This afternoon I had the chance to chat with the voice of the Milwaukee Admirals, Aaron Sims. He’s been a busy, busy man these past few days. From Wednesday all the way to the shootout on Sunday he has called game action for the Admirals and Predators. Here’s our conversation on his first look at the NHL and the Admirals season.
Roundtable: Describe the situation last Thursday. Did you hear about Pete Weber before getting a call up for Nashville’s radio play-by-play spot or was it thrown at you all at once?
Aaron Sims: Pete went to the hospital. They called me and told me that that’s what happened. He had left the locker room in St. Paul by ambulance. Bob Kohl, the director of broadcasting for the Nashville Predators, gave me a call around 10am and explained what happened. And asked if I could be ready to make it up to St. Paul just in case. They didn’t know if that would happen. They kind of, at the time, thought Pete would be discharged after a quick once over to make sure everything was fine and then get rid of him from the hospital to the rink. If that happened, then I would watch a game for free. If not, that would be the case – that I would step in. They would move Willy Daunic to the TV side to fill in for Pete.
I called my wife and told her what was up. And then about eight minutes later Bob called again and said that Pete was indeed going to stay in the hospital for at least the night. And they needed me to come up. By this time it is around 10:30am and he asked if I could catch the 11:56am flight from Milwaukee to St. Paul. Now, I hadn’t showered yet. It was one of the few days that I had actually gotten up fairly early. I was sitting online getting ready to start my day and run some errands. I was going to run my suits to the dry cleaners. But they called and said they needed me. So, I did my best to freshen up the suits as best I could, jumped on the plane, landed in St. Paul around 1pm, got to the hotel about 1:30pm, and that was it. Then I just kind of sat around the rest of the afternoon doing some prep for the night. I went to the rink at about 4pm. They had a bus that went underneath towards the locker room so I went over there and the only player on the bus was Carter Hutton. It was me, Willy Daunic, Terry Crisp, and the first person that I actually saw when I got on the bus was Mitch Korn – we talked briefly. Then Lane Lambert got on the bus and we just kind of had our “how are you’s” and stuff. Got to the rink. Got my pass. And went and sat upstairs.
R: One thing I definitely do not want to lose in all of this is Pete Weber. I had the chance to meet him last season with you and Charlie Larson of the Admirals in Chicago last season. He is an incredibly nice guy. Talk about your relationship with Pete Weber:
Aaron: Unbelievably giving. A couple of year’s ago he had called me and asked me if, when they decided they were going to simulcast their TV and radio and decided they were going to split that up, and Pete called me up and asked me if I would do that and to send something in. At the time, I didn’t get that and that’s fine. Tom Callahan did – and he’s fantastic. From then on, if I needed anything Pete was more than giving. So it was pretty neat.
Pete knows so many people. He’s been in the game for so long. And he has always been nice to me. He has been on our radio show here in Milwaukee. I’ve been on his down in Nashville. Just really giving. We started texting here and there – just goofy things to one-another. So, it sucks how I got up. If there is a nice guy list and he’s not at the top of the list – that’s a stupid list. He is fantastic. He has always been supportive. I’m so happy that he is healthy and hopefully he will be able to come back once the Predators resume.
R: Were you able to talk or speak to Pete while you were up in Minneosta?
Aaron: No. He went in and I texted him when I got there. I wasn’t expecting anything back, right? You figure recovery from a procedure like that. But, within a minute and a half, he texted me back and said, “Thanks. Good luck!” So, that was pretty nice.
R: Just like when I talk Colton Sissons, what was it like experiencing the NHL level?
Aaron: It’s the best! It really is. The play is so great. The buildings are great. It was awesome. For me, the waiting, the anticipation, I guess once I got the call, I kind of figured once the game got going I’d be fine. I knew all the Predators because that’s the team we’re with. I know the majority of the guys personally and I know their numbers and all of that stuff. And then I am from Minnesota so, if the Preds aren’t on, I’m probably at least glancing at a Wild game. So, I know all of those guys and they were all in Houston or Iowa this year.
It was a pretty, as far as players and all of that, it was pretty easy to call. I worked with Stu Grimson and Stu held my hand and was just fantastic. There was an engineer there to make sure everything was good and then guys back at the station – they had to remind me a few times – the big thing for me was the format. They do things a little differently with their pre-game and intermissions and all of that – so I just had to get used to all of that. Once we did that – it was good.
