Feature: Wednesday, April 11, 2002
Razor Sharp

It’s not larceny — Daryl Reaugh has earned his limelight with the Stars.

By Dave Mann

You tune in for a hockey game, and a comedy act breaks out. This guy with a jawline like Jay Leno’s and a big hyuk-hyuk laugh is doing a hockey-cum-vocabulary lesson. A great save is “larcenous.” A missed play is “mental flatulence.” The commentator is a hoot. He makes it seem so easy.

But then, so did his old teammate Wayne Gretzky.

To say that hockey broadcaster Daryl Reaugh — Razor, to his legions of fans — provides a little color to Dallas Stars games would be, as he might put it, an obese understatement. He detests boring phrases — those tattered, well-trod descriptions spewed forth by lazy announcers. Like “good job.”

“I literally throw stuff at the tv when I’m watching football and they say ‘good job.’ ‘This is a good job by the lineman; this is a good job by the whoever,’ “ he says. “You’re called a color man. Provide a little color.” In fact, Reaugh, a former National Hockey League goaltender, throws around language like Jackson Pollock did paint. He may have been only a third-string goalie for much of his NHL playing career, but since 1996, Reaugh, along with booth-mate Ralph Strangis, has been an off-ice MVP for the Stars, a major factor in the successful introduction of major league hockey to North Texas.

He’s considered a rising star in the NHL broadcasting community, and not just because of his spates of goofball comedic analysis. Razor is valued for his knowledge of and passion for hockey, his eye for detail, his solid relationships with players and coaches around the league, his skill at explaining nuances of a game, and — perhaps most of all — for his ferocious preparation. He’s good because he works at it.

Reaugh “is one of a kind,” said former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, a close friend who coached him when Razor was a goaltending prospect in the Canadian junior league. “As hard as he worked as a player, he’s worked as hard or harder as a broadcaster. It comes across like this guy’s so funny and smart, and you wonder, ‘Where’d he get that word?’ I know he works hard at that stuff. I’ve seen him walking around with the dictionary and the thesaurus.

“He’s like a comedian,” Hitchcock said. “A comedian comes across as very natural, but they are some of the most organized, meticulous people you’ll ever meet.”

The Stars broadcasts by Razor and play-by-play guy Ralph Strangis are part tutorial, part critique, and part stand-up comedy — like throwing Ken Dryden, David Halberstam, and Jerry Seinfeld into a broadcast booth and giving them a stir. Razor’s offbeat turns of phrase have taken on a life of their own: Most serious Stars fans can toss off their favorites, even approaching him during games to suggest new ones. Web sites are dedicated to his best-known utterances. They even have a name — Razorisms.

A sampling:

“No one knows how old Guserov is. I guess we could cut him in half and count the rings.”

“He looked more confused than a goat on Astroturf.”

“It all started because of that over-caffeinated squirrel that is Blake Sloan.”

“Sometimes your play gets constipated and the power play can be an offensive laxative.”

“He’s as confused as a breast-feeding baby in a topless bar.”

When he’s not rattling off one-liners, the 37-year-old Reaugh jams his hockey jargon with a seemingly endless string of out-of-place adjectives. A rebound sitting in front of the goal is “juicy” or “rotund.” He once described a player as “sneaky, sly, sagacious.”

He reveals that he thinks up roughly 75 percent of his Razorisms ahead of time and saves them for the right moment in a game. “Sometimes you wait 10 games to get something in,” he says. “But other times, certain things happen during a game, and you have a light bulb go on.” His favorite, he says, was improvised during a game several years ago when former Stars forward Joe Nieuwendyk had scored two goals and then hit the goalpost with a shot in the third period. Everyone thought he’d scored: The goal light went on, the horn blared and fans started throwing hats on the ice — because three goals scored by a single player in a game is, in hockey parlance, a hat trick. Reaugh summed up the scene in typical fashion, with the kind of comment that makes you realize why he has a following. He called it “premature hatulation.”

“Ulanov lost his stick and then he lost his faculties.”

