In over 25 years of P. A. announcing, I’d announced over 1,000 hockey games but had never announced a professional hockey game. Minor League Baseball, yes, I spent nine years there; semi pro sports a few times; college athletics at the National Championship level, D-I, D-II, D-III schools, and more; NHL games as a DJ
In over 25 years of P. A. announcing, I’d announced over 1,000 hockey games but had never announced a professional hockey game. Minor League Baseball, yes, I spent nine years there; semi pro sports a few times; college athletics at the National Championship level, D-I, D-II, D-III schools, and more; NHL games as a DJ or operating the LED boards, but I’d never announced a professional hockey game. November 26, 2016, that changed when the Hershey Bears called on me to announce their game with the Springfield Thunderbirds. Here’s the story leading up to, and the day of my first game as a professional hockey P. A. announcer.
It started with a message from Bryan Benenati in September telling me I had to contact the Hershey Bears ASAP about a job opening, they were auditioning people to take over as the P. A. announcer. Several times, Bryan had taken me to Hershey to announce the DVCHC all-star game and festivities. It would be there I met Maria Stouffer and a few other people over the last five years, leading to some important contacts. Bryan told me to get in contact with Maria, who sent me the link in which I applied. A few days later, the call from Aaron “Hank” Henry came in to set up a time to audition. September 27 would be my audition date.
Only a few people knew I was going to audition, and most of them worked for the Washington Capitals because it would affect some games I had on the schedule to work this season. The rest were my family and announcer associates when the job was posted on the website.
The drive up was quick and easy, one of the reasons I don’t see Hershey as being a long distance, because it really isn’t. Maybe it was being brought up in the DC area where everything takes an hour to get to, maybe it was all the time spent traveling to road games while working in Minor League Baseball, maybe it was the only time I could see AHL hockey as a kid was after a long car ride, that two hours doesn’t seem so bad.
The audition took place on the full sound system. Since the Bears had a little bit of an idea from the DVCHC games and knowledge of my work with the Capitals, they tried to pysch me out a little and asked me questions like, “would you be able to handle a crowd?” It didn’t work and the audition went pretty well. As my own worst critic, there were things I’d like to do again, but at the same time, didn’t have a problem with how I sounded. You can never be the best unless you’re always trying to get better, so you can’t do your best unless you’ve taken the time to better understand what you’re announcing. That’s why there was some pre-prep in the days leading up to the audition.
The pre-preparation included talking with John Walton from the Washington Capitals who was the radio voice of the Bears; Andrew Hill, the mascot coordinator for the Washington Capitals and former mascot for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, along with Erin Blank who I’ve known for a long time and does some work with the Reading Royals. They were able to help me not only with name pronunciations of the three teams of players I needed to know how to announce, but also with local vernacular.
Many trips as a kid took my family different places. We’d been to Pennsylvania Dutch country several times, and as an adult, had taken my wife and kids up there as well. While driving, I’ve always “announced” city names in my head just to hear how they sound. In PA, you have many different names that are different than what you think. Lancaster is not “LAN-cass-ter”, it has a little bit of a twang on the first syllable and a rush on the latter syllables “LAYNE-kiss-ter”. Lebanon is not “leb-uh-NON”, it’s “LEB-uh-nin”. These I’d known since I was a young boy, bored in the backseat of the family car on those trips. Also, the state is pronounced “P-A”, like P. A. announcer.
In addition to the city and town names that Erin and John helped with, Andrew was able to help with the names of the Lehigh Valley players because he’d just worked for them last season. That was a big help, along with Erin helping with a couple of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton names that had played in Reading.
This preparation was key and it helped to reaffirm what I already knew, giving me confidence going into the audition. I had the names down and could sound confident in saying their names. The most important part of being a P. A. announcer is getting names correct, all the time, every time.
I was satisfied with the audition, but never completely satisfied with my performance, I thought about little things on the way home. Nothing specific bothered me, however there were a couple of things I would’ve liked to have tried again. All-in-all it was a good audition and nothing got left behind.
The audition began by meeting Hank who escorted me to the pressbox. He gave a little overview of how everything was being run, and they were putting a lot into finding their new voice. We chatted a bit because we share some of the same contacts. That’s how sports works. It’s hard to go someplace and not run into someone who has a direct connection to you, be it player, coach, or front office staff member. Heck, I ran into someone who I had announced for in Florida and Oregon, at a mall in Virginia. It’s a small world, and a small fraternity when it comes to professional sports.
