Random Cities: Billy Jaffe

Puck the Media’s bi-weekly feature, Random Cities, takes you inside the world of broadcasting from an angle you might not have seen before. We take each personality through various cities that have impacted their life and/or career, and let them elaborate with stories and memories about each. Enjoy.

This Week’s Subject: Billy Jaffe, currently a studio analyst for (deep breath) NHL Network, Rogers Sportsnet, NESN and MSG Network. He’s also worked with Fox College Sports, NHL Radio and CSTV, among many others.

City #1: Chicago (1997-2000)

Billy Jaffe: Back in 1997, I fell into it with the Chicago Blackhawks organization, doing their radio analysis – not in-game but pre-game, intermission, post-game, and doing the coach’s show – with no previous experience, and then it started picking up that year. I did two games on TV, one for the Wolves, one for Fox. Then the next year I fell into full time, I was able to do the Hawks full time on radio, and then I did the Chicago Wolves full-time, and college hockey.

PTM: Was that part of the era when, at times, the Wolves were a little more exciting than the Blackhawks?

BJ: Yeah, no question about it [laughs]. I have the honor of knowing that in my first year in broadcasting was the first time in 28 years that the Hawks didn’t make the playoffs. They had some streak going, and my first year I fell into broadcasting, completely ass-backwards falling into it, they don’t make the playoffs, but it’s alright. I was really proud of that [laughs].

The Wolves were the younger brother in town, so to speak, but they were coming on. They were big then, they were huge. I’ll never forget this, my first full year with them, I think it was the 98-99 season, they won the Turner Cup in the IHL. I’ll never forget, it was Game 5 of the Turner Cup at the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena) – it was Grand Rapids and Chicago, the Wolves were up 3-1 – and they have a chance to win it at home. The game was supposed to start at seven. The game didn’t start until almost 7:40, because there were 5,000 people lined up outside the building for tickets. There was over 17-18,000 people in that building. It was unbelievable, and the place was literally rocking. It was great because there were seven goals scored in the first period, 4-3 Wolves, and they ended up losing the game, it was kind of a buzzkill. They ended up winning it in Grand Rapids the next game.

Puck the Media: You’re from Chicago, worked with the Blackhawks, so do you appreciate just how big a turn-around they made once Rocky Wirtz and John McDounough took over the franchise, just how far they fell out and how far they came back?

BJ: No question. They were unfortunately irrelevant it many areas of Chicago. It’s one thing to be on the low end of the popularity chain, it’s another thing to be irrelevant. That’s the worst thing you can be. On many levels they were, and it was very sad to see that. I can only tell you that I’ve gotten to know the people with the Hawks organization now and they’re tremendous. They miss no detail, it’s unbelievable how thorough, organized, prepared, everything they are.

Secondly, I can only tell you this: I have a lot of friends that for years, the crowd that’s a little older than I am, in their late 40’s/early 50’s, were like “Eh, I go to Bulls games, I don’t really go to hockey games.” And now, in the last five years, oh my God, they’re all going to hockey. They’re all back, they’re all Hawk fans. I don’t know, they probably all have the Indian Head tattooed on their backsides [laughs]. It’s the hottest thing, it’s the greatest thing, and they put on such a good show, such a good product, it’s great.

City #2: Atlanta, GA (2001-2006)

PTM: I talked to Pete Weber last time I did this, and I talked about having to – as a broadcaster – get out in the community and be an ambassador for the franchise. Did you experience some of that working for the Thrashers?

BJ: Yeah, a lot of it, I loved that. I went to the Thrashers in their second year, and it was made clear that the Thrashers broadcasters, all four of us, it was – I won’t say expected, it wasn’t an order – like “Hey, you know we want you to help build the brand down there.” I loved that, I absolutely loved that. I loved being involved, whether it was through hockey school, playing a lot of golf outings in little places in Georgia, where they didn’t know an awful lot about hockey. As far as I’m concerned, that is a part of the responsibility of broadcasters, especially for – and I think Pete would say the same thing – new teams a lot of times, broadcasters are the voices people become familiar with more than players right away. I think it’s important to do and I love it.

