Q+A: Liam McHugh
by Michael Sones | @IFmsones
Liam McHugh hosts NHL Live and Countdown to Kickoff for NBC Sports. He has also covered the Olympics, Tour de France and college basketball.
I recently spoke with Liam about life behind the set, his favorite memories from Sochi, and his jump from a small town in Indiana to the New York City area.
Talk about your gig as host of NHL Live. I’m sure it’s pretty hectic right now with all the early round games…
Liam McHugh: It’s been absolutely great, mainly because of the games themselves. But yes, it’s a busy time of year. It’s one of those situations where I get in the office around 2:30 in the afternoon and I wind up being on the air until 2 in the morning. For the first month of the playoffs you realize you’re in there 6 or 7 days a week, a lot of late nights. I’m getting used to the idea that during the first round, 3-4 hours of sleep a night is often the norm. Things calm down in the conference finals for a little bit and then we go away for a few weeks for the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s exciting. The biggest part right now is that the games themselves have been fantastic and that makes our jobs a lot easier.
Mike Milbury and Keith Jones are the analysts on the show. What has it been like working with them?
McHugh: They’ve been fantastic partners. I think a big reason why I work well with Mike Milbury is because I don’t have as strong a background in hockey as I do in other sports. I came in having covered a lot of college football and basketball but certainly this was not something I did a whole lot of. Now I don’t challenge Mike too much on hockey stuff. I’ll challenge him on other things throughout the show but he knows way more about hockey than I’m probably ever going to learn. I love working with him because you really never know where the show’s going to take you. You have a formatted show but we go off that format quite a bit, mainly because of Mike. We can have a free flowing conversation, that we did not plan, on national TV. And it usually works out better than what we had planned. I think that’s one of the things that makes the show great.
I was definitely someone who needed to catch up quickly in terms of NHL knowledge so I did a lot of studying on my own, watched a ton of games and tried to catch up as quickly as possible. With Keith Jones, it’s like an education every day. Because he’s the type of guy who’s willing to explain things to you until you fully understand them. He’s willing to explain the finer points of the game so that it’s easy to pick up on them. And that makes it easy for me to convey those points to an audience. Both of those guys could not have been better to me.
You traveled to Sochi back in February to cover the Olympics. What were some of the highlights?
McHugh: It was very cool. It was different. I think the best moment I had was at the USA-Russia game that went into the shootout. To be there in that arena with that energy and to see what T.J. Oshie did… I’ve been to the Super Bowl, to the BCS National Championship, to the Final Four… But that was the greatest live sporting event I’ve ever attended.
You also host Countdown to Kickoff along with Hines Ward and Doug Flutie. Talk about that experience a little bit.
McHugh: For me to be able to have a job like this, where I can live in the New York area and still be involved in college football, is an absolute gift. Because you know there aren’t that many college football teams around here. We were doing the show for about a year and a half in the studio at 30 Rock and that was cool, kind of a wild experience. We were on the eighth floor, which is exactly where Saturday Night Live is, so they were rehearsing all day while we were doing a college football show. You’d come out of the studio and you’d see Alec Baldwin going up the hallway or everyone in wigs or guys from Radiohead hanging out. But now we’re up in Connecticut. They take us out on the road and we’re in South Bend for all of the Notre Dame home games. To me that’s awesome because I covered Oklahoma football and Oklahoma State football when I worked for a Fox affiliate in Oklahoma and I’d be there on game day every Saturday. There’s nothing like it- the energy you get from the crowd and that whole experience of walking up to the stadium and going inside. The first year we were right in front of the students, which was a very cool experience. The final home game, they do this thing where all the students throw marshmallows at each other. But of course now that they’ve put our set directly next to the students, everyone just threw them at us on live TV. So we’re there and we’re dodging marshmallows or we’re catching them and throwing them back at people while we’re on the air. For me it’s the best of both worlds. I get to live in New York, do national broadcasts and still be involved in college football, so it’s tough to ask for more.
Any words of advice for aspiring sportscasters?
McHugh: For me I think getting out of your comfort zone, moving away, starting somewhere small- I think that’s a really good idea for someone who’s young in this business. You’ll learn from the ground up. You’ll learn everything about it- from shooting to editing to writing and producing. It’s going to make you a better all-around broadcaster or all-around journalist. And more than that, you’re going to go someplace and you’re going to get repetition, you’re going to get on-air experience. You know when you’re young, you’re going to make some mistakes. Go to some place where they’re going to be patient with you, where they’re going to let you learn and grow. That really worked out well for me. I started in this small market, Terre Haute, Indiana, and was there for a few years. But I was on the air every single day. I was busy, it was a lot of hard work and it didn’t pay much. But I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not started there.