Great Save Productions had me announce goals, penalties, P. A. announcements, PSA’s, etc. It was a well-run, organized audition that included a chance to hear immediate feedback and an interview after the live audition concluded. The interview was with several people from the staff, including Bryan Helmer who’d just been named as the Vice President of Hockey Operations. They all had good things to say and asked many questions, including the commute. This is the Hershey Bears, the commute does not bother me and with friends around Hershey, I’d have a place to stay if necessary especially on weekends in which the team plays on consecutive nights.
The morning of the audition, I dropped the kids off at the bus stop and proceeded to Hershey. They didn’t know where I was going, but that I had an audition. After the audition was over, I started to head home before realizing I’d forgotten to go to Chocolate World to bring the kids something. So back to Hershey I went. After spending quite a bit on Whatchamacallits, Kit Kats and some large candy bars, I saw that huge five pound Hershey bar. In my mind, I said, “if I get this job, I’ll buy one of those, I’ve always wanted to buy one of those”. That and the huge Hershey Kiss they have too!
The plan had also included going to Hoss’s Steak and Sea, but it was getting later in the day and the kids had activities back in Virginia. I skipped lunch and headed home satisfied and happy. It was a good, fun day.
The Call, Part 1
Hank was supposed to call back a couple of days later, but a couple of days turned into a couple more. They had a tough decision to make, and it wasn’t an easy process. They provided feedback right away and wanted to listen to all the announcers on the sound system again. Since they’d recorded everyone’s auditions, they did. Over and over.
Finally, what was supposed to be Thursday, turned to Friday and then Saturday. That Saturday, there was a lovely couple who I’d met a year earlier who asked me to DJ their wedding. My focus was on the wedding. After setting up, getting the music going, making sure all the details were set and introducing the happy couple, it was time for dinner. It was during dinner that Hank called. It was bad news, they’d decided to go with someone else. It was a relief to know the answer, and it was a first-class move to call in person. You never know what the person on the other end of the phone is going to say. I was happy for Hank and the Bears, they found their announcer and reassured them if they ever needed help, I’d be happy to help.
It was disappointing to get the news, but it didn’t faze me. Hank explained they had it narrowed down to a small number of individuals and I was part of it. They were going back-and-forth on many things and decided to choose Michael Sheldon. He’s local to the area and has a following. Completely understandable they would choose him.
At the end of the call, I thanked Hank and sent a thank you note to him and several others with the team.
Many people who know me, never knew about the audition, and I was a little hesitant to write about the Hershey Audition Process on this website. But I had to, it was run way too well to not write about it. The HAP should be followed by all and I learned a lot about how to properly run and audition from them. You weren’t a number, you were a person, a name.
As the season began, I was able to follow the team on my phone with their app. You can listen to games online or get live updates pushed to your phone. That was a huge help and Zack Fisch on the call of the games after a quick transition to the team, has done a great job. When I first saw him, I didn’t believe it was the same guy I had been listening to on the broadcasts.
The Call, Part 2
This call wasn’t a phone call, it was an email. November 9, I was setting up a sound system at Ft. Dupont Ice Arena for the arena to use for their public sessions, Gonzaga Hockey and Nova Ice Dogs games. As I was sitting on the floor, running cables from the penalty box to the areas adjacent to the benches, my phone buzzed. I stood up and decided to check the noise and then my email. There was an email from Hank with the subject, “Question and Opportunity”.
My first thought, he was going to ask about recording something for the team. I’m happy to lend my voice where needed, and offered to record some radio ads or other ads for them. Always happy to help.
The email said they were in need of help for their game on November 26. My thought, “cool, I get to work a Bears game too”. Then the next sentence, “Our primary public address announcer and back-up are not available.” A wave of emotion came over me. “We were wondering if you would want/be able to come up and fill in for the evening.” That wave turned to tears of happiness. Yes, there I am in the penalty box at Ft. Dupont Ice Arena, where I’ve announced the majority of hockey over the last 10 years, where I’d announced 42 games in six days, a 12-hour hockey game, and provided sound for numerous other events, and I’m brought to tears of joy. I finally get to announce a pro hockey game.
