Sharks’ Rusanowsky talks Hall of Fame journey and unexpected aftereffects of his near-fatal accident

In many respects, Dan Rusanowsky is the first San Jose Shark to have a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Of course, several players who have worn the Sharks uniform are in the Hall, with former San Jose goalie Mike Vernon among the Class of 2023. Former Sharks general manager and captain Doug Wilson was inducted two years ago.

But those ex-Sharks players were largely voted in because of their accomplishments with other teams. Rusanowsky has been the Sharks’ radio play-by-play voice since he and Dennis Hull broadcasted the franchise’s first game in Vancouver against the Canucks on Oct. 4, 1991.

Now, close to 2,500 games later, he’s receiving hockey broadcasting’s highest honor, the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, given in recognition of members of the radio and television industry who made outstanding contributions to their profession and the game during their careers. Award winners are selected by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association.

“I’m representing the San Jose Sharks organization,” Rusanowsky said. “What should never be lost on anyone is who you’ve worked with and the experiences that have occurred for all of those 33 years. That’s really, really special for me.”

Rusanowsky, 62, named the newest recipient of the Foster Hewitt Award in June, will receive his honor at the Hockey Hall of Fame NHL Media Awards Luncheon in Toronto on Monday. With his place in the Hall, he’ll be alongside some of his broadcasting heroes in Dan Kelly, Sal Messina, Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin.

Recipients are recognized by the Hockey Hall of Fame as Media Honorees — a separate distinction from individuals inducted as Honored Members. For instance, Wilson was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2020 and is an Honored Member.

Rusanowsky took a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Toronto after the Sharks played the Golden Knights on Friday night. Now that he’s in that city for Hall of Fame weekend, everything has started to sink in. He saw his plaque inside the Hockey Hall of Fame for the first time on Sunday.

“Still shaking my head,” said Rusanowsky, a Milford, Conn. native. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Nothing like seeing your name in the Hockey Hall of Fame…

and yes… it’s spelled right

— San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) November 12, 2023

Rusanowsky said he’s always been comfortable on stage and with public speaking. As a kid, he was involved in plays and musicals but found that it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Then hockey found its way into Rusanowsky’s life. In 1971, when Rusanowsky was 10, his uncle took him to Madison Square Garden to see the New York Rangers play the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only was he captivated by the game, but he enjoyed listening to the pre-and postgame shows and realized there was a performance side to the sport.

Not only did he begin to listen to Rangers games with Messina and Marv Albert from his home in Connecticut, but by turning the radio dial at night, he could also hear broadcasts from Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Boston, and Montreal.

“So basically, what it did was it created a whole new world for me, a sense that I was imagining what it was like in all of these NHL buildings and what it was like to see these players,” Rusanowsky said. “I think that it just captivated my imagination.

“That’s what I try to do. When I’m doing a game, I want to make sure that if there’s another young person who’s listening, it captivates their imagination. … That’s sort of what captivated me in the very beginning.”

Rusanowsky began his broadcasting career as an 18-year-old in 1979 as the voice of St. Lawrence University’s NCAA Division I hockey program and the American Hockey League’s New Haven Nighthawks. After the city of San Jose was awarded an NHL franchise in 1990, Rusanowsky was among those who applied to become the team’s radio play-by-play voice and secured the job after multiple rounds of interviews and a visit to the city.

Rusanowsky had broadcast 725 straight regular-season games and 49 consecutive playoff games when a car accident in San Jose on Nov. 25, 2000, nearly ended his life.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 14: From left to right, San Jose Sharks play-by-play commentator Dan Rusanowsky, San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn, San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier and San Jose Sharks play-by-play commentator Randy Hahn talk about the upcoming season during an event for San Jose Sharks’ season ticket holders at the Tech CU Arena in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

In the hours before a Sharks game, another vehicle ran a red light and hit the side of Rusanowsky’s car, causing numerous injuries, including a partially collapsed lung, a ruptured diaphragm, a fractured left femur, a cracked pelvis, and cracked ribs.

Looking back, Rusanowsky said had it not been for an alert doctor spotting the ruptured diaphragm via X-ray, he might not have survived.

“What a doctor could theoretically do since the fractured femur is so serious, they don’t see (the ruptured diaphragm) then they might start on (the leg) and then it’s a waste of time because I am not going to live,” Rusanowsky said. “It was very fortunate that way.”

Rusanowsky endured an arduous rehabilitation process and the accident gave him an appreciation for what hockey players go through – both physically and mentally – as they return from their injuries.

That was one byproduct of the accident. There was another that was perhaps a bit more unexpected.

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“The hardest part is how it affects your wife, your family, and everything else,” Rusanowsky said. “But I always tell people, that the natural fear of death was lessened by going through the experience. I can’t explain how or why, I can’t explain that exactly, but that was an aftereffect of it.”

Remarkably, Rusanowsky returned to play-by-play duties on Dec. 30 of that year. Now in his 33rd year with the Sharks, he’s called every huge play and heartbreaking moment in franchise history.

In that time, Rusanowsky has missed just 27 games, and Sunday’s game between the rebuilding Sharks and Anaheim Ducks will be the 28th.

For a special reason, of course.

“I’m very, very proud of and it’s something I always wanted, but it’s also a big responsibility,” Rusanowsky said. “Arturs Irbe used to always say, ‘Every day that goes by is one day closer to the Sharks winning their first Stanley Cup,’ and I’m very hopeful that’s going to happen and that I’m calling the action when it does.”

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