There was a lot of people congratulating me, patting me on the back, and, to get to call a game up there, it was.. I joked to Stu up there during an intermission – he had asked ‘how things were going’ and I said, “Stu, the water is cleaner and the air is a little cleaner.” It was fun. That was the single best night of my professional life. For thirty-three years that has been my dream. When I was 8-years old I decided I wanted to be an NHL announcer for the Minnesota North Stars. And I came pretty close on Thursday night.
R: You typically work a one-man operation with the Admirals. How was it operating with a color-guy such as Stu Grimson?
Aaron: Yeah, it was quite different. Stu made it easy. He knows neutral zone and breakouts and stuff like that. When there’s no pressure he knows that there is nothing going on – when the puck is in a safe area – he knows that he can take it. If there was something, he would wave his hand and I would see it out of the corner of my eye and we were good. So I think, for our first time working together, there weren’t many times that we stepped on one-another. I think that went pretty well.
R: I thought it went real well. You two had a natural chemistry together.
Aaron: I was pretty quiet. We had never worked together. We shook hands once but I don’t think he remembers because he meets so many people. We didn’t know each other. So we had kind of a script just in case say the glass broke or say there was another pink ice delay like in Rockford. We would have a couple of topics to go with. So, we kind of scripted a few things as a ‘just in case’ deal. I kind of just let him take it. He knows what’s going on. He’s been around those guys for so long. I don’t know what he expected, because I was very quiet, but once we got going I think it went ok.
R: It didn’t really come across the airwaves, but were there nerves on your part being in this situation?
Aaron: Not once we got going. I got on the plane and I had time to think about it. I was thinking that this is what I’ve always wanted. I knew that this was going to be the best thing that I’ve ever done. The first time that I’ll do this and it’ll be the most special – and it happened to be in my hometown. That made it all the more special. It’s a building that I’ve been in. I’ve seen concerts and watched games. That made it great.
The nerves, I think I was most anxious about the format and just when I come in, their out-cues, and things like that. In Milwaukee you have to say, “Sports Radio 1250 WSSP,” up there it was, “The Fifth Third Bank Nashville Predators Radio Network.” Out-cues had to be right each time. You had to make sure you hit the sponsor reads. Thankfully, Stu took care of the majority of those.
The nerves went away. The old saying: once the puck drops. And I know the players will say the same thing, too. Once they get that first hit or take that first shot, whatever it might be, the nerves go away at that point.
R: Wednesday in Milwaukee. Thursday in Minnesota. Friday in Milwaukee. Saturday in Nashville. And then Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee. How exhausted were you once that shootout ended? It even had to go all the way to a shootout for your final game in the stretch.
Aaron: I was pretty beat, but that’s ok. I just have to stay awake and keep the energy going. It’s not often that I sit down during a broadcast but I honestly admit that I sat down during half of the broadcast on Sunday afternoon. And I don’t normally do that. Just to try and keep the full sound of my voice, try to keep that as energetic as possible, because.. I don’t know if people could tell, maybe they could maybe they couldn’t, but I am hypersensitive and I thought my voice was sounding tired. So I decided that maybe if I sat down this would help the situation.
The tough thing was, after that, we had to tape a couple of segments for the radio show and then, because of our crazy travel that morning, my car was still at the airport in Milwaukee. I didn’t get home until about 6:30pm. That was obviously a little later than I hoped it to be but it was still ok. Had some dinner. Normally I go to be around midnight. I went to bed around 9:30pm that night.
R: What did you do on Monday? Get to soak in some good ol’ nothingness?
Aaron: Woke up at about, 8:30am. And just kind of hung out. Sat on the computer. Flippin’ channels. I have a guitar lesson that I didn’t practice too much for so I played some guitar yesterday. That was about it. Not a heck of a lot yesterday – which was just fine!
R: Were you able to see a lot of the outpour of support from, not just current Admirals, but past Admirals players? Guys like Michael Latta and Andreas Thuresson all seemed to be tuning in for your broadcast. I know Anthony Bitetto was another guy who was listening in just for you.
Aaron: Yeah. That’s awfully nice. I really appreciate that. I like to say that ‘so and so’ is in my top five Admirals of all-time. I think they all are in my top five favorites. We’ve probably had two-hundred people in here since I’ve been here and they’re all ranked near the top. There are some good kids that have come through here. And I certainly appreciate all of that. Especially all of the guys that have left and don’t have an allegiance to this organization anymore. That was quite flattering.