At just after 6 p.m. on a Monday, the American Airlines Center is deserted save for the concession workers getting the popcorn and $4 sodas ready, the guy steering the Zamboni around the ice — and the broadcast crew. Reaugh strolls into the home-team broadcast perch, a confined outcropping of chairs and cameras on the lip of the lower seating bowl. (“You should climb up to the press box to see how far the other shlubs have to go,” Reaugh jokes.) He curls his 6-foot-4 body into the leather chair next to Strangis and begins reviewing his game notes.

The opening face-off is still an hour and a half away but it’s already been a long day. Reaugh scouted the team at the morning skate, talking with Eddie Belfour about the goaltender’s injured back and watching the Stars’ top power-play unit take extra practice. He then went home, did research on the Internet, wrote out his many notes, and got to the arena nearly four hours before game time. “I hate traffic,” Reaugh says, almost sheepishly. “Might as well spend the time at the rink.” Once at the arena, Reaugh wanders around the locker rooms to talk with players from both teams before the pre-game warmup. Reaugh claims that’s invaluable time, under-utilized by many broadcasters. On this night, he collects several tidbits: the name of former Star Grant Marshall’s wife, who recently had a baby; the identity of the goalie for tonight’s opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets, a horrid second-year team with the Western Conference’s worst record.

Normally, Columbus offers an easy win for a top team such as the Stars. But this isn’t a normal season for Dallas: A poor start was followed by inconsistent play and the firing of Hitchcock, who had led the Stars to their only Stanley Cup, in 1999. On this night, the Stars stand 10th in the conference, still fighting for one of eight playoff spots with two weeks left in the season. Their desperate situation has turned a ho-hum game against Columbus into what’s known in cliché-riddled sports jargon as a “must-win.” A loss tonight could knock Dallas out of serious playoff contention — a shocking prospect for a team that’s won five straight Pacific Division titles.

Strangis, waiting to tape the night’s first television segment, hears that a visiting reporter is profiling Reaugh for Fort Worth Weekly. “Another one? Why don’t you do a story on me?” he bursts out. “I’m a Fort Worth native.” (Good try, Ralph — but you’ve still got a trace of that Minnesota accent.) Joking aside, he’s quite willing to talk about his broadcast partner of nearly six years. Reaugh “works as hard at broadcasting as he probably ever did as a player. He’s relentless,” Strangis says. “Yes he’s a clever guy. Yes, he’s a witty guy. But he does more [preparation] and does it better than most analysts.”

As if to prove Strangis’ point, Reaugh has spilled a puzzle of notes from his leather briefcase onto the desk. Besides a pile of official stats, Reaugh has a handwritten page of tidbits for each team. He likes to have something about each aspect of a team’s game: offense, defense, goaltending, power play, penalty kill, even-strength play, and any other trends he’s tracked down. In addition, he has a card for each player on both teams that lists his height, weight, and age plus recent stats and notes. The small cards slip neatly into slits in his briefcase, creating a jigsaw-like roster that Reaugh refers to periodically during the game.

Take the card for Stars center Mike Modano; it notes that he is one of the league leaders in first-period goals. “If he scores in the first period, boom, we go with that,” Reaugh says. He flips to the Columbus cards and removes one that shows tough-guy Jody Shelley is a leader in penalty minutes. “If he gets in a fight, I look brilliant,” he says. “I like to prepare for everything. My worst nightmare would be a situation happening in a game that I’m not prepared for. At the end of the day, you look back and realize that, of what you prepared [only five percent got on the air. ] But you never know which five percent. You never know which player is going to have the game of his life. So it gives me the confidence that no matter what happens in the game, I’ll have something. That’s why I’m so single-minded in my preparation.”

Without the preparation, “you’re like Thor without his hammer,” blurts statistician Mike Marshall, an intern from Southern Methodist University, with a self-satisfied smile. Razor grimaces. “Yeah, I’m like Thor without my hammer,” he says sarcastically, nodding toward the reporter’s notebook. “There you go.”

Two older women, perhaps in their 50s, who have been waiting next to the booth, ask Reaugh to sign Stars jerseys. Reaugh signs the shirts and poses for a photo, and the women buoyantly stride back to their seats. More than a dozen other people will ask for Reaugh’s and Strangis’ autographs before the game ends.

