John Forslund has been associated with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise since 1991, but he said he understands Islanders fans well, having lived the experience in the “Drive For Five” season of 1983-84 while in graduate school at Adelphi.
That is why even though he was surprised by the reaction to one of his calls in Game 2 of the Hurricanes-Islanders playoff series on NBC Sunday, he was not surprised Islanders fans’ enthusiasm led some to misinterpret what he said.
“When I saw this [reaction] after the game, I was taken aback,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it, yet I understand their passion and understand how you could take the word and flip it and use it as if I’m showing bias.”
The word was “we,” which is a no-no on a local sports telecast and a major no-no on national TV, especially when Islanders fans came into the series looking for signs of bias from the Hurricanes’ longtime announcer.
It happened when Jordan Eberle’s shot hit the crossbar in the third period, and analyst Ed Olczyk noted on the replay that it had indeed hit the bar and not gone into the net.
“It did, so we’re OK,” Forslund said, leading some Islanders fans to believe he had slipped up and used the “w” word in reference to the Canes. But Forslund said he merely was making a generic comment that his initial view had been confirmed.
“Absolutely, it was totally just in reference to the play itself,” he said. “It’s funny, because Barclays Center doesn’t have the most ideal broadcast location. It’s low, which is nice, but it’s a horizontal view of the game, and when you have a horizontal view of the game, it really restricts your vision on tips, crossbars.
“There are areas of the ice where I’m obstructed with the near boards, corners and so on. So it’s not that easy. So in situations like that, if you recall I initially called that it went off the crossbar with my live call. Then we got to replays and [analyst] Brian Boucher actually thought from his angle that it might have hit the back bar, so he thought that it might have gone in the net.
“We’re just kind of talking through the replays, and as we’re talking through the replays, Eddie basically said, ‘Yeah, it went off the bar.’ I had it off the bar, you had it off the bar, so, ‘OK, we’re OK then.’ And that’s all it was. It was a reference to the specific play.
“I get it. First of all, I get the Islander fan base. I went to school there, I lived there for a couple of years through graduate school. I worked with the Islanders as a parent team when I was at Springfield [of the AHL] in the ‘80s. I understand the passion. I understand what the Islanders fans are all about.
“The reference of ‘we,’ I’ve never used in all of my years of broadcasting, even my home telecast. I’ve never said ‘our’ or ‘we.’ I despise that. I despise the phrase ‘homer,’ always have. There’s no question when you do a home team, and you’re broadcasting to that [local] audience, there’s a little sauce attached to what you’re doing, because it’s directed at that group.
“But I’ve been 60-40 on those calls, 50-50 on national calls and that’s what I’m attempting to do.”
Forslund, 57, is a staple of NBC’s playoff roster, and likely would have worked a second-round series whether or not the Canes had qualified. The fact he ended up with the Canes and Islanders provided a dual connection for him.
Forslund studied sports management at Adelphi, attended two or three Islanders games that season, and coached football and basketball at St. Paul’s in Garden City, then started his professional career at Springfield in the fall of 1984.
“I got acquainted with their fan base,” he said. “I got acquainted with Jiggs (McDonald), who was a big influence for me. He helped me. Barry Landers helped me, and that’s where I got my start.
"So when I do a series like this, I’ve been working for the Whalers/Canes since 1991, so you obviously have an attachment there. But I also have kind of a sentimental attachment to the Islanders, the Coliseum, the history of the team. I get it all. I followed it my entire life.”
Forslund said doing a playoff series at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum “would have been great.”
“I enjoyed doing the game I did in the regular season there,” he said. “Professionally, the broadcast view at the Coliseum is so much better. I know it is what it is at Barclays; you have to work with whatever it is. It’s just I can’t emphasize enough there would be no question where that [Eberle] goal is and where the broadcast location at the Coliseum is in saying whether it had gone off the bar or not. It would have been a lock.”
Forslund said it has been “a lot of fun” watching the Hurricanes’ revival after a playoff-less decade that saw dwindling home crowds in recent seasons.
“It’s a 10-year hole, and a 10-year hole for any franchise would be real difficult,” he said. “So after a while they get tired of hearing the excuses. They get tired of hearing, ‘We’ll be better next year, be patient with the prospects.’
“The one thing about this market is they’ve also experienced some deep runs, and the people who were here for it know what could be two months of playoff hockey is like and so they’ve completely bought into it again. And so it didn’t take long for them to get back to supporting it and filling the building and bringing the atmosphere they’ve been able to bring.
“And the only reason they have is ’02 [when the Canes reached the Cup Final] was as magical as it was, ’06 they win it, ’09 they go to the conference final. So it’s been feast or famine. When you go a decade [out of the playoffs], you lose a generation of fans. There’s a group of young fans who don’t even remember the ‘06 thing and they’re young adults now. Those are the people who are getting turned on again.”
Forslund is not immune to criticism from Canes fans when he is doing national games.
“In the previous round I had Game 5 on NBC, Washington-Carolina. And it’s a 6-0 blowout for Washington, and on that night our fan base kind of turned on me a little bit, because they were saying things like, ‘John’s been brainwashed. How can he be so excited when Alex Ovechkin scores?’
“I’m there to do a job and do it correctly . . . That night we had a lot of things ready for the Hurricanes and their fan base and the national audience had the Canes played better, but because they didn’t, and it was lopsided for Washington, it’s all Washington.
“To be fair in this series we’ve done a fair amount with the Islanders, getting into their story and the job Lou [Lamoriello] has done and all this. It’s just a matter of how these series play out when you get to their story lines.”
With Olczyk helping on Kentucky Derby coverage, NBC has moved AJ Mleczko – who did about 24 Islanders games for MSG Networks this regular season – into the booth alongside Forslund for Games 3 and 4 in Raleigh.
“She has the intrinsic knowledge that’s attached to covering a team on a regular basis, which I have with mine, but I’m the playcaller and she’s the analyst,” Forslund said. “By and large she just reads the game well, works well with Brian [Boucher] . . . She’s a star on the rise.”