From roommates to rivals, alumni follow hockey dreams

by Samuel Evers / Beacon Staff • April 24, 2014

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Ian Tasso (left) and Jesse Liebman (right) working at their ECHL gigs.
Courtesy of Ian Tasso
Ian Tasso (left) and Jesse Liebman (right) working at their ECHL gigs.
Courtesy of Ian Tasso

The first person Ian Tasso met on Emerson’s move-in day in September 2007 was fellow freshman Jesse Liebman.

“He walked into my room with his hockey bag and goes ‘Hi, I’m Jesse, I play hockey,’” said Tasso with a grin, “and that’s how the legend was born.” 

For Tasso, from Topsfield, Mass., and Liebman, from Croton, N.Y., who both graduated in September 2011 with degrees in print and multimedia journalism, that out-of-the-blue statement foreshadowed a close friendship rich in hockey that is still alive today.

Jump forward seven years and the two Emerson grads are both living on the other side of the country, working and broadcasting for rival teams in the NHL’s second-tier minor league, the ECHL.  

Tasso, who lives in Las Vegas, Nev. and works for the Las Vegas Wranglers, and Liebman, who lives in Eastvale, Calif. and works for the Ontario Reign, have remained best friends, visiting and speaking to each other frequently despite the rivalry, which Liebman jokingly admitted was “only jersey deep.” 

For the two print majors, who were floormates as freshmen and roommates throughout the rest of their time at Emerson, their transition from writing to broadcasting started during their sophomore year after getting involved in ETIN, Emerson’s Talk and Information Network.  

“I never even thought of radio or TV as a viable career; I liked to write,” said Tasso, who was the sports editor of the Beacon his senior year. “But sophomore year we randomly decided to put together a show and fell in love with it.”

That show was called Last Call.

 “At first it was just a bunch of guys talking about sports,” said Liebman. “But over time it got more serious. We had [Bruins Player] Brad Marchand on, we had Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino on, we had John Havlicek on, we started getting some real recognition around campus.”

By their senior year, Last Call was running advertisements from Boloco and Dick’s Sporting Goods and had won two EVVY Awards.

As the success at ETIN grew, so did Tasso and Liebman’s friendship. 

“We were pretty much inseparable at Emerson,” said Liebman. “If you saw one of us, you were probably going to see the other.”

The two also partnered in jobs at WEEI, Boston’s marquee sports radio station, and at The Boston Globe, on top of the usual workload of classes and extracurriculars.

“Both of them were excellent students,” said journalism professor Mark Leccese, who Tasso and Liebman both credited as an influence. “They both worked hard and paid their dues.”

When their Emerson careers were over and the lease was up on their North End apartment, the two returned to their respective homes to regroup and search for new paths.

That new path came first for Tasso, who, after being informed of an ECHL career fair, traveled to Las Vegas and met with the Wranglers, who were in search of both sales and marketing help and a broadcaster.

Tasso was hired by the Wranglers in June 2011. Along with calling their games for the radio, he has done everything from writing press releases to dressing up as the team’s mascot, the green radioactive bull named “The Duke.”  

“The toughest year was definitely the first year,” said Tasso. “But I knew it would help when Jesse got here. Having a friend made me feel more at home.”  

The following summer, when a broadcaster for the ECHL’s Ontario Reign approached Tasso looking for an intern, Tasso immediately referred him to Liebman, who was at home in New York doing odd jobs in search of a career.

Liebman subsequently dropped what he was doing, went to Ontario, interned for the team, and was officially hired in May 2013 as an Inside Sales Representative, also doing the play-by-play for the Reign for every home game and most away games. 

Now, both settled into their jobs in 2014, the two best friends working for ECHL rivals Ontario and Las Vegas said this outcome is as improbable as it could have gotten.

“I can’t stress the craziness enough,” said Tasso. “We used to be rivals because he was a New York Rangers fan and I was a Bruins fan. Now fast-forwarding four years and we are both doing radio for rival professional hockey teams.”

As far the rivalry between the Reign and the Wranglers, who play each other regularly based on their close proximity, Liebman said the two have gotten on board, often trash-talking each other on Twitter.

“It’s kinda funny when he’s at our arena,” said Liebman. “Because our broadcast booths are elevated [to the same height], we are always messing around and trying to throw each other off.”  

Both broadcasters said their current jobs would be different had they not been so close. Tasso credits Liebman for getting him so intensely into hockey, and Liebman credits Tasso for referring him to the opportunity with the Reign. 

While working for rival ECHL teams may be unlikely, Leccese said their early accomplishments were no coincidence. 

“I'm not surprised both of them have careers in sports broadcasting, because even as students, both of the them had big personalities,” said Leccese.“I hope they both make it to the NHL. That wouldn't surprise me a bit.”

 

Editor-in-chief Evan Sporer did not edit this story because he a friend of Tasso and Liebman.