

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