It’s Friday night in Appleton Arena, and the men’s hockey team is about to face off for their first game of Legends of Appleton weekend. The referees have just skated onto the ice, and the crowd—packed into familiar wooden stands in the otherwise newly-renovated arena—prepares for the Skating Saints to follow.
“All of a sudden, all the lights and the scoreboard shut down. Everyone thought a fuse had blown,” says Executive Director of Laurentian Engagement & Annual Giving Joe Keniston ’05, M’07. “Then, an old-school movie countdown appears on the scoreboard. It cuts to a video, hype music blasting. The team comes on the ice, lights are flashing, and the crowd is going crazy. No one in Appleton had done anything like that before.”
The show’s conductor is the unflappable Grant Van Buren ’22, directing from the Appleton media booth and relishing the elevated fan experience. The Skating Saints would go on to sweep the weekend. As far as Laurentians in the stands were concerned, Van Buren and his crew in the booth did the same.
Van Buren, a lifetime hockey fan and former player from Canton, New York, was looking for a way to stay connected to the game when he began working in the media booth shortly after Appleton Arena reopened in January 2020. Today, the booth is embedded in the “bowl” (a colloquial term for the arena itself) and is visible to spectators who can watch as Van Buren and his team manage both in-game visual elements and the ESPN live broadcast.
Booth operations are supervised by Franco Bari ’98, M’10, associate athletic director for operations and external relations, and Randy LaBrake, senior associate director of Athletics.
“I’ve worked in the control room ever since the first game. I ran replay for two years and then jumped into more of the production my senior year. Randy was generous enough to have the confidence in me to take over as director, and my role has grown from there,” says Van Buren.
At any given moment in the booth, crew members—many of them current students—are pulling video clips for instant replays, coordinating which graphics should appear on the scoreboard, and keeping track of timing for the ESPN broadcast. Even in moments of chaos, they must work as a unit—counting down the remaining seconds in each period in unison and adjusting to quick changes with a cool head. Beyond the booth, at least three cameras capture the action in the arena.
“It all answers back to Grant,” says Keniston, who coordinates with the media booth crew on in-game entertainment. “He’s calling the shots, directing the cameras, and orchestrating everything happening simultaneously on the broadcast and in the bowl.”
The result is an elevated experience for the players, referees, and spectators in the crowd or at home.
“It creates more of a pro-style feel to the game presentation, and it makes everyone take it much more seriously,” says Van Buren. “When there’s all this work going on behind the scenes, players want to perform to match the energy of the crowd excited to see them play.”
Van Buren would know a thing or two about professional-level production. On any given week, he travels back and forth from Canton to Madison Square Garden (MSG), where he helps to run instant replay for the New York Rangers and Knicks.
“I’d like to work for the pros, but the only reason I’ve even gotten the opportunity at MSG is because of the opportunities I had as a student at St. Lawrence. It’s important to many people how the arena show at Appleton looks and how our broadcast looks,” he says.
“I’m proud of the steps we’re taking for it to look and feel like a professional atmosphere. I want the people who work for me to build meaningful experience, especially if they want to work in the industry. "
—Grant Van Buren '22
“The technology in the Appleton booth is industry-standard—from the cameras to the machine we’re using to create graphics,” Van Buren adds. “As a student, it’s setting you up for the next step if you think that this is something you want to do. I’m thankful to the donors who helped us make it possible.”
Today’s in-game and broadcast experience have significantly improved from the arena’s days of a single-camera live broadcast. Though the tools have added a competitive edge, there’s no show without hours of training and planning.
“I’m proud of the steps we’re taking for it to look and feel like a professional atmosphere,” says Grant. “I want the people who work for me to build meaningful experience, especially if they want to work in the industry. While at MSG and ESPN, I’ve been able to come back to Appleton and share what I’ve learned to make sure we’re not only following industry standards but also innovating beyond them.”
Though the trips to and from MSG combined with a full workload in Appleton make for long weeks, Van Buren says the enthusiasm from the entire Saints Hockey community keeps him going.
“The biggest payoff is when Franco tells me that the little kids in the audience loved the light show. It makes it all worth it if people are enjoying it and want to tell their friends that the game at Appleton was so much fun,” says Van Buren. “If that gets them excited and they want to come back, it’s good for the game and for Saints Hockey.”