BY MATT KANE
ST. CLOUD AND ST. PAUL, MN Hockey Day Minnesota has not found its way to Delano’s banks of the Crow River yet, but the town was well-represented Saturday, during Fox Sports North’s broadcasts from St. Cloud and St. Paul.
Delanoans who tuned in to the coverage of the boys high school and women’s college games from Lake George in St. Cloud may have recognized the sideline reporter, Delano’s own Katie Emmer. Later Saturday night, during the Minnesota Wild broadcast from the Xcel Energy Center, those same fans may have noticed a second Delano face, that being 7-year-old Kasey Bigham, whose essay was randomly selected by Minnesota Hockey as the 2018 Hockey Education Program (HEP) winner.
Emmer’s full day from St. Cloud consisted of social media reports, interviews with special guests and interactions with on-site studio hosts, Kevin Gorg, Tom Hanneman, and Tom Chorske.
“It was fun. What a day. From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., we were running around. It was fun to be a part of that,” said Emmer, who didn’t realize her impact on the day’s broadcast until a day later. “I was asking my mom, ‘Did that just happen?’ I couldn’t believe it. I was so fortunate. My friends reminded me later that I was on so much. I was happy (FSN) found a place for me in the broadcast.”
Bigham’s air time came during a three-minute segment following the Wilds’ win over Tampa Bay. Bigham read her essay, while a slide show including photos of her and her teammates scrolled across the screen.
Essayists were asked to finish the lead sentence: I’m having the Most Fun in Hockey When....
Midway through her segment, Bigham read:“Now I love being the first one in line to get out onto the smooth ice and I don’t want hockey to stop because it’s just so fun.” She later concluded, “In my first game I was really excited! Our team scored a few points. The other team won, but I still had lots of fun because I’m having the most fun in hockey when I’m with my friends and my dad.”
Bigham’s essay was selected out of three finalists.
“Her essay captured everyone’s imagination. She did a great job, as a 7-year-old, talking about what it is to be a hockey player in Minnesota spending time with friends and with her dad on the ice,” said Glen Andresen, the executive director at Minnesota Hockey, which, along with the Minnesota Wild, hosted the essay contest. “And she talked about falling in love with the game we all hold near and dear to our hearts.”
The other two finalists were Easton Tima, a Mite from the Portman Amateur Hockey Association in Duluth; and Cailin Mumm, a 12U player from the Andover Youth Hockey Association.
“It was really difficult to get it down to the three. Hers and the other two finalists all just captured what it means to be a young hockey player in this state,” said Andresen.
As the winner, Bigham will receive a Wild Dream Day that will include attendence at the morning skate, an hour of ice time with her own team at the Xcel Energy Center and a suite at a yet-to-be-determined Wild game during the 2018-19 season.
On the air
Not long after Bigham read her essay on FSN, Emmer signed off from Lake George after a full day of coverage.
“They had me doing something every hour. I would get done with one thing and then they would give me something else. It was surreal. It went fast,” she said. “It was a high-stress day, mentally and physically. You always have to be in the zone and you always have to know what you will say next.”
For Emmer, the chance to work for FSN presented itself in December. Already working as a studio host and ice-side reporter for Huskies hockey at the St. Cloud State Sports Network, Emmer was brought on by FSN because of her St. Cloud hockey connection.
“We had seen her work at St. Cloud, and she was a natural fit to include in our Hockey Day broadcast,” said FSN Executive Producer Tony Tortorici, who has worked in the business for 38 years.
“The main thing for them was a St. Cloud reporter at St. Cloud hockey day,” she said. “I was happy that I was the one chosen to do that.”
Just as she does weekly during St. Cloud State games and in her special Two Minute Minor interviews with Huskies players, Emmer delivered her Hockey Day segments with a calm presence. She admitted, though, that she wasn’t as calm on the inside as she appeared to be on the outside.
“I remember, at the beginning of day, there were nerves because of the huge stage. It was not just St. Cloud State hockey anymore,” she explained.
“She did well. I know she was nervous during her first bit, but she got over her nerves and did a nice job. She was a nice addition,” said Tortorici.