A few minutes before the opening face-off, Strangis and Reaugh shuffle onto stools in front of the camera for their pre-game segment. Waiting for the go-ahead, Reaugh taps his foot. Tom Jones’ cover of the Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” streams over the arena’s loudspeakers, and Strangis starts to nod his head to the beat. “Tom Jones,” he says wistfully. Reaugh begins shimmying his shoulders and, before long, is off his stool, dancing. “She drives me crazy, oh, oh,” he sings into his mic, slinging out his hips in a twisted version of the funky chicken. “Like no one else, oh, oh.” Strangis looks mortified. Mercifully, Reaugh stops, still laughing at himself. Assistant director Anne Clarrismeaux shakes her head. “It’s a fun group,” she says.

Reaugh gets himself under control in time for the opening segment, in which he and Strangis discuss Columbus’ defensive-oriented strategy for tonight’s game and how the Stars must work through that to gain an early lead. The camera light flicks off, and the pair return to their chairs, gearing up to once again call a game for two sets of fans: those who can see what Razor and Ralph see, and those who only know what they hear.

Like most Stars games, this one will be broadcast simultaneously on television and radio. The Stars are one of just four NHL teams that simulcast, a setup that saves money but is especially frustrating for Strangis and Reaugh. Broadcasting for both audiences presents strange challenges. For instance, when analyzing replays, Reaugh must describe exactly what took place instead of letting the images tell the story. He also must redundantly read the statistics in any television graphics. Of course, they slip up, and Reaugh will say “look” or “did you see” when discussing a replay. “We try to do the best we can,” Reaugh says, “and try not to piss too many people off.”

The game starts sluggishly, neither team generating much offense. The Stars nab the first goal, a shorthanded score, but it’s still not the kind of start the team had hoped for. Midway through the first period, Columbus’ Ray Whitney skates into the Stars’ zone and slings a hard slap shot at goalie Marty Turco, who sprawls to make the save with his right leg. After the next commercial break, Reaugh studies the replay. “Whitney tees it up from the top of the circle...,” he says and pauses, signaling that a Razorism looms. “And a fantabulous little save by Marty Turco.” Strangis doesn’t miss a beat and chimes back in with his play-by-play.

After six years together, it’s clear the two have developed a rare on-the-air partnership. “The hardest thing in sports broadcasting is to put two guys together and say, ‘Let there be chemistry,’” Strangis says. “It’s just not that easy to have two guys who really know each other’s rhythms. It takes time. We’ve greatly benefited by the team’s success. When the team’s going well, our stock rises. We’ll find out how good Daryl and I really are when the team isn’t as good. The games this year have been much harder to do.”

Strangis missed several of the broadcasts earlier this season after he crashed his new Corvette in December, suffering a broken back, an injury that could easily have paralyzed him. Bill Strong, the Stars’ executive vice president for broadcasting and sales, remembers visiting Strangis while the announcer was recovering. On the nightstand was a book Reaugh had given his partner after the accident: Bob Bondurant on High Performance Driving.

On a player’s first goal in years: “There are comets that come around more often than that.”

Reaugh has been applying humor like Band-Aids on sore spots since he was a teen-ager in the Canadian junior hockey leagues. When he played as a promising goalie for Hitchcock on the Kamloops Blazers junior team, Reaugh would often enliven road trips with comedy routines that included dead-on imitations of players and coaches. During his second season with the team — 1984-85 — he was called up to the Edmonton Oilers after injuries had sidelined goalies Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog.

He started his first NHL game against the Winnipeg Jets at Edmonton’s Northland’s Coliseum. It was an intimidating moment for a 19-year-old goalie, playing with a defending Stanley Cup champion team that included hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey. It was one of the great teams in NHL history, on its way to the second of five championships — in spite of Reaugh’s questionable contributions that night. He allowed five goals, earning a return ticket to Kamloops. “I wasn’t great. We lost. And I made the weekend highlights when Dale Hawerchuck lit me up for the ‘Goal of the Week.’ ”

“But that was back in the original 21 [NHL teams],” he says with a feigned sniff. “You had to be somebody to play in the league back then, not like this watered-down 30-team stuff.” And he laughs again.

The following season, Reaugh made an interesting stop with the Oilers. Fittingly, he played in the first-ever NHL game in Dallas — a preseason exhibition at Reunion Arena. The new hockey locker rooms were in bad shape, and the ice was even worse, almost soupy in the heat of a Texas September. The fans knew Gretzky, but, beyond that, most of them might as well have been watching croquet. “They certainly didn’t know me,” Reaugh says.

