ESPN Reporter, Alumna Emily Kaplan Discusses ‘Thrilling’ Journey Through Stanley Cup Playoffs
The National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs are widely regarded as the best postseason in sports. Fans count down the days until spring when they can focus their attention on nonstop hockey for almost two months.
With all the excitement, there is a lot that goes into bringing that energy to viewers across the country, mainly through TV broadcasts, in which the goal is to make the viewers feel like they’re right there in the arena. This year, Penn State graduate and ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan did just that.
Kaplan served as ESPN’s top sideline reporter throughout the duration of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it wasn’t something she envisioned herself doing at the start of her career with ESPN, as she was originally a writer.
“I was a really big fan of [hockey], so I thought it was a cool opportunity,” Kaplan told Onward State. “It was mostly writing for the first four years because we didn’t have the rights…and then we got the rights this year and things changed.”
As you’d expect, the transition from being a writer to reporting on live television can be daunting, but Kaplan was able to get some experience doing live TV with ESPN’s Around the Horn and Sports Center, where she learned how to improvise and be her “authentic self” a few years before taking on NHL broadcasts.
Then, after a full season of NHL games, the Stanley Cup Playoffs began in April, which became Kaplan’s time to shine, as ESPN broadcasted about half the games and the entire Stanley Cup Finals. Of course, the packed schedule of the playoffs can be exhausting for many NHL teams, but it’s also a challenge for the broadcasters, who travel back and forth between different cities almost every night.
“It’s pretty exhausting,” she said. “For the two months of the playoffs, I slept in my bed for a total of three nights. It was a constant shuffling of clothing, laundry, and lack of sleep…but at the same time, it was super exciting and thrilling. I had one stretch where I had four games in four days in four cities. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but it was definitely an adventure.”
Throughout the adventure, there are many moments that Kaplan fondly remembers. One that sticks out was the chaos of covering game one of the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round matchup at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the second game of the four-day stretch for Kaplan and the rest of the ESPN crew, and they had to be in Raleigh the next morning. It became a late night, as the game went into triple overtime and ended at 11:50 p.m. when Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal for the Penguins.
Kaplan mentioned that it was her first experience covering a game that long, and she followed that up with a fun interview with Penguins’ backup goalie Louie Domingue that went viral following the game.
That kicked off a series of fun, unique interviews with players and coaches throughout the playoffs in which she focused on trying to bring out players’ personalities, especially those who use English as a second language. She recognized the “courage” it takes for non-North American players to stand on camera and started to thank players in their native languages following interviews, which was first largely noticed in her interview with New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil after a round one victory.
“I recognized what a challenge it is for [non-North American players] to have to do an interview and express themselves in their second language,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage and bravery to do that, especially on camera. I figured the least I could do to show my respect is just learn one word in their language.”
The players appreciated the gesture, as Kaplan mentioned that it made them feel more “comfortable” and “seen.”
“It always broke them out of character and showed a bit more of the human side, and it reminded me that they are far away from home. I’m really glad I did that, and it’s something I’ll continue to do.”
When putting a unique spin on her role, Kaplan wasn’t worried about her gender in a sport that is male-dominated.
“I wanted to bring my own style and own take on what the reporter role should be…I never focused on my gender or anything like that,” she said. “I just wanted to do the role how I always wanted to.”
As Kaplan got more time on the air, she also got exposed to more criticism on social media than she had ever received, which wasn’t easy to deal with.
“You always hear how athletes have tunnel vision and blocking out the noise, and I don’t think I’ve fully understood that until now,” she said. “I’m a feedback-oriented person. I always want to improve. So, I found myself searching my name, and I realized that’s pretty toxic behavior because that is the small minority of people who shout online, but the large majority of the people who matter and whose opinions I should care about thought I was doing a good job, and I thought I was doing a good job.”
She explained that she started to become “frustrated” about three quarters of the way through the playoffs when she was being ridiculed for things that were out of her control, such as wearing a mask during player and coach interviews, which is an NHL mandate. But, after occasionally hopping on Twitter and giving an explanation, she feels she’s done a much better job of focusing on opinions that matter and being confident in herself.
After all the ups and downs of covering the playoffs for two months, it capped off with her favorite part of the experience: interviewing Colorado Avalanche players on the ice right after winning the Stanley Cup as the trophy was being hoisted around the rink. In such a historic moment, Kaplan was able to bring out the best in the players and take the moment all in for herself.
“I was very proud of the way that it went,” she said. “It was cool to see the raw emotion of the guys that were soaking it all in and processing it in the moment…That was probably the highlight of the entire experience, just being there for the pinnacle of it.”
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About the Author
Kotelnicki’s hiring was first reported Thursday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions survived a late Minnesota comeback attempt to split the series.