They’ve been great to me over the years. They’ve never said ‘no’ to an interview. They’ve never said ‘no’ to being on the radio show. It can probably be a little challenging at times to keep a smile on and do it, because, on a day off like a Monday when we do our radio show, they’d rather be doing something else at 6:15pm. But they always do it. So, for them to take a little more time and, even if they heard it or just say nice job, that meant the world to me.
R: With this first taste of the NHL, just like the players, does it have you thinking about any future work in the NHL or will Milwaukee always be your home?
Aaron: You know what – it’s funny. The dream gets altered as you get older and life happens. My wife and I are extremely happy, we love our house, and we love our neighborhood. With the Admirals, I can’t imagine working with better people. So I don’t know. You can’t say never. I can say that the dream was always to be in the NHL.
But I’ve told people all the time that I have the thirty-first best job in world. There are thirty teams in the NHL and then Milwaukee. But, honestly, I might have the “1-A” best job in the world. I get treated so well by these guys. It’s a great place to be. I’m not far from my family. But, we’ll see. That being said I did not grow up when I was 8-years old listening to Al Shaver call North Stars games.. I didn’t grow up thinking: man, if I could do Triple-A hockey that would be the best thing in the world. You always think you want to be in the NHL. You want to be at the top level. Players want to play with the best players and I think broadcasters want to call the games with the best players. I’m close right now I think. I’ve been here nine-seasons and I love it here. If I was here the rest of my life I’d be more than happy – I’d be ecstatic.
R: And I think you would probably get a bobblehead out of it!
Aaron: Yeah, we’ll see. I got the bottle opener so that was pretty special. The bottle opener was pretty good.
R: I remember having one of those with the battery either dead or dying and your voice getting distorted, It was very amusing to hear.
Aaron: One third of the batch came over with batteries that weren’t the best so we had to kind of weed them out. When they gave them out they ended up giving out extra batteries with them. There was one time where we played the bad ones. We played about seven of them at one time and that sound is, of those seven playing at the same time, that sound is what I’d imagine the decent into hell would sound like. It was something else.
R: How would you assess the Admirals season to this point?
Aaron: I think for the most part they’ve done pretty well. The team got off to that great start and ever since then it has kind of been, one up – one back, one up – one back. The good thing is that the lows haven’t been to low. Unfortunately the highs haven’t been very high. There hasn’t been this five, six, seven game winning slash point streak for this team – outside of the beginning of the season.
It would be great to get on a stretch like that once again. Guys like Sissons and Salomaki are playing beyond their years, beyond their experience. Moser has been great. Taylor Beck, since December, has been phenomenal. For the most part defensemen have been solid. There have been some breakdowns here and there but that’s why we’re in the AHL.
Goaltending has been good – across the board. I’m sure Magnus would love to have a better record than he does. It’d be great to get him healthy again. Scott Darling was been a fantastic addition and surprise to the team. And Mazanec as been very good too.
I’d like to say the team can figure out a way to get on a roll here in the near future. They just need to keep playing with some consistency, crash the net, and not have those lulls – and figure out a way to get ready at the start of a game. We saw, in the two games this last week against Hamilton and Utica, the team came out flat. At this time of year, you could say that would be easy to do. But this is a team that came off of a couple of days of rest and should be ready to go.
I’d like to think that the break came at a good time. Some bumps and bruises can be healed up a little bit. The mind can be refreshed. And really we have twenty-nine games to go. In year’s past we would have said there were thirty-five games or thirty-seven games left. It is a shorter sprint to the finish line this year and hopefully these guys are up for it.
R: I had actually talked with Kevin Henderson about plans during the break and he said some guys are looking to get some sun. I see players like Forsberg and Hellberg have taken to Florida for a mental health break. All in all, stuff like that is probably pretty good for the team.
Aaron: Yeah, league wide that’s happening and they should. Even in Nashville, I talked to Michael Del Zotto on the post-game show and he mentioned that he’s going to Cabo. So guys are getting away and they should. It’s a long season and there aren’t many breaks. When you finally get a couple free days take advantage of it. I hope that they are. And I hope they come back ready and refreshed and we can have a push like we did at the end of last season.
