Fox Sports North announced Friday that the contract of longtime Gopher hockey TV play-by-play man Frank Mazzocco was not going to be renewed for the upcoming season, ending his nearly 20-season tie with the team.
Mazzocco had worked in the FSN booth with former Gopher coach Doug Woog for the past several seasons, and FSN announced that Woog's role would be different next season. Mazzocco will be replaced by Anthony LaPanta in the booth for next season.
LaPanta has received some exposure doing high school hockey games on FSN and called games on the radio for the State High School Hockey Tournament. He is also the lead studio announcer for FSN's Twins, Gophers, Wild, and Timberwolves coverage, and may be familiar to some fans as one of the Twins radio announcers in the 1998 season. He'll likely do a fine job in the both.
Woog served as the team's head coach for 14 seasons and has been a popular broadcaster since leaving the bench prior to the 1999-2000 season. He has slipped somewhat over the past few years, but his homespun observations have been much appreciated by Gopher fans over the years. Nobody cares more about this program than the "Wooger."
Moving Woog to more of a studio role leaves the opportunity for others like Darby Hendrickson, Tom Chorske, and Kevin Gorg to move into the #2 slot in the booth. Former NHLer Derek Plante also had some exposure in March and would be a decent possibility. Each of the named individuals would be fine alongside LaPanta, except Gorg, whose incessant talking seemingly makes him a decent candidate for a studio spot.
All this is well and good, but the firing of Mazzocco is a horrible decision by the suits of FSN. Minnesota hockey fans know "Francois's" style very well from his days as a North Stars' announcer in the mid-80s, and his subsequent seamless transition to Gopher hockey. He is anything but a homer and makes honest evaluations of the team while clearly wanting the team to do well. He is an energetic announcer, but clearly lets the game stand on its own. It's a style perfected by the great hockey announcers of modern times like Mike "Doc" Emrick, Dave Strader, the late, great, Tom Mees, and the incomparable Al Shaver. I recently ranted about the hysterical hockey announcers of the modern times and how their histrionics would not work in this market. Mazzocco personified what an effective hockey announcer is like in his area.
This is going to backfire huge on FSN. The comments section of the StarTribune article is littered with negative comments about the move. There is a Facebook page set up to lobby for his return to the booth. Don't hold your breath, however. This decision is made.
Mazzocco is far too talented to not be working next season. I could easily see him on the ESPNU broadcasts for the NCAA Tournament next spring. This blogger would love to see Francois working with another FSN castaway, Clay Matvick, to provide some quality broadcasts. Also, with the Big Ten Network likely to make a bigger splash in the WCHA, he would be a perfect addition to the staff. We'll see Frank again; just not on Gopher broadcasts for a while.
FSN has clearly made a decision without consulting the most important people, and that is the fans of Gopher hockey broadcasts on FSN North. If management had asked us, they would have found out that the fans love the coverage, would wish that Wooger would seem more lucid at times, and would be looking forward to new gadgets to add to the already fine broadcasts. Most importantly, they would have requested FSN leave the booth as-is. Instead, management has decided to bring in a new announcing team and will likely see its quality suffer.
FSN North GM Mike Dimond (pictured left) stated that he wants a revamping of the Gopher broadcasts and he has certainly invited some backlash among the faithful by replacing not one but two popular announcers in one fell swoop. Not a good move in my book, and this has certainly been met with a lot of disdain from fans across the state.
While Dimond is in the mood for firing folks, why not address the awful Wild broadcasts with Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay? They can certainly go. I've also been highly critical of Twins' announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven (I'm fine with Bert in a role, but Bremer needs to go and Roy Smalley absolutely needs to be in the booth full-time).
Clearly, the replacement of the Gopher announcers is a short-sighted, knee-jerk, management decision which hurts the fans the most. Then again, what's new?