I quickly checked my calendar and saw that the 26th was wide open. I’d remembered my wife even asking me about that weekend because she wasn’t sure if she could get off work on that Friday. If she had, she normally would have gone out of town. Now, we have a change. I immediately replied to Hank, checked the schedule to see who they were playing, saw it was Springfield and called my dad. He and my mom were already going on a cruise that week and the 26th was when they were coming back to port.
My wife also got a text message and after completing the sound set up, started to tell anyone and everyone. To say I was excited, was an understatement. The game was more than two weeks away, but I didn’t have time to think only about the game, there were other games to announce, Caps games to work, sound systems to check, and content to add to the website.
At some point, I got the idea to put together group tickets, 24 people would eventually get in that group and knew others who would have gone had they been able to. Thanksgiving weekend can be tough when you have family obligations.
There wasn’t time to really think too much about the game and over think it. There was enough time to prepare, and create a couple of documents that made it easy on me, while also giving me a little “home” feel by altering the scoresheet I use a little bit.
The Preparation to the Big Day
In telling people about the big day, several P. A. announcers stepped forward to help out. Joe Wowk from Lehigh Valley and John Sheatsley from the Hartford Wolfpack both offered help with the Springfield roster. They both had seen them already, while Springfield had yet to play Hershey. As the game got closer, Springfield added a player, Michael Sgarbossa, who’d played in San Diego. Callan McClurg to the rescue, he’s the voice of the San Diego Gulls. It’s great having such a terrific network.
Hank sent a script to give me an idea of the various reads they had, that was a big help. One of the reads was for “P-A Central Federal Credit Union” and was tough to say. I practiced saying this at least 100 times a day for five days to make sure it didn’t come out like I had marbles in my mouth. Over-and-over-and-over, I wanted to be prepared. A couple of days before the game, Hank sent another script where “Federal” had been removed. And sure enough, it’s now to be announced, “P-A Central Credit Union”. Well, so much for practice, but if they ever want “Federal” used again, I’m confident I can say it that way too.
The scoresheet I’ve used since 2003 is very comfortable. It has everything I need to track, with all necessary information. It works well for me and why I altered it to a professional model that includes the team logos, records and game-specific information. I was excited to use it along with an assistance sheet that included instant information where you need to call upon something quickly during the game and don’t have time to search through the script. It was a big help for Hank and myself.
My ties with Springfield
If there was to be one team that I could choose for the first game, it was Springfield. There were three teams that I grew up following in the AHL. I had family near Binghamton, still have family around Springfield, and would have to travel near Hershey on our way to visit them every year the week after Christmas. Every year, the visit would include games in Springfield, the New Year’s Eve game in Binghamton, and maybe a side trip through Hershey if they were at home on our way back from vacation.
The Springfield Indians were an Islanders affiliate back then. When the Whalers took over the affiliation, it made sense because the Whalers had once used the Springfield Civic Center as their home rink when the roof collapsed on the Hartford Civic Center. The Indians were never a really good team when we went up there. They won the Calder Cup in their final year as an Islander affiliate after starting the season up and down. After our visit, they took off. The next year, their first with Hartford, they did almost the same thing.
I saw several games in Springfield over the years. There was the time I chirped Kay Whitmore who’d been pulled after allowing a bunch of goals in the first period. He gave me a glare on his way to the lockerroom. In that same game, there was a fight between a player in the penalty box and a player on the ice, haven’t seen that before or since. Springfield was also where I got my first puck. My dad, whose family lives in Western Mass., was sitting on the aisle when a shot was fired over the glass. It hit the step next to him, he got it and handed it to me.
Eventually, the Indians franchise moved to Worcester and a new franchise came in under the Falcons moniker. I saw Manny Legace and Nikolai Khabibulin play for Springfield. Daniel Briere also played there. They had some good, fun teams, but no champions. Their first year as the Falcons in 94-95, they were affiliate with both Hartford and Winnipeg. Two teams who would end up changing cities during their affiliation with Springfield.
Springfield held a special place in my heart. A few years later, I was in Storrs, Connecticut to announce an all-star game when my future wife and I were deciding on where to go to a game. Springfield was in, so we went. And playing for Springfield on loan was Stephen Werner who’d played for the same junior hockey team I’d been announcing for and was the reason we were up there. We went to the game with my aunt. It was the right choice to go to Springfield.
