John Forslund remembers the moment he became a hockey fan. It was 1970 and Bobby Orr scored his famous ‘flying’ goal to win the Stanley Cup in overtime.
That was a big moment for Forslund who grew up in Springfield, Mass. as a Boston Bruins fan. While he didn’t know it at the time, the goal would influence him in a way that would end up shaping his life’s work.
“I was watching the game at my aunt’s house on Mother’s Day,” he says of the moment. “It was great the Bruins won but it was the cadence of (broadcaster) Dan Kelly.”
That goal and that call led Forslund to a long career of calling hockey games on television and has landed him in Seattle 50 years later.
The Seattle Kraken announced Tuesday that they’ve hired the former Hartford Whaler and Carolina Hurricanes broadcaster –and his well known ‘hey, hey, whaddya say’ goal call – to be the television voice of the team. The announcement came at the same time the team announced a multi-year agreement with ROOT SPORTS to broadcast up to 75 Kraken games locally.
The agreement is a joint production with the Seattle Mariners, ROOT, and AT&T Sports Network which allow the Kraken to establish a footprint in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.
Origins of John Forslund’s famous ‘Hey, hey, whaddya say’ catchphrase
After hearing, and seeing, Kelly’s famous call of Orr’s goal, Forslund knew he wanted to call hockey games on TV.
He would watch Bruins games and call them himself in his living room. His Dad would serve as color analyst, and it prepared him for the career he would ultimately carve out. The pair would call every game together.
Forslund learned how to prepare for the games and how to do play-by-play and still utilizes lessons he learned on the couch with his father. It was his father who would say, ‘Hey, hey, whaddya say’ during those in-home broadcasts.
The AHL’s Springfield Indians would give Forslund his first chance to call pro hockey games in 1984, but unfortunately, his father passed away the day after Forslund received his first paycheck. It was then that he looked for a way to honor his father during broadcasts.
Using the catchphrase was the way to do it.
“It’s all for him,” Forslund says. “He was my best friend, and it was hard. I just thought I’d utilize this phrase in a broadcast somehow. Down the road I figured I would use it when the team scored a goal that I felt clinched the game.”
He says that when the goal is an overtime winner, its easy to use the phrase. A big goal in the second period is a little riskier but that won’t stop him if he feels the game is indeed over.
From the Hartford Whalers to the Carolina Hurricanes
In 1995, Forslund took over the television calls for the Hartford Whalers. He stayed with the club up until 1997 when the team was in turmoil with new ownership and the local politicians. Ultimately, the franchise packed up and would leave town. Forslund called the final Hartford Whalers game to be played.
“It was heartbreaking,” he says of the game. “It was hard. We put a lot of work to keep them there, more than a lot of people give us credit for. It was political. It became the greedy owner narrative. We tried to make it work. I grew up near there, went to WHA games, but I was kind of lumped in with the new ownership group. People viewed me as a traitor of sorts.
“The last game was difficult to get through, but you had to be professional. I never watched it until many years later, someone sent me a YouTube link. I was proud of how we handled it. It was credible, we said the right things, I hope.”
Forslund followed the franchise to Carolina and helped introduce the NHL to a new market. They had four months between the end of the 1996-1997 season and the start in North Carolina.
He now joins an expansion franchise that will bring big league hockey to a market that has yet to experience it. There are some similarities with what the Hurricanes had tasked before them, but the Kraken have had a longer prep time and access to modern marketing techniques such as social media as a way to build a groundswell of support.
“It is the same in the sense that you’re going into a brand-new market looking for your piece of the landscape,” Forslund says. “We had to crack into Tobacco Road, college basketball, and college football. The Kraken are going to have to find their place and that will be challenging.”
Despite a Seattle sports landscape that includes the NFL, Major League Baseball, and Division I college sports, Forslund is confident that the sport can and will be a draw.
“I believe hockey sells itself,” he says. “Once they see it, that’s it. That’s what happened in North Carolina with the Caniacs…I think we’ll have have the same thing. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I’ve watched over the years and I remember the glory days of the Supersonics with Gus Johnson and Jack Sikma. They were playing in the Kingdome and I remember how great the crowd sounded through the television. I think when the Kraken get to the playoffs, whether it’s in year one or later on, it will be another level. It’s going to be a tough place for the opponents.”
John Forslund’s road from Carolina to the Seattle Kraken
After being with the Hurricanes for their entire history as a franchise, Forslund’s contract was not renewed when it expired on July 1 last summer.
He says that the move took him by surprise and it was not his choice to leave.
While he was dealing with the disappointment, he received a phone call from Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis. Forslund was with the Hurricanes during Francis’ time as a player and general manager with Carolina and the two had remained friends.
The call was a check in but led to more.
“He was asking about my family and he thought it was a rough deal,” Forslund says. “He told me he’d put me in touch with Tod Leiweke. It went on for a few months and they had to figure out who would have the rights and when it came to be, I thought that I couldn’t pass this up. I jumped at it.”
After he was let go by Carolina the local Seattle hockey community had speculated about the chance that Forslund would end up here.
Hockey fans are familiar with Forslund’s work and the speculation locally was rampant. He was hired by NBC to broadcast playoff games in the bubble but that didn’t temper the speculation. Could the Kraken snag a top broadcaster who suddenly was available? Some of that speculation made it’s way to Forslund, who was aware of the excitement in Seattle and found it flattering.
“I don’t take for granted my career or working for any of these teams,” he says. “I was very fortunate that I only worked for a minor league team and then Hartford which turned into Carolina. I was blindsided and emotionally down. Really happy that NBC had me for the two bubbles, that kept me going. I had to figure out what the next track was. I’m blessed.”
Forslund is currently calling national games for NBC – you can hear him call Wednesday’s Chicago-Nashville tilt – and hopes to continue even after he starts with the Kraken. NBC’s contract with the NHL is up after this season so there is an unknown about the national rights. He hopes to be a part of that but will always prioritize the local Kraken games.
Forslund says that fans can expect him to be a homer of sorts on the local calls but not an unabashed homer. You’ll get an exciting call for goals and great saves, no matter which team is behind it.
Calling the game like that is important to Forslund who feels he owes the fans a credible broadcast of games.
We will get to hear him over the next five or six months as he wraps up the Stanley Cup playoffs this summer. Then he’ll be Seattle’s broadcaster. The voice of the Kraken.
“The excitement is over the top,” Forslund says. “To get this opportunity is amazing. You don’t get a chance if you’re a play-by-play announcer to get two cracks at it, so to speak. To be part of it day one and be part of the journey for the team and the fans. It comes at a great time in my life and I know I’m joining a great team of people.”