I really got involved with it there, with the Atlanta Thrashers hockey schools with Darren Eliot, a dear friend and wonderful broadcaster. Darren really did a lot, and I helped out as one of the instructors. Then I did my own adult hockey camp down there. There was a program that the Atlanta Spirit group ran, where we went to schools. During the season it was hard to do, but during the off-season and even during the lockout – I was going to schools once a week – it was a great learning to read program, incorporating hockey and basketball. It was a lot of fun, very important, and I just think that if you’re with a team, you’re part of it. If you can help out in any way, especially Atlanta in that kind of market, I’m willing to do it.

PTM: Obviously, the Thrashers had to move after last season. Did that affect you in a big way, having been there from almost the start?

BJ: You know, it affected me because the guys that were still there working as broadcasters and especially the hockey ops. people and the trainers, equipment managers, people that were involved on a day-to-day basis, I know what that meant for them, it meant no more work. That’s hard. We’re such a small industry. When you lose an opportunity, and everybody’s going to at some point, it happens to all of us, some times more than once. But when it happens, it’s really hard, and you think to yourself, “Oh my God, how am I going to get myself back in.” It’s a really small industry. When I saw that happen to my friends – thankfully they’re all still working – but right away that really bothered me the most, the people who were going to have issues with work.

I’m disappointed that the team isn’t there, but there were indications for a few years that there were issues, and they never rectified, and because of that they had to make a move. It’s a shame, I know there’s a hardcore fanbase there, but any business knows you need more than just a hardcore fanbase to survive. Any business, in any industry.

PTM: With Winnipeg, it just seems like there’s not merely a hardcore fanbase, it’s just “the thing” to do there. Hockey has sort of an advantage in Canada and the Northern parts of the U.S. where it’s not just part of the lifeblood, it’s also cool.

BJ: Well, in Atlanta for the first few years it was extremely cool to go there. I mean, it was the in thing, and Atlanta’s a very trendy… there’s a lot of people there that follow the trends. It was very hip and hot, and then the team not winning obviously makes a big difference. I would argue that, yes, Canada has an obvious advantage for it’s inheritance of their game and everything, but even the Canadian teams who are selling out 99% of the time, they still have to make it kind of the hip, fun thing to do. They have to. It’s just the way we are now in the school. They need to have the fun thing to do, you need a good product, but you need a good product in many ways.

I think with better ownership, and better result, I think Atlanta could have survived. It was taking hold, but then there were some major mistakes made.

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Random Cities: Pete Weber

Puck the Media’s bi-weekly feature, Random Cities, takes you inside the world of broadcasting from an angle you might not have seen before. We take each personality through various cities that have impacted their life and/or career, and let them elaborate with stories and memories about each. Enjoy.

This Week’s Subject: Pete Weber, the play-by-play voice of the Nashville Predators since, as he says, the first day of training camp in September of 1998. He’s also been a broadcaster for the Los Angeles Kings and Buffalo Sabres, and outside of hockey, the Buffalo Bills and Seattle SuperSonics. Weber generously took some time from his day his day off to speak to me from his hotel in San Jose.

City #1: Nashville, TN

Puck the Media: What did you know about Nashville before you got there?

Pete Weber: In a way I cheated, Steve, because I was doing Triple-A baseball for 16-17 years. Nashville and Buffalo were in the same the league. From 1985-95, I was going there three or four times a year, and my in-laws were in Knoxville. We had great familiarity with it, so we had a little bit.

My last year doing Buffalo Bison games coming in there, they had a referendum in June of ’95, when it was still looking like maybe the Devils would move there. This was critical – you understand the cultural differences – that they were going to decide whether or not, since the new building was within 300 feet of a church’s front door, whether they would be allowed to sell certain spirituous beverages within it’s confines, and when that passed, it was pretty well taken care of. It was two more years before the league announced the four new franchises provisionally.

PTM: Here’s what I remember about Nashville when they started out: the crowds were energetic, and they really tried to connect themselves with the community, inviting country acts – which they still do – to play during the intermissions. How do you remember them sort of getting into the community from the start?

PW: I officially joined the club the first day of the first training camp, so that would be September 12, 1998. Some of those initiatives had already begun. There were the huge billboards around town with blacked-out teeth for Laurie Morgan and Vince Gill, and just had the slug-line: “Got Tickets?”