My ties to Hershey
For my dad, growing up in Western Mass., Hershey was the main rival. Like the Penguins are to Capitals fans. Here I am going to announce for his rival. But he’d also taken me to games in Hershey. It’s where I first saw a shootout at the old Hersheypark Arena, which is still there and is on my bucket list of places to announce. We saw Tim Tookey en route to scoring 51 goals on a season register a Gordie Howe hattrick. It’s where they didn’t allow smoking in the arena, but there was a haze above the crowd during the game. It’s where they had this gigantic goal light behind the goal. This thing was so huge, it blocked the view of the goalie from some seats. It’s also where some fans would walk through the bench to get to/from their seats. There were so many idiosyncrasies of that building, it helped introduce me to a different kind of hockey atmosphere from what I’d been used to in Washington.
It’s where I saw the Caps play a preseason game as a youngster, it’s where they didn’t pull out the moorings for the goals when resurfacing the ice, instead the Zamboni had a different pattern and would have to drive slowly through the creases before heading off after resurfacing the ice. Always wondered why they did that.
Hershey was also the place that had the weird “oval” logo, it was different from all other logos, and it had a bear shooting left handed. In later years, Hershey would open Giant Center and I’d eventually announce some of the DVCHC games. It’s a fun place to announce, a mini Verizon Center with great sight lines. Long time fans prefer the intimacy of the old barn to the newer arena’s amenities, but that’s the tradition that is Hershey Bears hockey. Something you don’t get a chance to experience much in the states. The Bears have been around longer than every team in professional hockey except for the Original 6 franchises in the NHL.
To say there is a tradition in Hershey is an understatement. There’s Hershey, then there’s everybody else. It’s always felt that way in the AHL, always will, and it’s not because of the 11 Calder Cup championships they’ve won which would place them tied for third among NHL teams. The Bears are well known throughout hockey. Gordie Howe once said, “Everybody who is anybody in hockey has played in Hershey.” I guess now I’m somebody!
I Didn’t Tell The Kids
It was the hardest 15 days to not tell the kids I was going to announce the game. It was hard. I did hint that we’d go on a road trip, my wife let it spill that we’d be going to Hershey the night before we left, but since we’d gone on road trips and to Hershey before, there wasn’t much there for them to put together that Daddy was going to announce the game. Pretty cool for the kids!
They didn’t know, and that’s how we liked it. Thankfully, neither are on social media, and we spoke about stuff in front of them like it was normal so they didn’t pay much attention to us. The plan was to leave the house, get to Hershey for lunch at Hoss’s, then head over to Chocolate World. Since we’d already been to Chocolate World, and I needed to meet Hank near the zoo, we decided to change plans and go to ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park. The kids hadn’t been there before, and I’d only been there years before after one of our side trips home.
The original plan was to meet with Hank around 3 and head over near ZooAmerica. Since we were already closeby, I went over myself so Hank didn’t have to leave the Giant Center on a game night. The rest of the family stayed behind to see the animals, where I was to go, well it was closed. After a quick text conversation, I went over to Giant Center to pick up Hank. The kids had seen me working a Caps game earlier in the month, so it was nothing new or suspicious to them. The kids thought I was helping the team that night.
Once all the paperwork was complete, they took my picture, gave me an ID, and I dropped Hank back off at the arena before going back to ZooAmerica to spend the next two hours exploring the animals and having a great time with the kids. We saw all kinds of animals, my daughter was so energetic to see the next animal and tell me all about them, my son wanted to see them all and then some.
ZooAmerica closed at 4:30 p.m., we left a little earlier to drive over to the game. We parked at Giant Center and I told the kids that I had to go inside to help. They went to Chocolate World. Hank met up with all of us, and I told the kids I’d see them inside because the gates weren’t open yet.
My wife knew to be back in the seats by 6:40 p.m., but that warm-ups started at 6:24. My kids, like me, like watching warm-ups and exploring the arena.
Going into Giant Center
It was time to go into the arena, and as part of my ruse to the kids, had been wearing a Capitals Winter Classic sweater. I meant to leave it in the car but it was under my jacket and figured I’d just wear it in. Hank took me to the control room, upstairs to the pressbox to drop off my stuff, to the production meeting, back to the ticket office to organize a group of tickets and then down to get something to eat. It was in the press room that I’d see a familiar face and meet some new people I’d be interacting with.
