New career fits Shelley like a fine-tailored suit
Former Flyer, longtime Blue Jacket finding quick success as a TV analyst for Columbus.
MENACING as ever, Jody Shelley created a stir in warmups on Thursday night. He wasn't even wearing equipment.
Shelley was standing in between the benches, where his two worlds - past and present - collided in South Philadelphia.
Skating in circles on his right were the Blue Jackets, the franchise that now employs him, with which he spent 5 1/2 magical seasons of his career. To his left, 18 of his Flyers teammates from last season - his final as an active player - were firing pucks.
Claude Giroux skated by Shelley, who was dressed in a suit and wearing a headset, and cracked that he didn't even know whether he could play with his former bodyguard standing there.
Scott Hartnell, like most of the rest of the Flyers, did a double- or triple-take. Seven months ago, Shelley was one of them.
Tonight, Shelley will get to experience that strange feeling all over again when he climbs between the benches at Nationwide Arena in Columbus and settles into his new role as a television analyst for the Blue Jackets.
"I really think it was more weird for them than it was for me, seeing me standing there," Shelley said yesterday. "I was prepared. I've been preparing for what I might do after hockey for a while now, probably so much so that I wasn't even worrying about myself toward the end of my career."
Shelley, 37, was torn this summer. He joked that even though he knew the NHL's press boxes well, as a frequent healthy scratch, he had always seen himself as a "hockey guy" first.
After finishing his career with the Flyers last spring, Shelley had an offer on the table from Paul Holmgren to join the team's player-development department. He was one of the most affable and well-respected players in franchise history - without exaggeration.
In 3 years with the Flyers, Shelley took numerous blossoming stars under his wing. He is one of the few players who could properly put hockey, with all its big-money pressures and demands, into life's grand perspective. He was funny, sincere and professional - all at the same time.
"He was one of the best teammates I've ever played with," Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk told the Daily News yesterday. "He was great. He taught me a lot about how to act like a professional and carry myself."
Even though the Blue Jackets had no room in their front office for their all-time penalty minutes leader (1,025), the pull from central Ohio was too strong.
"Walking into the Wells Fargo Center for the morning skate, I forgot how much I missed the place and the city," Shelley said. "I am so unbelievably proud to have been a Flyer, even just that people like the Zamboni driver knew me when I walked in. It was a great feeling. But Columbus was always going to be the endgame for me. My wife [Mandy] is from there. I have a lot of great friends and memories there. I feel like I belong there."
When the Blue Jackets hired Shelley in August, he was given the title of "broadcast associate and community ambassador." Blue Jackets president John Davidson, a former broadcaster, wanted to make sure Shelley enjoyed it first. Shelley met business leaders in Ohio's capital city, interacted with fans, did charity work and prepared for life as a radio analyst and occasional intermission guest. That changed after only a few weeks.
Shelley's contribution to the broadcast was so overwhelmingly positive, Columbus decided to ramp up his on-air presence. He went from radio analyst to rinkside for television. Fans have been clamoring for a long-term contract for Shelley so that he doesn't already jump ship for a national-television gig.
"He has totally exceeded everyone's expectations," Columbus play-by-play man Jeff Rimer said. "I knew he'd be a great broadcaster, but he had a choice to make. He adds a totally different dimension. He's just removed from the game as a player, but he is also a student of the game and knows the management side. He makes strong points, he can be serious, or he can kid around. He knows people."
Shelley has laughed his way through a few hiccups. He's bumbled a few words, not gotten his point out clearly enough, he said. For the most part, it's been a natural transition since - as he was as a player - he doesn't try to be anything he isn't. He is comfortable in his own skin.
"I think the key is I don't ever take myself too seriously," Shelley said. "Am I out to be the best hockey broadcaster ever? No. I'm not trying to reinvent the job. I'm learning from great people and having fun with what I'm doing. It's been an unbelievable opportunity."
So, there Shelley was on Thursday, standing next to Steve Coates, nervous and soaking in the excitement of the next chapter of his life. For the guy who never imagined he'd be an NHL player, the dream lives on.
"I'm going to try and do this until they won't let me anymore," Shelley said. "I love this lifestyle. I get to be around a team, stay involved in the game, meet great people and travel to great cities. I'm having a lot of fun. It's been way more of a blast to be on this side of the rope than I ever thought it would be."
Ray Emery is expected to start in goal tonight in Columbus . . . Steve Mason is still the Blue Jackets' recordholder in wins (96) and shutouts (19) . . . Jake Voracek is riding a six-game point streak (six goals, four assists) in his first game back at Nationwide Arena since his 2011 trade to the Flyers . . . Columbus activated right wing Marian Gaborik and defenseman James Wisniewski to return to the lineup tonight . . . Michael Raffl missed practice yesterday, but the Flyers termed it as a "maintenance day."