I think there’d been maybe two or three days of practices, and we were given this blanket invitation – everybody in the front office, all the team members – to go out to a certain hockey mom’s house … Barbara Mandrell. Her two boys – at that point in time there was only one sheet of ice in the town other than the arena – so she had been trundling them up at four or five o’clock in the morning to get their precious practice time, if not later. She has been a booster of the team from the very outset, so yeah, it has been ingrained.

Vince Gill sits by my wife’s tickets. In the wintertime, The Grand Ole Opry is back downtown at Ryman Auditorium, which is catacorner from the building. Vince, being a member of The Grand Ole Opry has some obligations to appear so many times. Since the show is in half-hour increments, he will go over and host and come back for the game, during those November through February months. It’s very funny to watch, which I’m able to do more when we have a radio game as opposed to a TV game.

PTM: Country music in Nashville is much like going down Broadway and seeing all the musicals. When you get to the playoffs, what sort of atmosphere do you see there? How has it grown since the Predators first made the playoffs in 2004 to last year, when it got as probably as big as it’s ever gotten?

PW: It’s always a question of “when a tree falls in a forest, do you hear it?” I don’t think anybody really heard it until the descent of Vancouver and Canadian media for the second round of the playoffs last year. They actually were able to report on it and were overwhelmed by it. Prior to that, I’d have to say that Nashville was a hockey secret, maintained within the confines of the Sutter family. They would always bring whatever team – be it San Jose in the early years, Calgary now – into town as early as they possibly could, would hold team meetings in Tootsies, and leave some indentations on the walls there as a result of some of their team meetings and get after it.

The music industry has been a tremendous partner for the Predators, it really has, and it’s fun to see how that interaction has worked. Now, for me, I’m a Crosby, Stills, Nash guy, okay? So, we come to town, and my wife and I are in a store and my phone rings. It’s one of my radio broadcast buddies who’s in town for CRS, the Country Radio Seminar, which takes up about a week every fall. He said, “Hey, you wanna come? We got a private concert tonight at the Hard Rock.” I did not recognize the name, I said, “I don’t think so, thank you Nick” and I hung up. My wife said, “Who’d he want us to see?” and I said, “I don’t know, some … Dunn and Brad Street?” It was Brooks & Dunn. It just didn’t register with me. So we called him back quickly and went downtown to that little get together, which was interesting. Somebody I met at the bar, it turned out, I worked on my first job in radio with in my hometown, Galesburg, Illinois in 1973, now had become Nashville’s Radio & Records correspondent.

PTM: You and Terry Crisp have been there since day one. Do you necessarily feel your role is as ambassadors to the rest of the city? How important is it for broadcasters to make that connection between the fans and the players?

PW: I don’t want to overstate self-importance or the role, but I think that, yeah, Terry and I have had to do that. Particularly, when you consider the turnover in players especially in the early years. I’m thinking about this a lot now, because [this Saturday] the franchise celebrates it’s 1,000th regular season game when Montreal comes to town. This has been an absolute blur going after it.

For the most part, speaking engagements, pure speaking engagements, or the variety of Hockey 101 classes that we have taught over the years. I knew, and perfectly accepted it going in, that not only was there going to be a teaching component, but coaches and players can’t spend all that time out in the community. We did and did so gladly. I have regular radio hits that I do throughout the course of the week but I am ready, willing and able to do the local TV news shows and all of that. It’s been a fun time. I’ve gotten a chance to meet a lot of people that I normally would not have.

PTM: Now that the Predators have been in the playoffs multiple times since ’04, they’ve made it to the second round, you see the attendance figures are pretty great just on regular nights. Are we getting to the point where the questions are starting to die about whether or not Nashville is a hockey market or not?

PW: Well, I don’t know if they have from the outside, but they have from the inside. What’s now, after the signing [Thursday] of Pekka Rinne, I think that’s changed a lot of outlook from the outside. Some people said “Woah, you’ve got that money and you’ve still got money for more?” Yeah, that’s the story. That’s the commitment ownership is more than willing to make to bring back Ryan Suter and Shea Weber as well. I think that will change that perception.

