First female play-by-play announcer in AHL grateful to other women who paved the way
On the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 16, about 6,000 Calgary hockey fans witnessed history.
After announcing earlier this year that the Calgary Flames’ American Hockey League (AHL) team would be relocating from Stockton, Calif., the Calgary Wranglers made their debut at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
High above the ice, history was also being made in the Peter Maher Radio Broadcast Booth.
Longtime local sports broadcaster Sandra Prusina called her first game after being named the Wranglers’ play-by-play announcer.
A part of Saddledome history
Prusina is believed to be the first full-time female play-by-play announcer in the AHL.
“It was super nerve-wracking,” Prusina admits about calling her first game, but adds it was also a massive rush.
“I never imagined that I would be able to be in the Peter Maher Broadcast Booth—somebody that I looked up to my entire career—and share a booth and be able to call a professional hockey game from there in my home city.”
Prusina is a proud Calgarian and she says it’s especially exciting to broadcast from a building with so much history.
“A lot of great things obviously have happened there, whether it be the Flames, the Hitmen, the Wranglers, concerts… As a Calgarian and the experiences that I’ve had in that building, let alone as a broadcaster, that makes it really special.”
Not everyone is supportive
The opportunity is a dream come true for Prusina and she is thankful for the positive support she has received so far.
However, as is sadly all too common among female sports broadcasters, Prusina has also been faced with some negative online backlash from fans outside the Calgary market.
Some comments Prusina has come across include questioning why a woman is in the play-by-play position, with others suggesting women should only host intermissions or post-game shows.
“I had been a little bit sheltered and protected covering women’s sport because I’m a woman. So it’s expected that I would call a woman’s sport,” Prusina says.
“So, that’s one of those mental hurdles that I think I’m going to have to get over.”
Commending those who came before her
Prusina commends the women who have paved the way for others in sports broadcasting.
“I’m really lucky that Leah Hextall has done what she’s done. Cassie Campbell has been in the booth, you see what Jen Botterill does every Saturday night as part of the [Sportsnet] panel,” she says.
“So I’m more so following in their footsteps and I’m just really grateful that they were able to take some of those knocks, and I know they still continue to take some of those knocks.”
Prusina longs for the day that having women sports broadcasters is no longer groundbreaking.
“If I can take it in the teeth for some other woman to potentially do this job, which I hope is normal soon, not seen as a first or shattering a ceiling or whatever we want to call it. I just want it to be normal.”
Taking the opportunity to heart
For now, Prusina is humbled by her new play-by-play opportunity.
“I want people to care about the sport because we’re really lucky to do what we do. A lot of times, it doesn’t feel like a job. So if I can help pave that way, just even be a little brick in that pathway, I’m quite grateful. And I won’t take it lightly,” she says.
Understanding that not everyone will like her play-by-play, Prusina hopes fans see how much she cares.
“I want people to see that I care about the product, and I want them to live through my emotion in the game… I will take it to heart.”
Prusina is more than qualified for the position. She has been a radio broadcaster for 14 years and has spent her entire career with Rogers Sports & Media in Calgary.
She has an English degree from the University of Calgary and completed a post-journalism program at Mount Royal University.
A sports fan through and through
“I’d always wanted to do sports but I think when I went into journalism, it wasn’t my main goal,” Prusina says.
She started out reading the overnight news part-time for what is now known as CityNews 660. Before long, a chance to cover evening sports opened up and Prusina took the opportunity and ran with it.
“I grew up loving sports. I mean, I collected hockey cards, and I watched Hockey Night in Canada, and I love the Olympics,” she says.
Prusina was sold on a full-time sports broadcasting career after getting the opportunity to be a segment reporter for the Olympic Broadcast Service at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“I got to cover women’s hockey and that was kind of it for me,” she says.
“It was like a full circle moment because I was just a little girl in 1988 so I didn’t really experience what it was like to have an Olympics in my home country, but Vancouver 2010 was it. And ever since then, that’s all I wanted to do.”
Prusina became the voice of the Calgary Inferno in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, doing play-by-play for the team for nearly four seasons.
That was Prusina’s first taste of the atmosphere of covering live sports and she would go on to work with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and the University of Calgary Dinos women’s hockey and basketball teams.
During the pandemic, the Stockton Heat played in Calgary after the AHL created a Canadian division.
Prusina did some colour commentary and a bit of play-by-play announcing for a few Heat games alongside her friend and colleague Rob Kerr.
“I was able to get my feet wet with the men’s pro game that way,” she says.
Making an impression
Prusina ended up making quite an impression with Calgary Flames officials.
“Maybe a month ago, I got a phone call from Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation and they said, ‘We remember your connection with the Stockton Heat. The Calgary Wranglers are coming to Calgary, would you be interested in throwing your name in the hat for a potential play-by-play gig?’”
Prusina is thrilled to have been named the local voice of the Wranglers and looks forward to witnessing how the players develop on their journey to the National Hockey League (NHL).
“I’m excited to have eyes on that, game in and game out.”
Prusina is grateful to her mentors throughout her broadcasting career and those who have been in her corner for the past 14 years.
“It’s not a straight journey. It’s a very curvy journey and you’re hit with a lot of obstacles,” she says, adding it’s important to surround yourself with good people who believe in you and pick you up when you’re down.
“I think that’s the key in this industry and the sky’s the limit—without sounding super cliched and kumbaya—but that’s the truth and I think the doors are really starting to open because there’s a lot of good people involved in sport.”