The NWHL’s run in LP was fun while it lasted

Longtime Olympic Center hockey announcer Jason Beaney enjoyed the ride

News photo — Lou Reuter Jason Beaney, seated, joins fellow Lake Placid resident Willis Clark at the Olympic Center on Sunday while working a National Women’s Hockey League game at the Herb Brooks Arena. Beaney was the announcer for all of the women’s contests that took place and Clark operated the scoreboard.

LAKE PLACID — Jason Beaney has been the public address announcer for thousands of hockey games at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. It’s a job he began enjoying long before he was even in high school.

A huge fan of the sport, Beaney has been the voice behind the mic at all three rinks housed in Lake Placid’s hallowed ground for ice hockey. He’s worked games played at just about every level, from the Can-Am youth tournaments where he got his start as announcer to covering his favorite high school team — his alma mater Lake Placid — and moving up the ladder while announcing battles between college Division I squads, most notably during the ECAC championships.

His most recent Olympic Center assignment had been announcing every game at the National Women’s Hockey League’s condensed season, which kicked off on Jan. 23. Unfortunately, Beaney didn’t get the opportunity to be on hand for the league’s semifinal and championship games after its effort to complete a two-week season was cut short with Wednesday’s announcement that play was being suspended due to COVID-19 cases.

The semifinals were slated for Thursday and the championship game was to be held Friday, with both nights of hockey set to be aired live on NBCSN.

“I just wish they could have finished the season,” Beaney said Wednesday, about an hour after seeing on Facebook that the season in Lake Placid had been suspended. “It’s unfortunate that it’s ending the way it is but first and foremost is player safety. It’s disappointing.”

Beaney knew long ago he wasn’t going to be with his buddies lacing up the skates and speeding up and down the ice. But that hasn’t hampered his desire to be involved in the sport. Instead of spending his time on the ice, Beaney’s station, from the drop of the puck to the final horn, is spent at center ice at the announcer’s table between each team’s penalty box.

“I love hockey. I’ve always loved the game,” Beaney said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the coordination to stand up on skates. I might be able to make it 4 feet before I’d be on the ice, so this is my way to get involved in the game.

“I’ve been working hockey around here since I was 12, 13,” continued Beaney, who is now 35. “I started with Can-Am and worked my way up. Boy, I’ve easily worked close to 10,000 games. When Can-Am has a really busy weekend, I’ll end up doing 25 or 30 games.”

Beaney said he approaches announcing a bit differently depending on the level of the games. When it comes to working with the youngsters, such as Can-Am tournaments, he said it’s more about being an entertainer and providing the players with a memorable experience.

“No. 1, I enjoy being a part of the game, especially with the youth hockey,” he said. “Honestly, they enjoy coming into the penalty box when I’m there. We’ll strike up a conversation; we’ll have a good time. For me, Can-Am is all about putting on a show for the kids.

“It can be a little different with the older players when they go to the box,” he continued. “Some won’t say a word. They might grab some water, they’ll do their time and head back out on the ice. Others, you do get to have a few words with.”

Beaney said he’s usually on the job more than an hour before the opening faceoff for a game he’s working. In addition to announcing, he’s also in charge of playing music while teams are warming up and during breaks in the action. He uses his own collection of music and selections often provided by the home team.

“The warmup music differs from team to team,” he said. “Some of it’s not for me, but I’m pretty accommodating. Sometimes, it’s all in my control. I use stuff I like that I’ve collected over the years. I’m a big rock’ n’ roll guy. I love AC/DC, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses. You’ll hear that at the rink when I get a chance, but I’ve also been introduced to some of the newer stuff the kids like. It’s a big part of my job.”

Before last year, Beaney had worked every ECAC championship tournament each March since the event returned to Lake Placid in 2014. At those games, his words are heard by of thousands of fans. He said working the NWHL contests was a new experience because they were played essentially in front of an empty rink — with the exception of players, team staff and officials — due to coronavirus protocols that have been put in place.

“In a way, it’s similar to the Can-Ams, because the stands aren’t packed, but for this level of hockey — these women are pros — you expect fans here,” he said. “It’s definitely different. It’s been a little awkward. Something weird I’ve had to do is announcing the crowd control information before each game — informing where the exits are, no smoking, stuff like that. There are no fans at the rink, but it’s still required. I just read from my script and trudge through it.”

Until two seasons ago, Beaney’s most memorable words behind the mic were “Your Blue Bombers,” which he bellowed while introducing the Lake Placid High School team. That hasn’t happened since the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake boys formed a combined squad and that’s something Beaney said he misses saying to the crowd. Beaney also said he has really missed working games in general over the past several months and was excited that the NWHL chose Lake Placid as the site for its two-week run, despite the issues the league has faced during its stay here and it’s ultimate suspension.

“I’ve enjoyed watching the hockey. It’s been really good hockey,” he said. “It’s professional hockey. That’s tough to beat, and besides, it’s hard for me to complain, especially since there hasn’t been any hockey games here since early last year.”

With glass separating the announcer’s station from players in the penalty box, Beaney said he felt “1,000% safe” on the job. As a Buffalo Sabres fan, Beaney said would have loved to see the Buffalo Beauts find success in Lake Placid, but also noted the Boston Pride really found their groove late and looked “awful scary.”

“Obviously, the bubble didn’t work,” said Beaney, who was thankful to be given time off from his regular job as a traffic control officer in the village of Lake Placid in order to announce the games. “I noticed players from the league walking around when I’m working on Main Street. I didn’t understand that. It makes zero sense the way they ran it. When we had hockey it was good.”