PTM: I think especially compared to the struggles the league has had in other markets, people have sort of forgotten to worry about Nashville, and while they’ve forgotten to worry, Nashville has gotten better and better to the point where you don’t need to worry about it at all at this point.

PW: Yeah, Crispy and I were just talking this morning, as we were still in Glendale, and thinking what a gorgeous set-up that is, and how lonely we felt last night. [The Coyotes] have Edmonton coming in [last Saturday night] and they have their ‘Buck Bash’ – $1 concession items including beers – so it’s gonna’ be interesting to see. I hope they can make it there, but I can understand the reluctance of the fans to sign on and pour out their hearts and money for the team, not knowing if it’s going to be there after this season. Three years of that. I thought we had it bad in the summer of 2007 but that’s just been very tough, to be a fan there.

PTM: They also have to get people in there because Hockey Night in Canada will be there.

PW: That’s right, and I think most of those cut off people Monty Hall used in Let’s Make a Deal in the later years, I think most of them have been bought up from other places.

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Random Cities: John Buccigross

Puck the Media’s bi-weekly feature, Random Cities, takes you inside the world of broadcasting from an angle you might not have seen before. We take each personality through various cities that have impacted their life and/or career, and let them elaborate with stories and memories about each. Enjoy.

This Week’s Subject: John Buccigross. He is in his 15th year with ESPN, six of which were spent hosting the seminal, Emmy-nominated NHL 2Nite.

City #1: Bristol, Connecticut

John Buccigross: Did a Sportscenter commercial with Wayne Gretzky, met and became friends with Ray Bourque, Barry Melrose, Darren Pang, Pat Verbeek, and close friends with Ray “Chicken Parm” Ferraro. The Sportsnation show is now taped in the old NHL 2Nite studio. Sometimes I will walk in there when nobody else is there and gently sob.

Steve Lepore: Do you have a particular favorite story from the NHL 2Nite days? 

JB: Probably the night we followed the Flyers-Penguins 5 OT game and, as we were doing our post game show, I forgot who had just played – my brain was so fried.

SL: What do you think shows like NHL Overtime and On the Fly could do to improve this season? Is it victory enough that we’re back to having hockey highlights on TV every night?

JB: Have me, Melrose and Ferraro do the show! It’s never been a better time to be a hardcore hockey fan for highlights and discussion and information. If you have NHL Network, a working computer, Versus, and Satellite Radio you have zero to complain about.

City #2: Pittsburgh, PA

JB: Pittsburgh is where me and two buddies “borrowed” one of our parents cars, drove to Pittsburgh, bought 1 ticket from a scalper, gave it to a dude who opened a side door to the Civic Arena and we snuck in to watch a Penguins-Minnesota North Star game. On the way home to Ohio we paid for gas with 3 rolls of pennies.

City #3: Columbus, OH

JB: I attended the first game in Columbus Blue Jackets history and then-Blue Jacket beat writer Michael Arace – now a singular Dispatch columnist – bequeathed me the duty of handing out the first “Three Stars” in Columbus history. The first #1 star in Blue Jacket history? The Blackhawks Rito Von Arx. Or Tony Amonte. One of the two.

SL: Would winning cure all in that city? Do you think it could become similar to a Buffalo or a San Jose, a market where there’s a solid enough cult of diehards to sustain the franchise?

JB: Columbus is a terrific sports city with plenty of people that would perform just as well as Buffalo and San Jose if they were able to construct a relevant NHL franchise. Lots of corporations and the only official pro game in town. Poor management and poor player personnel decisions have put them in the danger zone. They’ve just never had people in place with a good feel on how to pick and choose people. I’m not convinced they are close. They better be better, but better is not enough. The city will embrace a winner. Big time.

City #4: Anaheim, CA

JB: Game 6, Paul Kariya gets knocked out by Scott Stevens. He comes back and scores. I interviewed him after the game for Sportscenter. I wore an orange tie that night. I still have it, and whenever I wear it, I think of Anaheim, 2003.

City #5: St. Paul, MN

JB: 2004: All Star Game. The first time I interviewed/met Mark Messier. The palpable energy he emits in person is overwhelming. He was a mental volcano.

