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How I Got To 100 WoHo Broadcasts

Hello, hockey fans!

Today's matchup between the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps marks my 100th league broadcast. It's been a wild ride, and I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I got here.

My journey in hockey started at a preseason hockey game. At the time, the Islanders were playing at Barclays Center. My younger sister and a new hockey fan recruited me to take in a hockey game. She watched the women's and men's tournaments during the 2014 Sochi Games and was intrigued that a woman of color, Julie Chu, served as captain of the women's USA team.

She eventually learned Chu played in a women's league in Canada (CWHL) and also learned New York was getting its own women's hockey team, the New York Riveters. We decided to go to the first Riveters home game at the end of the earth, Aviator Arena.

October 18, 2015

Jessie and Erica Ayala at the first Riveters home game.

When we arrived to Aviator, there was already a line forming for the first home game. Our tickets were scanned, a commemorative puck was distributed, we grabbed our seats, and then we waited. And then we waited some more.

As fate would have it, the visiting team was delayed. Suprisingly, the fans were in good spirits and willing to wait for the chance to witness hockey history. I learned later Janine Weber, the first player to sign an NWHL contract, did her part to entertain the crowd by showing off her juggling skills.

Eventually the Boston Pride arrived and warm-ups began. As the players skated around the ice, I began to look up their names:

  • Hilary Knight

  • Kacey Bellamy

  • Amanda Pelkey

  • Brianna Decker

I'd never heard of these people, but my sister recognized them from Team USA. Cool!

I worked my way through both rosters, trying to get familiar with the players before the game started. Boston's #10 stood out to me. I remember seeing her shot and thinking, why would anyone try to stand in front of that? Hockey is wild!

Sidenote: Blake Bolden would go on to win the NWHL Hardest Shot Competition twice (2017 and 2019).

The roster said #10 was Blake Bolden, a defender.

I caught Bolden on the ice again and quickly turned to my sister. "Jessie, I think she's Black!"

In that moment, I committed to learning everything about Bolden and other Black and melanated women in hockey history.

Searching for WoHo History

Eventually, the game got started, and Bolden and the Pride handed the Riveters a 7-1 loss, but Jessie and I were hooked. We purchased Riveters season tickets and caught the team in Connecticut, Boston, and Buffalo. Throughout the season, I searched with some difficulty to find more information on the league and particularly my favorite player Blake Bolden.

Eventually, I found stories about players of color by Bill Douglass and Kwawme Mason. I contacted them via email, asking them questions, including why there wasn't more on Black women.

The real breakthrough came when I found an outlet called MyWSports founded by Luis Sanchez. Not only did I find coverage on the NWHL but other pro women's sports I had no idea existed. Luis invited me to chat about sports on his weekly podcast. By the 2016 Isobel Cup playoffs, I was credentialed to cover the Buffalo Beauts at Connecticut Whale Isobel Cup Playoffs series (yes, the first year was a best-of-three series in the semifinals and finals). Kelly Babstock was the first player I interviewed, and I had very little idea what she was talking about. Seven years later and I still scratch my head after talking to Babstock.

By Season 2, I was a member of the media alongside OG reporters like Dan Rice, Kate Cimini, Melissa Burgess, Angelica Rodriguez, and D.F Pendrys. There was another writer and part-time photographer I saw a lot. His name is Mike Murphy, and you might have heard of him. He's awesome!

One day, Mike sent me a Twitter DM asking if he could pass along my contact information to Matt Falkenbury, the Riveters play-by-play broadcaster. Apparently, I took a whole three minutes to respond, "Oh wow! Yeah, that sounds cool."

It was funny to find that first DM because every time I think back about Mike reaching out, I remember all the reasons I should have said no. All I had was Mike's faith in me, and looking back, I'm glad I leaned into that.

I made my broadcast debut on February 2, 2017, at Barnabas Health Hockey House. The Beauts played the Riveters. By the next season, I was the Connecticut Whale analyst working with Phil Giubileo and filling in as a Riveters analyst or rinkside reporter. In Season 5, I was added as Boston Pride analyst alongside Sam Fryman who called his 40th league game yesterday.

The last eight hockey seasons have brought so much joy to my life. I found a community that, with very few exceptions, has welcomed me. I also know my journey to the booth is rare. I remain the only Black commentator in the league six years after my debut. To my knowledge, I am also the only Black woman or Latina to call an NHL game.

This game chose me, and I've often wondered why. Today, I firmly believe I am here to celebrate Black and melanated sports creatives, especially in hockey. I founded Black Rosie Media to do just that. Last month, with the support of MeiGray, I brought photographer Tiffany Thompson to the PHF All-Star Showcase to shoot her first hockey event. Tiffany is one of two Black photographers I've ever seen at a hockey game. The other also happened to be at the 2023 All-Star Weekend.

Back in 2017, ESPN invited me to write about being the only Black broadcaster in the league. In that story, I quoted Blues artist Buddy Guy who often summarized his music goal as "Be the best in town 'til the best come 'round."

If I'm being honest, I do strive to be the best storyteller in the league. At first, that was with fun stories from my conversations with coaches or players. Now, that means doing more analytical work and experimenting with new ways to break down game highlights at intermission. And, of course, it always includes saying players' names correctly and enthusiastically!

Until recently, I never gave much thought to the number of games I called, and I wasn't sure I wanted to call attention to Game 100. Then I realized I'm really freaking proud I'm the first broadcaster to reach, as Sam would say, the century mark. Additionally, reflecting on 100 has helped me refine my goals for myself, Black Rosie Media, and the impact I can have on hockey culture. The list is on the whiteboard, and I hope I'm in the game long enough to check them all off!

Stick Taps

Before the puck drops this afternoon, I want to say thank yous

To Blake Bolden and the Season 1 Riveters, who are the reason I fell in love with the game.

To Luis Sanchez and Mike Murphy, who are my A1 Day 1s and know more than most how passionate I am about hockey. Thank you for letting me be me and supporting me anyway, lol!

To Matt Falkenbury, my first broadcast partner, Phil Giubileo, who I've worked with more than any other play-by-play broadcaster, and Sam Fryman, who welcomed me with open arms to Boston and first put the game count on my radar.

To Renee Hess and the Black Girl Hockey Club community, who are the much-needed "balm" on days when speaking truth to power threatens to knock me down for good.

To the fans, thank you for embracing me and trusting me to bring you fun stories, fair analysis, and energyyyy!

And finally, to the players who are my first "why". My journalism career wouldn't exist if not for your willingness to chat before games, after practice, and everything in between. Today, I've traveled the world to write and talk about sports. The sacrifices you've made over the years make a difference in more ways than you know. Thank you for trusting me with your stories

To you all and many more, I am grateful. Let's do that hockey!

1 Comment

Lori Richardson
Lori Richardson
Feb 20, 2023

Congrats, Erica, on 100 broadcasts! That is amazing. My son, Leon Hayward is one of 3 Black NCAA D1 college hockey coaches this season - some years he's been the "only" - know that it makes a difference and we are cheering you on!

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