EDITOR’S NOTE: This weekend in Providence, R.I., Leah Hextall becomes the first woman to call play by play for the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship. She will describe East Regional action beginning Saturday when No. 3 Minnesota State plays Providence (1 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS) in the first game followed by Cornell versus Northeastern (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS) in the nightcap. She also will call the East Regional Final (Sunday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2). She will be paired with analyst Billy Jaffe for all three games and Quint Kessenich will join them as a reporter for the Regional Final. Hextall, who has worked as a rinkside reporter and studio host for much of her 15-year broadcasting career, shares her thoughts on the milestone in this post written for Front Row. For more programming information, visit ESPN Press Room.
It was a somewhat standard call, like many I have had in my 15-year career. I was thrilled that ESPN coordinating producer John Vassallo was asking me to work the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament.
Calling an NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament regional was something I have never done and would further my experience as a play-by-play broadcaster, a role I moved into last year after more than 14 years as a reporter and host.
Then, a few days later, I was asked the question: How does it feel to be the first woman to call a men’s NCAA Division I Hockey tournament game?
I paused. This was more significant than I anticipated.
Truthfully, I haven’t allowed myself to focus on being the first woman to call an NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Tournament game; mostly, because I don’t look at it that way.
The fact is, if it weren’t for all the other “firsts” by women in sports broadcasting, I would never have gotten this opportunity. While it might be my name attached to it, I’m very aware that I’ve been lifted to this moment through the strength of others.
Minnesota State men's hockey meeting with @ESPN talent @leahhextall & @BJaffe this a.m. at @NCAAIceHockey East Regional. @mavhockey faces off vs Providence tomorrow in first round game. pic.twitter.com/SM6awRLeQO
— Minn. St. Athletics (@msumavericks) March 29, 2019
In just the last few years, we have seen Beth Mowins calling an Monday Night Football game, Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer teaming for “Thursday Night Football” and Jessica Mendoza becoming a staple on Sunday Night Baseball.
Further, hockey has always been a part of who I am. Growing up as a Hextall in Manitoba, Canada, throughout my life, my family’s heritage has been celebrated.
My grandfather Bryan Hextall, who I affectingly called “Pops,” was a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Rangers and had a career that landed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Then there are my two uncles — Bryan Jr. and Dennis Hextall — both of whom played in the NHL. My cousin Ron Hextall changed the way goalies played the game.
Oh, and I can’t forget my dad Randy, who won a national championship with the Portage Terriers in the Manitoba Jr. Hockey League back in his day! Our family has lived every Canadian kids’ dream.
And it’s that dream which has emboldened me to choose this path. I have been lucky enough to cover many high-profile games during my career; yet, I’ve never envisioned being the central member in a signature event. I am thankful to ESPN for this opportunity.
But most importantly, it’s another chance to call a game I love.