Before I say anything else I have a confession to make as a nerd. I have never watched any of the Lord of the Rings films or Game of Thrones. (dodges shoe being thrown in my direction) I know the two franchises are completely different but they both have a significant following and for whatever reason I haven’t cared to watch either. Speaking of the latter uber-popular HBO series Game of Thrones, while I don’t watch the show I do understand (just from seeing the many tweets) about it that the series doesn’t hesitate to kill off important characters on a somewhat regular basis and for fans they really agonize over these losses. For the series, its what keeps the story fresh and makes every episode a ‘must see’ because you are curious who meets their untimely demise.
In the professional sports world, those changes don’t happen nearly so fast. That is why in the course of a week the news that long-time Minnesota Wild beat writer Michael Russo was stepping away from the Minneapolis Star Tribune as well as the revelation that long-time anthem singer James Bohn wouldn’t be back came as 1-2 punch to the fanbase. Both men are not the ones scoring the goals and dishing out bodychecks, but they have been a significant part of the experience.
Since his arrival to Minnesota in 2005, he jumped in with both feet to provide the most in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Wild of any beat-writer the team had previously. Some of the other beat writers the club had seemed to go through the motions and give a basic-level of reporting that rarely went too far beyond the facts. While the Wild fanbase is passionate, the overall media footprint is very small in comparison to the Minnesota Vikings. Russo elevated that job by being accessible in a variety of formats, from regular podcasts with fellow Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial writer Jim Souhan to an almost regular spot on Fox Sports Net North‘s Wild broadcasts. On those aforementioned FSN broadcasts, they termed him ‘Wild insider’ and he really has been. No offense to St. Paul’s Dane Mizutani, but most Wild fans won’t believe any team news unless Russo confirms it first. I can assure that no reporter got bombarded with more Wild questions than him and his place with the team even spawned a bunch of parody Twitter accounts such as Russo’s Slacks, Russo’s Filter, and even Russo’s Starbucks Card.
Russo said he’s not leaving the Twin Cities and that his future job with will the Athletic. So perhaps his role as ‘insider’ on podcasts and FSN broadcasts won’t really change even though his focus may not entirely be just on the Minnesota Wild. So maybe its not really going to be a ‘loss’ just a simple transition of names. Either way, whoever ends up getting the Wild beat writer assignment at the Minneapolis Star Tribune they will have to try to live up to a pretty high standard which made him one of the most respected reporters in the NHL.
Crease and Assist would like to wish him the best of luck in his new endeavor. Heck, indirectly Michael Russo had a role in the name change of our blog. You may remember we were The State of Hockey News for 12 years (ironically nearly the same amount of time Russo was with the Star Tribune) and a few days after getting a mention on Russo and Souhan’s podcast the Minnesota Wild contacted my boss here and threatened us with a lawsuit unless we cease and desisted from using the ‘State of Hockey’ name and thus Crease and Assist was born (thanks Tim McHugh). We’re 100% ok with our new name and don’t really blame Russo or anyone besides the Wild. So hopefully its clear we have no hard feelings and genuinely You can read his statement on his decision below. Stick tap to him on what he’s accomplished thus far and best of luck to him in the future with the Athletic!
Here is just some of the fan reaction of the 1,300+ responses on Twitter to Russo’s statement.
And a great musical tribute from the super talented Kari Wahlen (we thank her for her permission to use her song here).
Once upon a time, okay more like October 2007, Wild fans had to endure an American Idol type contest for national anthem singer. Prior to the 2007-08 season, Wild fans had happily (and proudly) listened to the operatic rendition of the national anthems prior to games by Mike Schmidt. He was one of those great singers that would invite the crowd to join him in singing the anthems. Like many professional musicians, especially of the classical variety, you often have to take the job that pays the bills over the job you love. At that time, Schmidt was relocating to Phoenix to take an opera gig there, which meant he had to give up his anthem singing duties. Unfortunately, that left us fans with a horrid group of “singers” auditioning for the gig during the pre-season. For some references, you can always check out the wild.com message boards:
Wild fans may have to go down this road again, as it was announced on August 30, 2017 in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press that current anthem singer (and again, fan favorite) James Bohn was stepping down. In Bohn’s statement, he says he needs to spend more time with his business (he’s a contractor) as well as his family. I’ll admit, it’s a significant commitment for an anthem singers. 41 games, many of which are during the winter months. Plus, it’s not their full-time gig. As I mentioned before, Bohn is a contractor during the day and has other artistic pursuits as well. The human voice, which can be powerful and move you to tears, but it also fragile. Illness and vocal strain can take its toll on a person.
Honestly, I hope this is really the reason that Bohn will not be a part of the Wild organization going forward. However, I’m going to admit I’m a bit skeptical. I mean, this is the Minnesota Wild organization we’re talking about. I have a bad feeling that they may have wanted more from Bohn, but probably asked for him to take a pay cut. Or perhaps it’s a bit of a shakeup, as the Nashville Predators essentially jilted their usual anthem singer just this past season (most notably during the playoffs when Carrie Underwood supposedly “asked” to sing the anthem during Game 3 against Chicago).
The Wild have yet to name a replacement for Bohn. My hope, is that they’ll continue the more operatic tradition we’ve had over the years. With the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts (performance home of the Minnesota Opera) next door to the Xcel Energy Center, it makes sense to continue in this thread. We don’t need to go the pop diva route, as there’s enough of those in professional sports. All I ask is we don’t get presented a similar lineup of auditioning singers like we did back in 2007. And hopefully their dads don’t show up on the message boards to complain about us criticizing their child’s performance.
Regardless of the real reason for Bohn’s departure, I want to take this time to say thanks to James. He’s always been a class act on ice. Every night, he provided a top notch performance as well as represented the members of the armed forces as a veteran himself. Who knows, maybe we’ll see him on the ice again for a special game in the future. Best wishes James!