I was able to grab something to eat, and took a picture of it just to show all that we had. A self-serve meal with all kinds of choices and two desserts. After spending nine years in Minor League Baseball and having a hot dog or two a night, anything other than a hot dog is fine by me. But if I wanted a hot dog, they had those too!
As I go to sit down at one of the long tables, I look up to see Punky O’Connell. I’d met Punky as he is also a USA Hockey referee who was on the ice for the DVCHC games. A couple of years back, he even asked for my information in case the Bears needed an announcer. Back then, the Bears P. A. announcer was a member of the off-ice crew, and not game operations. That’s changed this season.
“I’m finally doing it. They’re having me announce tonight,” I said to Punky.
“That’s great,” Punky said with a wide, bearded smile. “Congratulations.”
We chatted about a few things, typical protocol of how things are to be reported and who reports them. In the AHL, coaches have two sets of scratches, they scratch one set of players for warm-up, and then additional players after warm-up. It’s possible to have the scratches from the teams before they even put their equipment on to go on the ice. This was good. I also met Dave “Sharkie” Ancharski who would be the man in the penalty box with the official calls on who scored, and the penalties. I was nervous and didn’t want to sound like a dork, so I did a lot of listening, asking a lot of questions.
In Hershey, Sharkie calls up to the pressbox with the number of the goal scorer and time of the goal, or all the information for penalties. Punky then calls over after reviewing goals to report assists and a goal number change if necessary. It’s then up to me to report it over the P. A. system. It’s a fairly streamlined system, I didn’t want to mess it up.
While eating, Hank and I talked about announcers, Jim Jones the in-game emcee who I met after the meal, and some other information related to the game. As much as I wanted to get comfortable and try to talk about other things, I knew in my head I needed to stay focused. Nerves were setting in just sitting in the room listening to people talk who have known each other for decades and here I am the new kid in a new school in the middle of the year. Everyone was very welcoming. Before heading to the pressbox, I grabbed a box of popcorn, talked to a couple more people then jumped on the elevator.
The first East Coast Hockey League game I ever went to was in Richmond, Virginia during the 91-92 season. Richmond was playing Greensboro that night and two things I remember about the game. One, I won tickets to a Capitals game inside the game program. Two, heckling a goalie for the visiting team and dropping the game-winning goal puck he’d tossed to me after the game. That goalie was Nick Vitucci.
As is habit for me getting on an elevator at a hockey game, I look at name tags. The only other person to step on the elevator had a familiar name, Nick Vitucci.
“I’ve got a strange question for you. Did you play for Greensboro in the early 90’s?” I asked of the man wearing a jacket and leaning against the back wall.
“Yes, that was a couple of lifetimes ago though,” Nick replied.
“This is going to sound weird, but you were playing for Greensboro in the first ECHL game I went to in Richmond. You weren’t playing that night and me, being a punk little kid, decided to heckle you. After the game, Richmond won in overtime, you picked up the game puck and tried to throw it to me. I dropped it!”
“I remember that,” Nick replied, shock and awe on my face. Nick then talked about playing in Richmond and went into detail about how two kids (the other was another kid who was sitting behind my family and I) were heckling him and at one point he said, “Look at the stats.” He was 10-0 at that point in the season and having a fantastic year. My jaw, firmly on the floor that he remembered these details, I was barely able to get out, “my dad said, ‘he’s the best goalie in the league’.” He smiled at that.
We got to talking a little more about the game, a player who was on that Greensboro team, and then it was time to part ways. I introduced myself to him. A truly great moment and opportunity to talk with someone who was very nice to a kid at a game and helped him love the game even more, without knowing he was doing it. Sorry, Nick, I really didn’t mean to drop the puck that night, it slipped right through my hands.
Had this not been my first game in Hershey, and also knowing the rules of asking something like this, I didn’t ask for a picture of us but would have loved to have gotten one. He’s now a scout for the New Jersey Devils, so I could wind up running into him again one day. That would be great to reconnect with him again. He really is a nice guy and I followed his career after that as he made stops in many places, including a four-game stint in Hershey during the 91-92 season, my first year announcing sports.
