By: Becca Weinberg
For many Jewish kids growing up in our teenage years, a large number of our after-school hours and weekends were spent at Hebrew school. It was there that we met some of our best friends, most admirable teachers, and learned numerous values, stories, and life lessons we still hold on to today. For Colby Cohen, however, the ice rink was his Hebrew school and hockey was his subject. He spent all of his time perfecting his craft at his local ice rinks in Pennsylvania. His actual Hebrew school even grew frustrated with him because he was never able to make it to sessions that overlapped with practices and tournaments. But it was hockey that gave him his strongest friendships, guided him through his years of maturation, and brought him unique experiences that have taught him many of his most cherished and valuable lessons. And throughout it all, he remained proud of his Jewish heritage.
Growing up, Cohen was very fortunate to have a family who were committed to his sports career. “At a young age, I chose hockey over all else, and my parents let me,” he says. Their constant support led him to continue pursuing his dreams and have confidence in his abilities. Cohen voiced that most athletes who make it need sacrifices from their families, and the early days of his hockey journey were really a team effort.
After realizing his potential to be a Division 1 athlete, Cohen was quickly sought after by Team USA and won a silver medal with them in the 2006 U-17 World Hockey Challenge. Following Team USA’s impressive performance, Cohen committed to Boston University for his collegiate career in 2008. He noted that hockey teams don’t usually have Jewish players, but was lucky that Boston University had such a strong Jewish community that he felt like he was an important representation for other Jewish students.
Cohen went on to have an exceptional college career; racking up playoff appearances, All-Star and All-American honors, and setting various new team records. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four tournament for leading the team to an overtime win in the 2009 national championship, one of two playoff appearances during his time with BU. Following his last season with the team in 2010, he signed with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche after they drafted him in 2007. He made his professional debut with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League (AHL) and his NHL debut with the Avalanche soon after. Following stints with Colorado, the Boston Bruins, and European leagues, Cohen decided to transition from his playing career.
Cohen was fortunate to find work in the media and found his calling as a TV analyst. He put in the work, and through diligence and learning from admirable mentors, Cohen was able to jump right in. During the first of his analyst days, he spent much of his time watching tape and learning from his peers, so he felt well equipped for his new path. Cohen mentioned that being an analyst is a great way to be part of the game of hockey after your career is over. “I’ve given my whole life to hockey, and it’s given me my whole life as well. It’s a mutual partnership in my eyes,” he says. Many of his relationships in life are all through hockey, and some of his best friends in the world would never have come into his life if it weren’t for hockey.
As an analyst, he likes the pathway it provides for him to stay current and involved in the game, in addition to learning a completely new side of the sport. He especially enjoys the variety provided by his job. He’s been able to do radio shows and talk in-studio, call the Winter Classic, and even be part of the Olympics broadcast crew for Westwood One, one of the stations where he is currently employed. The opportunities he’s been given to work for people he grew up watching on TV has been one of the most special parts of his job, and he’s been able to make many lifelong connections that wouldn’t have happened without his career choice.
Cohen’s very first mentor and one of the most influential in his career was Billy Jaffe, an analyst who previously worked for NHL Network and is now with NESN. He and Jaffe bonded over their shared Jewish heritage and ended up working games together. Jaffe taught him how to analyze and guided him through his very first months on the job. In one of his more recent assignments, Cohen worked the NCAA Hockey package with John Bucigross and Barry Melrose, two of his role models growing up. “A lot of work goes into being successful on air,” he says, but having mentors like Bucigross, Melrose, and Jaffe by his side have made his transition easier and all the more enjoyable.
Colby Cohen chose hockey over Hebrew school, but it was undoubtedly the right choice for him. He had incredible success on the ice as well as afterwards in the broadcast booth, but it didn’t diminish his connection to his Jewish identity. During his college years at Boston University, he realized he was a role model for the Jewish community, and he additionally bonded with other Jews in the industry throughout his career. And as it turns out, he wasn’t really choosing one over the other but pursuing a dream that allowed for both.