By JOHN PATISHNOCK
UNIVERSITY PARK — Notre Dame attacks. Penn State defends. Skates halt to a stop, kicking up ice, while the Irish forwards rush the net.
What’s transpiring during opening night (Oct. 16) at the Pegula Ice Arena is rapid and whirring, happening at a blitzing pace. But none of it gets past Brian Tripp, the voice of the Nittany Lions’ men’s ice hockey team.
In the middle of the commotion, goaltender Matthew Skoff takes control, leading to a pile-up at the net after he covers the puck. This is also happening in front of the Roar Zone, Penn State’s raucous student section, amplifying the excitement that’s omnipresent at Pegula.
“Chaos in front of the net,” Tripp roars into his microphone. Moments later, during a break, he leans back in his chair, turns to his right and says, “Well, that was exciting,” smiling like he can’t believe how much fun he’s having.
Tripp is acting like he’s home, because in many ways, he is. He’s sitting on press row, providing play-by-play coverage, living out the dream he’s had ever since he started imitating legendary Philadelphia broadcasters Harry Kalas and Merrill Reese during his brother’s midget football games.
Tripp has called every men’s ice hockey contest at Pegula Ice Arena and started working with the team a few years ago. He previously called action for Penn State women’s volleyball and women’s basketball — and also doubles as the voice for Penn State baseball. His role with the ice hockey team represents something of a serendipitous partnership: Both he and the team started on the same trajectory while sharing the same high-level of enthusiasm and eagerness to get better.
“It really was the perfect opportunity for someone young to step into, especially because you’re part of something that’s growing,” Tripp said. “The expectations from Day 1 weren’t you’ve got to be Doc Emrick. The expectations from Day 1 were, ‘You’re young, we’re a young program, let’s grow together,’ and I think that’s been really good.”
Tripp’s ultimate goal is to become a network play-by-play broadcaster. To get there, he said, he needs to work “high-profile play-by-play gigs, and Penn State is as high-profile as you can get in collegiate athletics.”
Tripp graduated from Penn State in 2011, deciding to become a Nittany Lion because of the immediate hands-on experience he could gain as a student. At Penn State, Tripp immediately connected with ComRadio, hosting talk shows as soon as he arrived at University Park. Since then, he’s worked with Penn State on-air mainstays Loren Crispell, Jerry Fisher and Steve Jones, saying he’s learned what works, what doesn’t, and how to act around teams. This last point is especially important, he said, because most students don't have the opportunity to travel with the athletic teams, which Tripp did while he was a student.
Now, he’s expanding his audience while carving out a career path in Happy Valley, and he started hosting his own radio show a few months ago. Titled, “Keystone Sports Beat,” Tripp regularly talks with a host of coaches, players and reporters, building the show’s following organically while tapping into his vast professional network.
He could have moved away, and he still might in the future as his career progresses, but he’s happy for now because he's surrounded by an area and university that mean so much to him.
“I am loyal to the place that gave me my first chance; there are great people here, and I love my alma mater. I bleed blue and white, so that’s a big part of it,” Tripp said after a show in mid-October. “I’m familiar with the area, so that’s helped me make contacts, get connections and help build this show. It’s helped me out in different spots I’ve been in the past, and I think that’s all really valuable for someone trying to grow a show, grow their own career and really grow as a person.”
For more information, including stations that carry “Keystone Sports Beat,” visit the station’s website and follow the show on Facebook and Twitter. And for a list of archived shows and featured guests, visit the show’s SoundCloud page.
Tripp said he and co-host Dan Bezilla want to leverage social media, podcasts and entertaining graphics (GIFs) to engage with their audience, particularly younger listeners. Tripp emphasized that they’re not ignoring any segment of the population, just that they’re mindful of the communication shift that has “people interacting differently today,” Tripp said.
“It’s about bringing today’s technology, today’s audience, and a younger generation into sports talk radio, because those are the fans of tomorrow,” he added, pointing out that while Penn State will drive the show, they're also going to discuss high school and amateur athletics. The show will also feature human-interest stories, Tripp said, giving the following example: Perhaps they’ll talk to a former Penn State football player, and instead of talking about his career, chat about what he’s doing nowadays.
The show is still in something of a beginning stage, but the early guest list that Tripp has had on the show is impressive. Penn State coaches Rob Cooper (baseball) and Erica Walsh (women’s soccer), women’s volleyball standout Haleigh Washington and Penn State Athletics’ Tony Mancuso have all talked with Tripp, along with a slew of regional and national broadcasters and writers who have sizable audiences.
Topics go beyond the obvious, with Walsh discussing the Women’s World Cup (she coached the Women’s National Team), and Penn State’s educational guidelines while ensuring that student-athletes receive all the assistance and guidance they need.
Tripp said it might seem surprising that they’re able to include such notable personalities, but he’s been able to pull this off because he does things the right way. Tripp is professional, courteous and polite, an old-school approach that still happens to make an impact in today’s modern media world.
“If you reach out to people and try to connect to them, and you’re very gracious for their time and understand their time is valuable, for the most part, they’ll be OK with coming on,” Tripp said. “Our goal is to bring in guests who add something to the program, guests who can bring a different perspective and guests who people find interesting.
Editor’s Note:Penn State returns to Pegula Ice Arena for a two-game series against Michigan State on Dec. 4–5.