There isn’t an introduction of the teams when they take the ice for the warm-up, beyond a bear growl sound effect that echoes throughout the arena. On this day, there was also a Penn State football game being shown on the video board prior to the teams taking the ice. The fans were watching the game, then a commercial break and on to the warm-up. While the teams were on the ice for the warm-up, I’d wanted to run down stairs to surprise the kids one more time before they heard me announce. I’m glad I didn’t because the reactions we would get later were worth it.
So during warm-up, not having anything to do because we had all the necessary scratches, was to just watch. After finding, and using the restroom, I was able to just take it all in, meeting a nice usher named Ken. Ken and I chatted for a bit, more fans trickled in, and pucks went flying over the protective netting. There were a few fans who were able to corral a puck between the netting and the glass, which seems almost impossible with how the net is set-up in Hershey.
With about five minutes left in warm-up, I went back to my announcing position in the pressbox to go over the pre-game reads one more time and get ready.
Hank was ready too and I had to hand over a couple of sheets that had line-up and scratch information to Tara who was gathering that information for me while I read the pre-game announcements. I texted my wife to make sure the kids and her were ready to record their reaction and then it was time to welcome everyone to the game.
You don’t simply just welcome everyone in Hershey. You first introduce yourself, and then welcome the fans to the game. This was strange for me as I’m not used to saying my name until the end of the night.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Jarrod Wronski.”
As I was reading through the pre-game script, I found myself going a little too fast and getting off pace a little bit. Nerves were being felt, but in talking with several people who were there, they couldn’t tell. I am my own worst critic. During this time, Tara was writing in the starters, and handed them to me after the final read. There weren’t very many videos run during the pre-game, so everything was a P. A. announcement with backing on the video board.
Once the pre-game reads were over, it was time to go through the starting line-ups. Since I was using my own personal scoresheet, I was comfortable putting it all together. In Hershey, the starters are announced by forward, defense and goalie, not by specific position. After circling the numbers of the starters on my scoresheet, and with the written version on another sheet, it was the only time two documents were relied on to announce something.
The scratches were read off my scoresheet. They are the players with a line through them on my sheet. Makes it easy to read.
The first official name I announced for a starting line-up goes to Shane Harper, a forward for the Thunderbirds who scored his second goal of the season during the game. The first goaltender was Reto Berra, who I’d hoped to see play. Also in the line-up for Springfield were Ryan Horvat (forward) and Greg McKegg (forward) with Josh Brown & Michael Downing on defense.
The starting line-up for the Hershey Bears, presented by Ice Breakers was, Chris Bourque, Chandler Stephenson and Garrett Mitchell at forward, Tyler Lewington and Christian Djoos on defense, and Vitek Vanacek in goal. Vanacek played a great game in his AHL debut last season and during the audition process, was listed as the first star. I read during the audition, “with his first American Hockey League victory”. This caught the attention of Hank and others, showing that I knew the organization.
The color guard for the evening was introduced and Amy Lambert sang the National Anthem. Outtros for the color guard or anthem singer are not on the script, the fans know. They remained standing at attention until the colors were retired and politely applauded Ms. Lambert’s wonderful performance.
Now, it’s time to drop the puck. In recent years, for big games, people have asked for the pump to start the game. It’s not needed in Hershey as the fans didn’t get over the top, but were at the right level for a Saturday night in November. They were ready for the game to start.
Let The Game Begin
I don’t remember the opening faceoff, and forgot to take a picture of it. At this point, I was shaking inside thinking to myself, “it’s about to happen”. The puck dropped, the game started, and I’m the announcer. Wow, it was an awesome feeling and I was jumpy but trying to hold back. Hershey dominated the early possession and just 123 seconds into the game, GOAL!!!!!!!!
“B-E-A-R-S, BEARS BEARS BEARS”
The game is just 2:03 in and I’ve got to quickly remember what I’m supposed to do. Quickly, habit sets in and I write down the period and time of the goal on my scoresheet. I look at the celebration and follow who scored, quickly writing down “15”. Now, I’m waiting for the assists. And I blank on what I’m supposed to do. All of a sudden, the phone rings and Sharkie calls from the penalty box. The line was filled with static and hard to hear.
“Goal by fifteen at 2-0-3,” Sharkie says.
