Paul Woods remembers his early days in the radio booth were quiet ones. The Detroit Red Wings had called and offered him the chance to be color commentator, and he was happy to do so because he wasn’t doing anything else.
But sitting next to Bruce Martyn and speaking up wasn’t as easy as it sounded for the former player.
“I was thinking a lot of things, but not saying them,” Woods told the Free Press. “I wasn’t very good. That’s the best way to describe it, and that was for a long time, too. Then all of a sudden it just started to change.”
Woods replaced Paul Chambers as color analyst to Martyn, the play-by-play announcer, in 1987. Nearly four decades later, Woods will be celebrating his 3,000th game as commentator Monday when the Wings host the Los Angeles Kings.
“I’m still excited for every game,” Woods said.
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Woods, 67, was recovering from hip surgery when he got the call. A former forward who played for the Wings from 1977-84, his playing career ended after hip surgery, and the opportunity to stay involved with hockey was appealing.
“They asked me if I would do, and I said yeah — it was something to do,” Woods said. “I was going to do it for one year. I wasn’t doing anything.
“Early on, I remember I was really hesitant. I didn’t have any confidence doing it. But Bruce Martyn told me one thing. One day I said to him, maybe we could talk about some subjects to discuss. And he said, ‘Listen, you just say anything you want to say. You don’t need me involved.’ He said, ‘If I agree, I’ll say so and if I don’t, I won’t. People don’t want to just hear agreements. So just say what you believe. People want to hear what you have to say, so just say it.’ I didn’t start doing it right away, but gradually I did.”
Woods learned how to say what he wanted to say in only a few words. People don’t think about it, he said, but commentators have to be quick about making a point. There’s no time to think it over, and then say it. “Otherwise you get in the way of the play-by-play guy,” Woods said. “It’s like everything else, it takes practice.
“Both guys I’ve worked with, Bruce Martyn and Ken Kal, really do their job well. And they make it exciting. And that part is really important, because then you are into the game. So I’ve been fortunate that way. I’m really grateful to the Red Wings for giving me a chance. My career ended because of injury so I didn’t feel good about the way it ended, so to be able to continue on is wonderful.”
Greg Innis, a master of statistics for the Wings, calculated Monday’s game as Woods’ 3,000th, which includes playoffs. Woods hasn’t missed many games since his first season in 1987-88 — one to attend his father’s funeral, one to attend his daughter’s wedding; three last season while he was in COVID-19 protocol. He is the longest-serving radio color commentator in Detroit sports history.
Woods shared the radio booth with Martyn for more than a decade before Ken Kal took over play-by-play duties in 1995. They are the longest-running radio team in Red Wings history.
“It was kind of funny, because the first game we ever did together, we didn’t really step on each other,” Kal said. “So I thought it was pretty easy. It just took a little while to understand when to talk and when not to, but for the most part, we clicked right away.
“He’s very knowledgeable about every team in the NHL. He knows every team, every line combination, every defense combination, goaltenders. He’s like the kind of guy when you go to school, and after the test, he remembers it. And I’m the guy that when I leave, I don’t remember anything. He knows a lot about the game of hockey and it’s just a pleasure to work with him. I’ve learned so much from him.”
When Woods began his career, he relied on newspaper box scores for information. Now everything he wants to know is readily available via the internet. He loves preparing for games as much as he loves analyzing, and has no plans to retire.
“I grew up watching every NHL game I could, and reading every box score in every newspaper I could find,” Woods said. “I had seen one NHL game live before I started playing. Then I got this job. If someone had told me when I was a kid I would doing this, I would be doing cartwheels. Pay me to actually watch hockey and talk about it — it’s been fantastic.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.