R: Who has been the most outstanding player up to the AHL All Star break? No need to single out any one player either. I’m torn between Sissons and Salomaki if I had to choose.
Aaron: There is no doubt that those two have been really good. Taylor Beck. There is a long list of guys that I think have been really good. I think Jarvinen has been pretty good. Joe Piskula has been very good I think. There are quite a few. I think Tousignant has been outstanding. Tousignant has brought exactly what this team thought he would deliver and maybe a little more. I think that has been a great addition to for this club. Saponari coming up from Cincinnati – he has also done a great job too – and he has proven that he can be a regular at this level. So there have been quite a few guys that I think have been outstanding. Certainly Miikka and Sissons would be at the top.
R: You bring up guys like Saponari and Darling, would those two probably rank among the top surprises of this season so far?
Aaron: I would think so. I think Darling for sure because we thought Pekka would be healthy and we never thought we’d have to see Scott play a lot in Milwaukee – and he just let his play do the talking once he did get in. That’s great. He’s a guy who never had a goaltending coach during the season before and now he does. And I think he is reaping the benefits of that. He’s showing that he can play in the AHL and play well in the AHL. If nothing else… he has earned, this year at least, a one-way AHL deal next year from some team if not a two-way NHL deal… of course he has to finish up strong but, based on what he has done so far, I think somebody has to pay attention. He’s a kid that was recruited and played two-seasons and two-seasons very well at one of the elite programs in North America in the University of Maine. He’s got to be up there for the surprises to the season.
Saponari had good numbers down at Cincinnati, he had good numbers in college, and I think a lot of people sort of knew what to expect from him – but he was sent down basically because of a numbers game. But I think it was a good thing for him because he got to go down and be a more offensive player rather than be inserted on a fourth line here where maybe he would have been a bit lost off the bat. I think he is playing in the right role and he’s getting power-play time and he has earned that.
Those guys are certainly at the top of that list and then I think Roussel is the other guy. They brought in Teddy Ruth who spent his entire professional career down in the AHL. He was also like Roussel – a second round draft pick. But Charles played his way into the lineup. There was an injury. And you can’t take him out. On nights where there are seven healthy defensemen – the Admirals have, on a few occasions, played seven healthy defensemen instead of a forward because Roussel has been that important to them this year.
R: If he comes back for a rehab stint, how special would it be for Pekka Rinne and the fans to see him back in an Admirals uniform?
Aaron: If this is what happens. First thing, Nashville needs to make sure he is healthy. I’m sure Pekka wants to comeback immediately. And if it takes coming to Milwaukee for some training.. for some game action.. then I think he would be all for it. He’s rated the top player of all-time in Milwaukee and it wasn’t just because of the way he played in goal it was because he was as accommodating and as nice to the fans and all of that that a player could be.
Here is a guy who, when healthy, is one of the best goaltenders in the world and there are no errors about him. If he needs to come down and play I’m sure he would welcome that opportunity to come down and play in Milwaukee and get some action and get some shots and work his way back up. He’s a guy that, if he did come down, it wouldn’t be a half-hearted effort. He would be out there trying to shut everybody out. He’d be working on his game certainly but not allowing any goals. He wouldn’t mail anything in. It would be thrilling. I think people would respond to that and it that would sell a few tickets if Pekka was in goal.
R: What do you expect from the second half of the Admirals season when we head towards the playoff push?
Aaron: I think we saw it last year, and there have been guys around these last couple of seasons for these playoff pushes that understand the importance of every game. I think you’re going to see a team that handles this in a very mature way. And I think you’ll see a team that will play closer to sixty-minutes than it has in the past few games. I expect nothing but another playoff push from this team and another playoff appearance from this team.
At the outset, I thought this was a special group. I thought the mix of veterans and young players, the people they had, the coaches staff, I thought it was a special group that could go a long way. Nothing has really changed my thought of that. I look at, Chicago has had Milwaukee’s number this season but all of those games have been one-goal games. The Admirals have played well against Grand Rapids and they’re arguably the best team in the league. They’re not what they were but the Admirals also beat them when they were at their best earlier this season.. Abbotsford is a team like that.. Texas is a team like that.. that the Admirals split with. The Admirals have played and beaten the best teams in the AHL – at least in the Western Conference. I think it is going to be a playoff run and I would like to think a deep playoff run.