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Lightning’s Caley Chelios leans in as new radio analyst

Now the official color commentator for the Bolts’ road broadcasts, Chelios has won over observers with her knowledge.
Caley Chelios, radio color analyst and digital reporter for the Tampa Bay Lightning, interviews Lightning center Cedric Paquette (13) in the tunnel as Paquette  is on his way into the locker room after warms before taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in Tampa.
Caley Chelios, radio color analyst and digital reporter for the Tampa Bay Lightning, interviews Lightning center Cedric Paquette (13) in the tunnel as Paquette is on his way into the locker room after warms before taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 1, 2019
Updated Nov. 3, 2019

NEW YORK — As the Lightning gained momentum against the Devils, radio play-by-play announcer Dave Mishkin observed that they had a lot of space to skate. Analyst Caley Chelios took it from there.

“The Lightning are a very dangerous team in transition, and I think that fuels their confidence,” she said. “When they have a lot of success, they’re using their defense in that. But the forwards are having no problem entering the zone right now and getting at least that original shot on net.”

It’s a singular statement from a relatively new voice to the Lightning broadcasts, but it’s also a reflection of her knowledge about the team and her understanding of the game.

It’s a voice fans are coming to appreciate, and it might even be part of the makings of a role model for a new generation of aspiring female broadcasters.

Four years ago, Chelios started with the Lightning as a sideline reporter and began taking steps toward being an analyst.

Last season she joined the radio broadcast on most road games. This season she was made the analyst for all road games and fills in for team founder Phil Esposito when he is unavailable for home broadcasts. Her title is now radio analyst and digital reporter.

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“When I was in school, I wanted to be an analyst,” Chelios, 26, said. “It was tough because I didn’t know what that entails. There weren’t a lot of women, either. I didn’t know if this is a field that women can really do.”

The role of analyst, on TV as well as radio, is most often filled by a former NHL player — Esposito, for example, and Brian Engblom, who provides the color commentary on Fox Sports Sun’s Lightning broadcasts. But when Chelios saw A.J. Mleczko, a former member of the U.S. women’s team and a 1998 Olympic gold medalist, on the Stanley Cup playoff broadcasts in 2018, she saw an opening.

Chelios started with the web broadcasts of last year’s three-on-three tournament at the end of Lightning development camp, then did preseason games. The Lightning liked her work and began using her on some road games.

The arrangement was more casual at the beginning. When Chelios was traveling with the team and Mishkin was to call a game alone, she stepped in. Her expanded role for this season was announced in September.

Caley Chelios provides analysis on the Lightning's radio broadcast of the Oct. 29 game against the Rangers.
Caley Chelios provides analysis on the Lightning's radio broadcast of the Oct. 29 game against the Rangers. [ DIANA C. NEARHOS | Diana C. Nearhos | Times ]

“We want her to be an analyst,” Lightning executive vice president of communications Bill Wickett said. “We’ve been impressed with her knowledge of the game. We like her, and we think she adds something to our broadcast, and we want to help her develop in that kind of role.”

There is a difference between being a reporter and an analyst. Chelios’ reporter role has her interviewing players and coaches, and sharing what she has learned with fans. As an analyst on broadcasts, she offers game and team observations, and breaks down the play. Both jobs require both sets of skills.

Chelios brings what she learns from interviewing players and coaches to her game broadcasts. This season she spends more time talking to players off camera, which helps her gain insights she might later bring up in broadcasts.

She carries a notebook for jotting things down and then organizes files on her MacBook to keep in front of her during games. Chelios toggles between the official game statistics and her notes on players and things to watch, offering insights during stoppages in play.

Mishkin, who has done the Lightning’s radio play-by-play for 17 years, said there are three pieces to a good analyst. You need to know the players’ backstories and share anecdotes. You need to break down a play as it happens. And you need to have a handle on the team’s overall play in the game and in the season.

“(Chelios) combines all three of those,” Mishkin said. “If somebody makes a play, she was able to assess play: It was a smart pinch, or someone played a 2-on-1 really well. But she also is able to express in broader terms which way the wind is blowing in a particular game.”

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Mishkin stresses that Chelios wasn’t starting at zero when she did her first radio broadcast. She has improved as she has gotten more comfortable in the role, but she came to the job with a lot of knowledge.

That knowledge has impressed general manager Julien BriseBois. He sent Chelios a note when she was starting the job saying as much. That note, coming from someone so high in the organization and who doesn’t directly oversee her side of things, carried weight for Chelios.

BriseBois knew Chelios as a reporter who asks good questions, is professional and is fun to interact with at work.

“I didn’t know how much she knew about the game,” he said. “When I heard her the first time, I was really impressed. From Day 1 … her analysis is really good.”

That knowledge comes from growing up in the sport. She is proud to be the daughter of Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios, who spent 26 years in the NHL. But Caley wants to build her own reputation. In college at Northwestern, she didn’t always offer her last name when introducing herself.

Caley Chelios reports rinkside on the Lightning's Morning Skate Show before the Oct. 26 game against the Predators.
Caley Chelios reports rinkside on the Lightning's Morning Skate Show before the Oct. 26 game against the Predators. [ Courtesy of the Lightning ]

“Everything I know about hockey came from him,” she said of her father. “In a sense, I’m only in this because of him.”

Chelios has gotten used to being identified as “Chris Chelios’ daughter” but has confidence that her work stands on its own. She majored in communications at Northwestern and earned a master’s degree in journalism while also playing on the Wildcats’ lacrosse team. She won the NCAA national championship with the Wildcats in 2012.

The Lightning wasn’t looking to put Chris Chelios’ daughter in a broadcast booth any more than they went out looking for a woman to put in one. Chelios earned her way there.

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“You need role models to inspire others,” BriseBois said. “I think she will end up being a role model, and eventually it won’t be as surprising when a woman is analyzing a NHL hockey game.”

Chelios doesn’t see herself as a role model yet. She is too young, too inexperienced. She’s quick to point to others — such as Mleczko and Cassie Campbell, a former Canadian Olympic player who works for Canada’s Sportsnet network — as women who made her transition easier.

“I want, one day, people to look at me the way I look at some of the top women that I admire in this industry,” Chelios said. “But it is cool to be in another wave of women trying to pave the way.”

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.