Dec. 31, 2013
NHL Network analyst and Michigan hockey alum Billy Jaffe is back in Ann Arbor this week reporting live at Michigan Stadium for the NHL Winter Classic. He has served as a college hockey analyst for the Big Ten Network and was in Ann Arbor for the Big Chill at the Big House. Jaffe, who played two seasons at Michigan (1987-89), took some time to talk about the Winter Classic and reflect on his time at Michigan.
What's it like coming back here to Ann Arbor to work this event?
"As an alum, it's always special to come back to the town. It always brings a smile to my face. There's a sense of pride you get as well when you come back here. The Big Chill was an enormous event, and there was a sense of pride there as well, but now with the NHL too and being a part of the Winter Classic. You almost feel like you want to share Ann Arbor and share the University of Michigan with the other people that you work with. I've been telling a lot of people at the NHL Network about the town, making sure they know Michigan hockey, Michigan sports in general, and perhaps most importantly, to order some food from Zingerman's."
You were here for the Big Chill in 2010. How would you compare the two events?
"No matter what, it's awesome when you walk into a building and see the enormity of Michigan Stadium and you see a hockey rink out there. Now the NHL has done physically more around the rink. The NHL has built up around it, they've got a lot inside the rink with decorations and that gives it a different feel than the Big Chill. It feels bigger because the National Hockey League puts so much into this. The Big Chill was incredible event that was really the second part of the Cold War (at Michigan State in 2001). The NHL has a North American reach with the sport, and because of that it has a different feel. And it certainly has a different feel with media from all over North America and the world for that matter. The rink was bigger at the Big Chill, it was an Olympic sheet. Coach Berenson mentioned that he talked with (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman about the ice, but the problem with putting an Olympic sheet with the Winter Classic is that it's not what the team plays on during the regular season."
You saw Coach Berenson yesterday. How impressive is it to see him continue to do what he's done?
"It is impressive. I know what he stands for. I know that he's all about being a better person than a hockey player. He still values education at the top of it. That's a very important part of being a Michigan hockey player. He looks great -- he can still run up the stairs of the Big House, and he can still break bricks with his handshake. He hit the bicycle pretty good during my time at Michigan."
What do you remember most about your time here, and what if anything stays with you today from your time in the Michigan hockey program?
"Some of my best friends are from the teams I played on here at Michigan. Mark Sorenson was a classmate, and I'm still pretty close with him. It doesn't matter if you played one game or 100 games, you're a part of the Michigan hockey family. That says something. I have great memories, but most importantly with Michigan as you get older, you realize that the network and the reach of the program is strong. To say you played at Michigan, there's something really special about that still."
What interaction have you had with fellow Michigan hockey alum and media member Aaron Ward (TSN Hockey analyst)?
"I saw him last night for a few minutes (at media dinner). I see Aaron pretty regularly on Thursday mornings. We both take the 8:50 a.m. flight home from Toronto to our respective hometowns. We catch up in the security line, then we go have a coffee and say goodbye. He's doing a great job at TSN in his post-playing career, and I know how proud he is of Michigan too."