After several more years in the minor leagues, Reaugh came back to play six games with the Oilers in 1987-88 before moving to the Hartford Whalers farm system (the Whalers later became the Carolina Hurricanes). His longest stint in the NHL came in the 1990-91 season in which he played 20 games. Late in 1991, again against the Winnipeg Jets, Reaugh extended his right leg to make a save on a slap shot from the wing and tore his hamstring muscle off the bone. The hamstring injury, serious enough in itself, caused other problems and he had to have two operations on his right knee.

He worked fiercely to return from injury and played 27 more games in the minors during the next three seasons. By then, the long rehabilitations and stints in minor-league systems had begun to erode his love of playing. “You lose your enthusiasm,” Reaugh said. “When you’re on the shelf, they move on, they move forward. I knew I was going to have to work my way up from the minors again. So I made an executive decision that I’ve climbed this mountain twice, and I’m going to go climb a different mountain.” He retired from hockey at age 27.

“The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

Growing up in Prince George, British Columbia, Razor idolized the great Montreal goalie Ken Dryden. But he also admired Danny Gallivan, the commentator on the “Hockey Night in Canada” program, and always figured he’d drift toward broadcasting when he finished playing.

(Reaugh still worships Dryden, now president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Several years ago, Dryden walked into the Stars’ locker room in Toronto, but Reaugh got nervous and walked right past his idol. “I don’t want to meet him,” he said. “I don’t want my perception ruined.”)

There were signs early on that Reaugh might more easily walk in Gallivan’s shoes than Dryden’s skates. When Reaugh was playing for the Oilers, he stood up at the team Christmas party one year and entertained the room with impersonations of players and coaches. Glen Sather, the team’s coach and general manager, doubled over with laughter at Reaugh’s shtick. He told the young goalie afterward that he should “‘go into broadcasting right now,’” Reaugh remembered. “That’s not what you want to hear from your general manager.”

After retiring from the Whalers, Reaugh attended Northeast Broadcasting School in Boston and spent several years calling minor-league hockey games in Dayton and Detroit. In 1995 he became color analyst for Hartford. The following summer, the Stars brought Reaugh in for a tryout, thanks in part to his longtime friendship with Hitchcock. He joined Strangis in the Stars booth for the 1996-97 season.

Five years later, Razor’s dimpled chin and kooky eloquence are as much a part of the Stars as Mike Modano’s speed and Eddy Belfour’s lunacy. “He is as recognizable in our community as some of our players,” said Dallas general manager Doug Armstrong, a close friend. Strangis and Reaugh “are a major part of the growth of hockey in Texas.”

NHL hockey, like other professional sports, has become an industry of swirling and flexible loyalties. Old teams skip town and new ones pop up in strange places (hockey in Atlanta?). Old, tradition-rich arenas are being replaced with bland shopping-mall-like monstrosities, while longtime coaches like Hitchcock get fired, and favorite players bolt for free-agent contracts with rival teams or get traded to make room for new blood (what would it take to get Nieuwendyk back?). It’s a time when hometown broadcasters often are the key link between a community and its team, which is why even the laid-back Los Angeles Dodgers fans still tune in Vin Scully when the team is 20 games out of first place. In North Texas, Reaugh and Strangis’ charismatic broadcasts, besides aiding the team’s phenomenal success, have spurred the lasting popularity of a previously foreign sport, to a point where the Stars are one of the best-supported teams in the league. As evidence, the Stars continue to sell out even as they lumber through their worst season in more than seven years.

Back in the Columbus game, the Stars have built a commanding 3-0 lead by the third period. As the Stars have heated up, so has the Razor. He notes that Columbus has surrendered 10 unanswered goals in its last two games. “There’s that old saying: Never interrupt your enemy when they’re making a mistake,” he tells Strangis. “I think it was Napoleon who said that one.” Strangis just shakes his head. Later, Reaugh labels Stars defenseman Darien Hatcher a “masticating monster.” He describes a stick to the face of Dallas’ Daryl Sydor as an “eye picker.” When the game ends, the Stars have secured a 3-1 win and kept their playoff hopes alive. “And the patient,” Strangis says, “is still alive on the table.”