“Goal scored by 1-5, at 2-0-3,” I reply to confirm. Sharkie replies back to confirm and I hang up the phone. What am I supposed to do now? I don’t have assists!!! Oh wait, Punky will call those over. I look into his booth, to my right, and see he’s checking the video review screen to verify who had the assists. As he sits down, I put my hand on the phone. It rings, I answer.
“Goal by fifteen. Assist by 18…and by 20,” Punky calls over.
“15 from 18 and 20 at 2:03,” I reply to confirm, not only Punky’s call, but also to Hank and Tara who are sitting next to me ready to relay the numbers to the control room so they can run the proper graphics on the video board.
Hank waits a second to get confirmation from the control room, and then points to me:
Jump to 45 seconds for the announcement
Wow, the first goal call, get that out of the way early! Travis Boyd’s third of the season from Christian Thomas and Liam O’Brien. Had fun announcing O’Brien’s last name while rolling the “r” in Travis and Christian. After reading a couple of in-game reads during stoppages, the first penalty happens.
After getting seeing the call, I was able to quickly write down the time, period, team and penalty on my scoresheet. All I needed was the player number and was able to get that from the scoreboard when it posted, however the phone rang.
“Hey Sharkie,” I felt a little more comfortable.
“Springfield penalty to 1-3, two minutes for interference at 6-2-3,” Sharkie called up.
“Thirteen, two minutes, interference at 6:23,” I replied.
My first penalty! And my one major concern going into the game was announcing the correct Springfield nickname. If anyone were putting odds down, and there probably were a few fans who were thinking, “we’ve never heard this guy before, will he mess up their name?” They quickly found out, no. But if they were putting down bets, it would have been here the easy money I would’ve said, “Falcons”. What they didn’t know, is I was more concerned about saying “Indians” rather than “Falcons”. And I nearly did.
With my style, the first time through the penalty, I’ll announce the city name. The second time, the nickname.
“Springfield penalty to number 13 Chase Balisy, two minutes for interference. Time of the penalty 6:23. That’s [pause] Thunderbirds penalty…”
I nearly called them the Indians on the repeat.
The Bears would convert on the power play 1:32 later. It’s 2-0 and I get to announce another goal.
— AHL (@TheAHL) November 27, 2016
However, when the phone rang this time. It wasn’t Sharkie calling up the goal, it was something else.
“Now in goal for Springfield, number 56,” he said.
The Thunderbirds were changing goalies 7:55 into the game as Berra had been beaten twice, though the second goal was a nice shot by Chandler Stephenson.
“Hershey Bears, POWER PLAY goal, scoring his second goal of the season, number 21 Chandler Stephenson. Assisted by number 25 Colby Williams, and by #24 Brad Malone. Time of the goal, 7:55.”
Hershey had a 2-0 lead before the second media timeout of the period and the fans were happy. The team was playing well, and in control for most of the first.
The teams would each be called for a penalty later in the period, Ed Wittchow (given pronunciation was ‘wit-coe’) for Springfield and Nathan Walker for Hershey spent two minutes each in the box before the period ended.
As the clock counted down to one minute, I watched. After announcing, “one minute remaining in the first period, one minute,” Hank asked if Sharkie called up to remind me. Nope, didn’t know he was supposed to. He did in the next two periods with 1:30 left on the clock.
When the period ended, Punky called over with the shots on goal, though I almost read them before he called. That would have been my mistake on that one. Hershey led 8-4 on shots after one.
Then it was time to send it down to the ice for Jonesy’s first intermission interview and contest. He did a great job and had a great transition from the interview to the contestants. Once the contest was over, it was time to welcome the groups. One of the groups was the Nova Ice Dogs who were in town with a hockey tournament. Fitting they were there as it was at their home rink I got “the call”. There were a few more reads and a little bit of time to relax before the first period highlights and scoring summary, then the team came back to the ice.
This is where I almost made another mistake in forgetting to welcome the team back to the ice. The Capitals come back between 60 and 90 seconds before the start of a period, Hershey does so two minutes before the period starts. I didn’t expect it, Hank saved me on that one.
There were times I’d forgotten to breathe during the night, this was one of them. During the downtime leading up to the introduction, I was trying to reply to some text messages sent by friends during the game. It was awesome having friends who could make the game.