Emmer doesn’t know if she will do any more work for FSN, but she will be ready if they call.
“I think they were just happy to have a successful day,” she said of the FSN crew. “Part of me wondered if they might ask me, if they need someone for an event. I would be honored to help them again.”
Whether its at FSN or not, Tortorici sees a bright future for Emmer in the world of sports broadcasting.
“She has to graduate first, and we always have our eyes on talent,” he said. “She will do just fine.”
Moving from the St. Cloud State broadcast to FSN for Hockey Day Minnesota meant working with a new crew, one that is used to working at a high level.
“It was an adjustment. A big part of it was having a different producer and director in my ear. They are all professionals. It was a different kind of pressure,” she said. “There was a lot of sending back to me and me sending back to Tom (Hanneman). That was a fun relationship.”
Emmer attended a Minnesota Timberwolves game prior to Hockey Day to get an idea of how Hanneman works before joining him on air. That homework paid off as she interacted well with Hanneman, who is an Emmy-winning broadcaster, and Chorske, whom Emmer has watched during Minnesota Wild broadcasts.
“They were fun to be around,” she said.
The relationship between Emmer and the two Toms quickly grew to where friendly banter was the norm.
“At the end of the night, when we did my sign-off, it was a two-box (the screen showed both Emmer near the ice and Hanneman and Chorske in studio). (Hanneman) said, ‘Katie, thanks,’ and I responded by saying, ‘I haven’t had this much fun in a while, I’ll tell ya that.’ We all laughed about the fact that I said ‘I’ll tell ya that.’ I remember I said something to Chorske and he answered back, ‘Yeah, it sure was Katie, I’ll tell ya that.’”
Along with having the opportunity to work with Hanneman and Chorske, Emmer was also able to meet former FSN host and sideline reporter Jamie Hersch, who was covering Hockey Day Minnesota for the NHL Network.
“That’s my number one. She is a big one, especially since she is from Chanhassen,” Emmer said, referring to Hersch as a role model in the media business. “She’s a great Minnesota girl. She will drop whatever she is doing, and she was excited to meet me. It was fun to meet her.”
If Emmer wants to follow in Hersch’s footsteps, she is certainly building a strong resumé to do so.
To go with her recent experience with FSN and her gig with the SCSU Sports Network, which ends this May when she graduates, Emmer spent this fall freelancing as a runner for Fox’s NFL broadcast team at Minnesota Vikings home games. She hopes to add national exposure at the NCAA Frozen Four April 5-7 to that resumé.
As far as Emmer’s preferred future in broadcasting, she would like to catch on with a team following her graduation this May.
“I would like to focus on a team and be a team reporter. Then, maybe, the NHL level. That would be the dream,” she said. “I didn’t play (hockey), but it is attractive to me now. I hope to find my way to the NHL.”
Emmer prefers the studio setting over sideline reporting, but appreciates learning both sides.
“I like in-studio because it’s warmer. I also like it because I have more time to talk and more time to get into the highlights and use my personality. I just love attention, you know,” she said with a laugh. “In-studio is more fun for me, but I am learing the ice-side. It’s fun to be in the action down there.”
As for the action on the ice, Emmer does have on-ice experience, thanks to her hockey-crazed family. Her dad, Tom, played college hockey at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and her six brothers all played in the Delano system. Her youngest brother, Billy, currently plays on the Tigers’ junior gold team.
“We are a hockey family. I was reminded a lot (on Hockey Day) about seeing all the high school teams,” she said, referring to watching her brothers play at the Delano Area Sports Arena, her family’s second home. “In Delano, it was so fun to be a part of the games in a smaller community. My family went to the high school tournament every year.”
Emmer’s organized tenure as a player in the Delano hockey association didn’t last long. She, however, made her own name known as a Tiger, playing basketball, softball, volleyball, and soccer in high school until graduation in 2013.
Emmer visits her home in Delano every Sunday, while she can.
“It’s fun to get back there,” she said. “I take advantage of it because I don’t know where I will be coming up.”
Wherever it is Emmer ends up, there is good chance we will all be able to see her on our televisions and mobile devices at a hockey rink with a microphone in her hand.