“Marchment is about as popular as a French kiss at a family reunion.”

Two nights after beating Columbus, the Stars play St. Louis, a heated rival also scraping for a playoff spot. The sparkling new American Airlines Center is sold out again, and, as fans spill in, the arena is suffused with the tension of an important late-season game. “You’ll see a different atmosphere tonight,” Reaugh promises. He’s right. The fans are juiced in the opening minutes; forward Brendan Morrow clangs a shot off the St. Louis goalpost, and the place nearly erupts. Minutes later, a Dallas player shoots the puck the length of the ice for an apparent icing call. The St. Louis defenseman blatantly lopes after the puck, allowing it to dribble just across the endline — a gambit that should have negated the icing call but doesn’t. It’s a nuance of the game that the fans notice, and boos tumble down from the stands. Booing a poor icing call? This might as well be Detroit or Montreal or Philadelphia. Hockey in Dallas has come a long way. And Reaugh and Strangis have had a lot to do with it.

You know you’ve reached a certain cultural status when a web site is created in your honor. That’s what Lisa Shannon has done for Reaugh. She grew up in Sherman, Texas, and, as you might expect, had never seen a hockey game until 1996. She was darting through stations and stumbled on a Stars preseason game. After watching “Ralph and Razor,” she was hooked. Now a senior at Austin College, Shannon created a Razor web site two years ago called “Larcenous” that contains a list of her favorite Razorisms (to which anyone can contribute), plus a bio, statistics, and photos. “I thought his Razorisms were great and needed to be posted,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I also have to admit that I had a silly crush on him at the time, too, but that didn’t have anything at all to do with creating the site.

“I know the team would have developed a large fan base after the Cup win in ’99, but I don’t think they’d have been filling the arena before that without the broadcasters,” Shannon continued. “Honestly, what did most North Texans know about icing before then? To us, that was something that happened to the roads once or twice a year.”

On that score, Reaugh is a perfect fit for Dallas. He loves explaining the game, whether it’s defining icing to a novice or pointing out a nuance to a longtime fan. His wit, passion, and meticulous preparation have gained him notice. Reaugh has worked national broadcasts for Fox, ESPN, and ABC in recent years. In a society addicted to PlayStations and Gameboys, however, he probably has gained more notoriety by providing the analyst voice-overs and Razorisms for EA Sports’ NHL hockey video games in 1998 and 1999. He flew to Vancouver for a weekend to record the sound bites. “That was a blast,” Reaugh said. “I hear from players from around the league about that all the time.”

He is respected, however, even by those who don’t punch the buttons of video games or roll in the aisle at Razorisms. Armstrong, for instance. Like many players and coaches, the Stars’ GM seldom hears the broadcasts. He said Reaugh has earned his respect mostly for walking the fine line between his journalism obligations and his friendships in the organization. “He walks that line better than almost anyone in that business,” Armstrong said. “He played the game. So he gives players and coaches the space to do their jobs and to show their emotions before he has to do his job. It’s the way he carries himself on the team bus, on the charter [flights], and in the hotel. He knows when it’s not the right time to ask a certain question. That’s why he’s so admired by players and coaches, and it probably opens a lot of doors for him.”

‘Experience is like the comb life gives you after your hair has fallen out.’

The St. Louis game has ended, and fans slink from the arena after watching the Stars misfire on six power plays and lose to St. Louis on an overtime goal that, in Reaugh’s view, may have torpedoed Dallas’ playoff hopes. “They had seven shots on six power plays against St. Louis in their own building with the season on the line,” Reaugh says, summing up the broadcast. “And that’s failure.” He takes off his headphones. “And I am spent,” he says, mimicking Austin Powers. He packs up his scattered notes, signs two more autographs, and gets up to leave. A night like this, with a devastating loss, is one of the reasons that announcing the game may be better than playing it, Reaugh had said earlier.

Broadcasting “is just like playing the game, except without the wins and losses,” he said. “You go to the morning skate, you get prepared in the afternoon, then you move on to the next team. It’s like a traveling carnival. It’s the best job on the planet.”

And that’s a juicy rebound.

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