By this point, I was more comfortable and was able to shift in my seat a little bit. Being able to relax now made announcing the third Hershey goal 93 seconds into the second period easy. I felt more confident and by this point, the crowd had begun to catch my flow of announcing. Thomas scored his ninth goal of the season with help from Chris Bourque and and Malone’s second assist of the game. Springfield’s Paul Thompson took the game’s next penalty, a high sticking call, but Hershey was unable to convert.
Springfield, trailing 3-0, quickly brought the game to within one with goals 2:08 apart midway through the second. Anthony Greco scored the first goal from Dryden Hunt and Michael Sgarbossa at 9:45. With 8:07 left, Jared McCann scored his first AHL goal after being sent down from the NHL for the first time in his young career. Thompson and Downing assisted on the goal. Sgarbossa would get called for cross checking before the one-minute remaining mark of the second period for the only other note on the scoresheet in the second. Both teams registered eight shots each in the period which made adding the totals easy.
The second intermission was similar to the first. During the downtime, I had the chance to wave at my son who was sitting in his seat with my friends while the girls were on the concourse.
We were heading to the third period, Hershey leading by one and it would be the wildest period of the night. The welcome back was easier this time, knew to watch for two minutes on the clock and the video board showing them coming back to the ice helped as well. The set-up in Hershey is different in that I announce from behind the home bench. So the referee is facing away from me when giving signals to the off-ice officials, and I can’t see the team return to the ice until they come out of their tunnel.
The Bears started the third on the power play but could not convert. Boyd scored his second of the game just short of four minutes into the third period to put the Bears back up two. Jakub Vrana and O’Brien assisted on the goal. While doing the read, I could really feel the crowd was waiting on me to announce the names so they could cheer. We were in sync and I was flying high! It’s an awesome feeling to guest appear and have the fans with you by the end.
Joey Leach got called for slashing just over five-and-a-half minutes into the third. While he was in the box, a fracas developed in the Hershey defensive zone. Eventually Sena Acolatse and Malone dropped the gloves. At the end of the fight, Acolatse threw a punch while on top of Malone and the Hershey bench went ballistic.
I heard one of the referees say, “I saw it boys, I saw it.” Then blew the whistle to get the attention of the upset Hershey teammates and said it again. It was weird to clearly hear the official like that. Sharkie called up the penalties after they were sorted out, and after confirmation, it was now time to announce the penalties.
“Here are the penalties. To Springfield’s number 14 Sena Acolatse. Five minutes for fighting, and a game misconduct,” here I paused to allow the fans to applaud. It was a long pause. “And to Hershey’s number 24 Brad Malone, five minutes for fighting. Time of the penalties 7:41.”
My first pro fighting announcement.
With 7:20 left in the third, the final penalty would be called against Horvat who would sit for roughing. It was here I noticed when announcing the power play tease, the fans were waiting on me to say, “POWER PLAY” after dragging out “Shipley Energy”.
Less than two minutes after surviving the penalty, Springfield got the game back to a one-goal deficit when Harper scored his second of the season with help from Sgarbossa and Thomas Schemitsch.
Hershey outshot Springfield 9-7 in the final period, 25-19 overall. While getting the final totals in one ear, Hank informed me it was Hershey head coach Troy Mann’s 100th win with the Hershey Bears and I was to announce it. After announcing the final shots, a quick ad lib to congratulate Troy on his 100th win went out to a loud cheer from the Hershey faithful.
And congrats to Bears head coach Troy Mann on his 100th career AHL win Saturday night! pic.twitter.com/g7qFcmbZJG
— Chocolate Hockey (@ChocHockey) November 27, 2016
After thanking the fans, going over some post-game info and setting up the post-game press conference with highlights, it was time to pack everything up and head down to meet the family and friends who were still around after the game.
A familiar face, Maria Neve was talking to my wife. Maria I’d known years ago when announcing hockey at the University of Maryland where I also broadcast the games. Her husband was the coach and he passed away a few years ago. We’ve stayed in touch since then.
My kids were kind of passe about dad announcing the game, there was a positive response from those still left on the concourse.
The Bears, and there fans, are like no other. It’s a different atmosphere, and an amazing experience. Truly and easily a highlight of my career and I look forward to having the chance to announce for the Bears again in the future if they’re in need.
In addition to Mann’s 100th win, Garrett Mitchell was playing in his 300th game as a Hershey Bear and Chris Bourque his 600th AHL game. played the night before, were all recognized during the game.
Highlights from the game from HersheyBears.com are below: