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Goaltender for the Crimson, victor of the Beanpot, and beloved announcer for the Carolina Hurricanes, Tripp Tracy ‘96 has seen it all.
Yet, before Harvard, and before Harvard hockey, Tracy was just any other high schooler: nervous, young, and trying to impress a date.
“I had gone on a date with a senior – I was a freshman at Milton Academy – and she took me to the Beanpot,” Tracy recalled. “And Harvard won it. That was the year they won the national championship, [with] Lane MacDonald and company.”
Harvard had won the Beanpot in 1989, under the direction of captain Lane MacDonald ‘89, a victory that had ended a Beanpot drought lasting more than half a decade. MacDonald would later go on to win the 1989 Hobey Baker Award and was inducted into the Beanpot Hall of Fame in 2014. Tracy, with his elusive date, would later go on to get dumped.
Although the date did not go as well as Tracy would have liked, it lit a more fateful spark than one of simple high school romance: a love for the Beanpot, and more importantly, a love for Harvard.
“Ever since I went to that Beanpot game my freshman year in high school on that date, Harvard's where I wanted to go,” Tracy said.
Ironically enough, while a Beanpot game captained by Lane MacDonald had set Tracy’s dream into motion, it was also one of the key players that had almost stopped it. While better known for his illustrious pursuits on the ice, Lane MacDonald had also graduated to become an assistant coach – just in time for Tracy’s junior year of high school.
“[MacDonald] would come out and do the recruiting. And he came to Michigan a couple of times, and I played beyond awful,” Tracy laughed. “I thought I had no chance, … I blew it every time they came to watch me play.”
At the beginning of Tracy’s senior year, however, MacDonald left coaching to take a job at Alta Communications to work in private equity. Stepping up to fill the gap was Jerry Pawloski ‘88, a fellow Michigander, former Harvard defenseman, and now an assistant coach. More importantly, a fresh set of eyes on Tracy’s game.
“[MacDonald] will be a dear friend of mine for the rest of my life, and thank god he left coaching because I can't imagine he would have ever had high marks for me as a recruit,” Tracy said. “But Jason Karmanos was playing on my team, and he was playing well. So, when [Pawloski] came when he took over for [MacDonald], I finally played well. He came because he – I'm sure he was coming to see [Karmanos] – and that is what really turned for me.”
Tracy played well enough to earn more than a couple of recruiters' eyes on him too. His senior year, Tracy was drafted by the Flyers in the 9th round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, whilst also imbued with offers from various university programs. But at the end of the day, Harvard was where his heart truly lay.
“I wanted to go to Harvard ever since, and I knew they had two senior goalies graduating, so there's gonna be a chance to play,” Tracy recalled. “But I had a couple of scholarship offers; [programs] that said, ‘We see you playing X number of games – guarantees, almost – your freshman year’. And Ronn Tomassoni, the only thing he said to me was ‘I can guarantee you the opportunity to compete for the job’ – and I liked that.”
Coach for the men’s hockey program at Harvard from 1989 to 1999, Ronn Tomassoni holds three consecutive regular season titles, an ECAC title, and a Frozen Four appearance. Prior to his role as head coach, he was an assistant coach at Harvard for Bill Cleary starting in 1982, and part of the Crimson’s only national title in 1989.
He had, as Tracy noted, never promised Tracy anything, but the chance and the challenge to compete. Tracy more than took him up on it. His freshman year in 1993, Tracy brought Harvard all the way to the Beanpot finals, and faced off against Boston University at the old Boston Garden – the very opponent he had first watched Harvard play all those years ago on that fateful freshman date.
Speaking of his date, there was an old face in the crowd that night for Tracy.
“I never saw her again, until we were tied with [Boston University] 2-2 after the second period. And I went out to … just cut up my crease at the start of the third period, and I looked back and I saw she was in the fourth row,” Tracy said gleefully. “She dropped me right after that date – and I said, ‘We better win this game!’”
And win they did. Harvard would take down Boston University with a 6-3 victory, crowning themselves as the 1993 Beanpot Champions. It would become one of Tracy’s most cherished memories at Harvard, both for what it meant for himself, but also for what it meant to his team.
“Our upperclassmen had never won. Ted Drury, Matt Malgrave, Steve Flomenhoft – you get emotional just thinking about it,” Tracy sighed. “To be a part of them winning was unbelievable – I'll never forget that night.”
The impact of his teammates, especially that of his upperclassmen, was huge for Tracy. Ted Drury ‘93 was named MVP of the Beanpot tournament and a finalist for the Hobey Baker. A then-prospect for the Calgary Flames, he would later begin an illustrious NHL career. Captain of the team during Tracy’s freshman year, Drury had, at the time, just competed in the 1992 Olympics to play for the USA.
His first course of action upon returning to the team, Tracy recalled, was to treat the freshmen to dinner.
“When I think about Ted, I carry this message,” Tracy said. “I tried to carry it when I was a junior and senior at Harvard, and to this day: the fact that he, an Olympian and a Harvard captain and a future NHLer, treated us truly, immediately, like we were part of the team. And to win the Beanpot and see their joy? That was a memory that will always be with me. Gets me a little choked up even thinking about it.”
Beyond his immediate team, Tracy also recalls the community of Harvard hockey and his great experiences with both upperclassmen and alumni alike.
At the forefront is Lane MacDonald – the former player and assistant coach that had almost put Tracy’s dream at risk. Now, Tracy speaks of him more than fondly. Despite injuries forcing an early retirement from hockey, MacDonald’s career brought him to the 1988 Winter Olympics, the US Hockey Hall of Fame, and various college accolades.
“Lane McDonald, Hobey Baker winner, what a star,” Tracy wondered. “He had neck issues – I think he would have been a great player in the NHL. As humble as they come, and he was everything. He was working in investment banking back in Boston, and he was so good to us.”
In particular, MacDonald also founded and ran the Crimson Hockey School at Martha’s Vineyard, alongside hockey alumni such as Andrew Janfanza ‘88. A terrific highlight to collegiate summers, Tracy recalls great company and greater fun.
“We had a teammate – he was two years ahead of me, would have been a junior when I was a freshman, and his name was Lou Body,” Tracy recounted. “And Lou-Lou came to the Vineyard and he had like – what kind of car – LeBaron, I think. He was from New York, and it had side vinyl paneling on it.”
“[Body] showed up to Martha's Vineyard, and he's like, ‘Yeah, this is the car we're gonna cruise in!’” Tracy laughed. “I looked at him like, ‘Are you kidding us, Lou? We ain’t driving that thing unless it's an absolute last resort.’”
For Tracy, these memories from college are more than just fun anecdotes. They serve also as beautiful reminders of past friendships and teammates, ones that Tracy continues to cherish.
In particular, Tracy speaks fondly of teammate Michel Briestroff ‘95, a French defenseman who’d also played a role in welcoming the freshmen during Ted Drury’s captainly tenure. Tracy and Briestroff would coach and work out together at the hockey school.
Briestroff later died in 1996, as a passenger on TWA Flight 800.
“[Briestroff] was with us there. It's [one of] the only times I've been to Martha's Vineyard. And I think about my dear friend, Michel Briestroff … and what great memories we had in Martha's Vineyard,” Tracy said. “When I think of Martha's Vineyard, I think about Michel Briestroff. God rest his soul. That was for those summers.”
It wasn’t just the teammates that had made the experience memorable, however. For Tracy, the coaches and the staff would become lifelong influences as well. And it’s not hard to imagine, having trained under names like Bill Cleary ‘56 – a gold medalist for Team USA at the 1960 Winter Olympics and inductee to the US Hockey Hall of Fame.
“My senior year, I was living in Eliot. We’d lost a bunch of games in a row. We went on the road for the first round of ECACs, and we were playing St. Lawrence – I think they were the first seed. And we beat them – it was a best of three or whatever it was. And I got back and Bill Cleary, who was the athletic director at the time, but obviously, an iconic guy in Harvard history and hockey history – he called,” Tracy remembered. “He called our room, and he gave me a special call to talk about what guts we played with. And we'll never forget that. From Coach Cleary, I will just never forget that.”
Tracy attributes much of his success at Harvard to this support from the coaching staff, in both the highs and lows of college life. Tracy remembers especially the first half of his sophomore year, where he had struggled at the time with his stamina and lung capacity on the ice.
"Say we'd be killing a penalty. And, I mean, I just couldn't get over it," Tracy explained. "I'd thought I was just out of shape."
Thanks to antibiotics, Tracy made a recovery from what ended up being pneumonia, but it cost him a couple of days at the hospital. His release, luckily or unluckily, happened to coincide with the advent of another major event: the first round of the 1994 Beanpot, a heated Harvard vs. Boston University matchup that promised an unparalleled rivalry between two Final Four giants and BU vengeance for Harvard’s victory over the team last Beanpot. The incoming tournament demanded excellence from the Harvard team.
Yet, Tomassoni didn’t give Aaron Israel ‘96 – Harvard’s other star goaltender and also a Philadelphia Flyers prospect – the go-ahead. Despite the recent hospital visit and struggles on the ice, Tomassoni chose to start Tracy, the goaltender that had carried the team through the Beanpot the year before.
“We played so well that I think you could have thrown a Shooter Tutor in the net,” Tracy laughed. “He knew that I was sick, because you know, he's our coach – but I just was able to tell him how much it meant to me that he started me. I just told him that within the last couple of days, actually. Ronn – Coach Tomassoni – always believed in me.”
Harvard contained multitudes for Tracy. His time here has been invaluable for him, even over two decades later.
“What's my best way of summarizing what my Harvard experience meant to me?” Tracy reflected. “Talking about the Beanpot, talking about Coach Cleary calling my senior year – I got choked up, and that in a nutshell, right there. That's how much it meant to me.”
After graduating, Tracy turned his sights to his future in hockey. Though drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1996, he was never signed by the Flyers past his status as a prospect. Instead, his old connections came in handy. Peter Karmanos, father of fellow Michigan and Harvard teammate Jason Karmanos, was the owner of the Hartford Whalers, now the Carolina Hurricanes. He gave Tracy a chance for a tryout with Jim Rutherford, the GM of the Whalers and later the Hurricanes when the franchise changed locations.
“I went in, I got a tryout, I earned a contract, I played well,” Tracy said.
Tracy would play a few years in the East Coast League and the American League. He was even called up for a few games in the NHL with the Hurricanes. In the first game that he had dressed as an NHL backup, the team had been facing the Dallas Stars. Tracy’s mother and father had been in the crowd, just as they had during each one of Tracy’s starts back at Harvard.
When Tracy’s two-year contract was up with the Whalers, he was offered another. Tracy turned it down.
“It didn’t really look like I was graduating – [that] I was moving up the depth chart [in] goal,” Tracy explained. “So I looked and I said, ‘Wow, I got called up to the NHL this year, I put on the jersey, now’s the time to move on.’”
Once again, it was his old relationships from Harvard that helped him break out. Ted Drury’s now-wife, Liz Drury, was a Harvard lacrosse player and semi-tutor to Tracy during his time at Harvard. Her father, Dan Berkery, was the General Manager of Boston’s WSBK-TV Channel 38. Through him, Tracy landed a job at CNN, as a production assistant.
“You’re learning, you’re making 15-16 bucks an hour,” Tracy said. “And I was just literally getting going in that job, and the color guy for the Hurricanes, who had ties to the Chicago Blackhawks – his name was Bill Gardiner – he left. Something happened, and the Hawks had an opportunity. He left right during training camp and the preseason in 1998, and so the Hurricanes needed to fill the role really quickly.”
Tracy had a little experience with broadcasting in the minors. He took a chance and applied. Peter Karmanos, owner of the Hurricanes, would give him that opportunity.
“That’s how it started, there’s nothing more to it than that,” Tracy said. “The owner believed in me, the General Manager believed in me – Jim Rutherford – and they decided to take a chance.”
Talk about a chance that paid more than its dividends. With more than 20 years with the Hurricanes under his belt, Tracy has blossomed into one of the most iconic voices in Raleigh, and in the NHL.
As the veteran in the broadcasting business now, Tracy finds himself as the one to reassure the rookies in the field – even the star players and former NHLers that he had once looked to on the athlete side.
“I remember Wayne Gretzky, when he started at TNT last year, he said, ‘Gosh Tripp, this television thing is hard!’ I’m like, ‘Wayne! You’re the Great One!’” Tracy laughed. “I saw Patrick Sharp in Chicago – I remember [Sharp] winning three cups, and being such a clutch performer for the Blackhawks. When he first started doing TV, he’d said ‘Gosh this is scary, I’m nervous.’ I’m like, ‘How can you be nervous, Sharpy?’”
Of course, as an analyst just starting out in the big leagues with little broadcasting experience, there was still a learning curve for Tracy. As with anything else worth doing, improving and excelling on the job required a lot of hard work and a lot of digging in. Alongside elite announcers such as John Forslund, Chuck Kane, and now Mike Maniscalo, Tracy gradually learned, grew, and took over the reins.
“It took me some time to build up the courage to start to build relationships with players, coaches, management, people around the league – there’s no substitute for experience,” Tracy recounted. “[And also to] start to rely on my own intuition as to how I see the game – be willing to take a chance, if you think something’s gonna happen and foreshadow.”
Now, beloved color commentator for the Carolina Hurricanes, host of the podcast ‘Digging in with Tripp’, and one of the brightest personalities in the league, Tracy has made a place for himself. His commentary and rinksides are the cornerstones of the game, Tracy is the Hurricanes’ modern-day Shakespeare. Hurricanes fans know intimately some of Tracy’s biggest catchphrases, which have weaved their way into the culture of the franchise itself – one of them sharing the same namesake as his podcast.
‘Digging in with Tripp’, Tripp’s personal hockey podcast, combines both the incredible energy of Tripp and the fascinating content brought in through his conversations with current and former players, or others involved with the sport.
“The reason I called it ‘Digging in’ is, when I was doing my bench interviews here in Carolina, oftentimes I’d walk into the dressing room,” Tracy explained. “Every team in the NHL has guys that probably have trouble getting to the interior, have some trouble doing what it takes to win. And so, if it was a guy I was about to interview that may be needed to be pushed, I would say to the coach, ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna tell him to dig in’ at the end.”
As for the podcast, Tracy finds the endeavor enormously fun, and an incredible opportunity. From GMs and Hall of Famers to Stanley Cup winners and NHL rivals, Tracy has gotten an unbelievable list of names to “dig in” with him. More important than the names he interacts with, for Tracy, is the opportunity to grow his own skills.
“I love the challenge of an interview, of trying to ask good questions in as few words as possible,” Tracy said. “I remember when I first started doing interviews on live TV, I would have three or four questions, and whoever I was interviewing, they could have said, ‘Well, I’m going to Saturn tomorrow.’ And I wouldn’t even be able to hear it, because all I would care about is getting my next question in cleanly. And so the ability to listen, and to have some things in your head and spontaneously be able to react. And I think the way you get there is experience, doing it. So I love that part of ‘Digging in’, because I’d like to think it’s made me a better interviewer”
Though it took over two decades for Tripp Tracy to grow into the role that he has today, the journey for him has been more than worth it. An iconic figure in the Hurricanes’ fanbase, his loyalty to the organization has been paid back tenfold by the fans, the franchise, and the hockey community.
Tracy has felt this unconditional support, even during some of his most personally challenging moments. Last year in April, Tracy had briefly stepped back from his broadcaster position to address a personal matter. This came following two tweets from Tracy the night before, about having a drinking problem.
“I’m an alcoholic,” Tracy said. “And the reason I bring that up is that then when I finally was given the full acceptance of the disease that I have that I work on every day, the support of the hockey world – I can’t begin to try to quantify it in words. It’d be impossible to.”
Hundreds in the community had reached out, including Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, and Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. The governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, had tweeted his support for the broadcaster as well. The support truly touched Tracy, who had recently spoken out about the experience following the incident this year.
“I never would have ever intended for it to be a public incident. But once I did that, I had to own it before I got to work on myself, and looking back on it, I’m actually grateful that it happened as it did,” Tracy said. “I don’t mind the fact that it’s public because we need to get more comfortable talking about alcoholism, addiction, and mental health.”
Though Tracy would be absent from the broadcasting booth for the rest of the 2021-22 season, he was greeted back by the franchise with a new broadcasting contract, and in turn, greeted back by the community as well.
“For me right now, as the Hurricanes are celebrating their 25th season in Carolina, and my 24th as a television analyst, I am just blown away by the support of the team that I work for, the hockey community, and so many other people that have supported me,” Tracy said. “That’s a massive part of my experience, and ultimately I have an opportunity to, by doing the right things that I can control, be of service to others.”
This is a philosophy that rings true for Harvard-bred Tracy – not just at the rink, but in all aspects of life.
“You have the greatest achievers on the planet at Harvard. Yes, you want to be personally successful in life,” Tracy said. “But ultimately, isn’t the very mission statement to work on yourself, so you can be of service to others, and be of service to mankind?”
For Tracy, just as his relationships have defined his Harvard experience, they have been just as monumental during Tracy’s broadcasting career, decades later.
These encompass not simply the admiration and support from the fans, but also that of the players, making Tracy’s role doubly unique within the league. Despite his role within the world of the media, Tracy’s heartfelt relationships with the team bring out a different, more personal type of interaction between the media and the player. Tracy’s Instagram and Twitter can be seen full of posts of Tracy golfing, chirping, and hanging out with players.
“Now I’m 48, and these fools keep me young – these players,” Tracy smiled. “We have a lot of fun.”
These friendships aren’t simply exclusive to the players on the team. Head coach for the Carolina Hurricanes, Rod Brind’Amour is a Stanley Cup champion, two-time Selke winner, and former captain of the Hurricanes. His talents extend to the coaching side as well – in his first season as a coach, he guided the team to their first Stanley Cup playoffs in a decade.
“It’s no secret if I got married tomorrow, Rod Brind’Amour would probably stand up at my wedding,” Tracy laughed. “But whether it be Rod or all these players, it’s a family atmosphere and you’re able to, in a very unique way, have these fabulous personal relationships but simultaneously … all know that we all have a professional job to do.”
On a more coincidental connection, Brind’Amour had also been recruited by Harvard. He went instead to Michigan State University, to play for the Spartans during their 1988-89 season, where the team had made the Final Four. Michigan State had been knocked out by Harvard, with a team composed of Lane MacDonald, and the rest of their national championship-winning crew – a fact that Tracy takes pleasure in reminding Brind’Amour about.
As for the Hurricanes, and Carolina in general – Tracy says that there is “no market” he’d “certainly rather be in.”
“As long as you work, unlike some other markets in the [NHL], they're gonna unconditionally support you,” Tracy explained. “And that is, of all the fabulous markets in the [NHL], that is what I find so uniquely special about Carolina.”
This is a sentiment shared by staff, media, and players alike. From Rod Brind’Amour, who’d spent almost half of his playing career in Philadelphia, only to make his home in Carolina – to newcomers Brent Burns and Jesper Fast “speaking to the ends of the Earth” about Carolina as “the loudest building they’ve ever been in.”
Now, 24 years into the game, Tracy has only continued to soar. Though some of the biggest questions in hockey have still yet to be solved, his time in the NHL’s spotlight continues to yield incredible fruits as the voice of some of the most electric moments in the league today.
As for aspiring broadcasters at Harvard, Tracy’s biggest advice is to “invest, totally”.
“Just like Rod Brind’Amour here, he is total, every day in whatever he’s doing. First and foremost with family, and then professional, personally [being] total,” Tracy explained. “So be total in whatever you chose to do.”
Another big part of staying afloat in the industry is the not-so-cliche: “Be yourself.” For Tracy’s former college team, he’s not disappointed. The 2022-23 Harvard men’s ice hockey team boasted the most NHL draft picks in the NCAA at 15.
“From the coach on down, they have all the tools and they have a lot of guys, that right now, [are] being total,” Tracy said. “It’s about extracting everything positive that they can from, in my view, the greatest college environment and opportunity that there is on planet Earth – but they have some guys that are gonna be very good NHLers, so I think they don’t need any advice from me.”
As both Harvard and the Hurricanes continue their dominating seasons, Tripp Tracy will be right at home in the booth, narrating along. Here’s to an end to another season of incredible calls, phenomenal fans, and of course, unbelievable hockey.
— Staff writer Amy Dong can be reached at email@example.com.
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