SL: That seems like the last time the NHL All-Star Game was at all creative, entertainment-wise. Barenaked Ladies played outside pre-game, the Skills Competition was still exciting, and the jerseys were rad. Can the All-Star Game still matter?

JB: That was the last All Star Game I’ve been to so I can’t compare it. It was great, though. You forgot Cheap Trick at the Metrodome.

City #6: Tampa Bay, FL

JB: I’m in the locker room with a CBC camerman and reporter and an RDS camerman and reporter following Game 7. Just the six of us. It would be the last game before the NHL lockout and the last NHL game ESPN would produce until at least the year 2022. In walks Dave Andreychuk with the Stanley Cup as we hear the crowd screaming above. The Lightning captain plops down the Cup down in my middle of the Lightning dressing room. And leaves. Silence. Awe. Goosebumps. The End.

SL: You mention it being the final ESPN game. Now, ESPN had a contract for next season, but we all knew the lockout was looming large, was there a sense for the ESPN folks that this might be the end of an era?

JB: I do not recall a sense that this was it for hockey at ESPN. But there were signs from the Executive Tower, with Mark Shapiro’s evangelist personality in place, that things were changing, that the NHL/ESPN era was changing fast. NHL 2Nite, the first ESPN2 show nominated for an Emmy, was no longer a nightly show. It was only on after ESPN2 games.

The culture at ESPN at that time was different than it was before and the way it is now. The NBA was now a partner, which has turned out to be an excellent decision-I believe it helped diversify ESPN. The NFL was continuing to be a mushroom cloud of cash and success and Shapiro was thinking big outside the batter’s box- movies, cell phones, Hollywood-and he clearly felt the NHL was a drag compared to the 120 million dollar rights fees – which it was at the time. Low scoring, slow games, lacking speed, youth, and skill.

But Shapiro didn’t see the potential. He didn’t know who Sidney Crosby was. Or Alex Ovechkin. Or Evgeni Malkin. He should have asked me. I could have told him after the lockout there would be an infusion of youth, no more hooking, and shootouts. But he torched the NHL relationship and then he quit ESPN and that was that.

I think that Shapiro era, however, was necessary in terms of expanding the vision of ESPN, creating as much of an edge a corporation can engineer, and energizing this incredibly successful company with youth and energy. It took a long time to get a gym here. The cafeteria was two vending machines when I arrived here. Now the cafeteria is immaculate and diverse. The campus was bland and sloppy. Now the grounds are immaculate and it’s like working at a sports amusement park. Maybe that would have happened anyway, but Shapiro was energetic, in shape, dressed well, and had a production backround with success so he did, in my opinion, make a contribution with his energy. I wasn’t in negotiating rooms so maybe others have either a more positive or negative view of him

I also think the era was useful in understanding our DNA to make better business decisions as a network like John Skipper’s recommendation of heavily investing in World Cup soccer. I put our South Africa World Cup production against any Super Bowl. It reminded me of CBC’s NHL coverage and that made me really proud. Nobody produces live events right now like ESPN. We keep getting better in that regard. I would love to see us do an NHL hockey game right now.

I believe ESPN executive team now is by and large, terrific. Great people and great minds led by the cool and classy George Bodenheimer, our President. That dude is legit. If you can’t do a deal with him, you can’t do a deal. He actually would make a great commissioner of a sport as well. There is nothing worse than working for people you don’t respect and that, with very few exceptions, is not the case at ESPN.

ESPN is a terrific place to work. The company continues to grow and add jobs. It still has a pension, a 401K, and free Disney passes. The core group of people are smart, passionate, and hard working. End of story.

But, back to the NHL in 2004 and its relationship with ESPN. Simply put, while the NHL Executive staff was always and is great to work with, there were NHL teams, mostly the successful or large market, that were absolutely atrocious to deal with. Arrogant, old thinking, lazy, and/or rude. We would have to beg and plead to get the most elementary of requests. I did multiple LA Kings stories because they were so great to deal with and so forward thinking. Individual owners and Board of Governor members were dragging the sport down.

In-game interviews with coaches and players? We would have been stabbed in the neck if we made that request. It was probably a combination of Shapiro pushing hard, too hard in spots, and the NHL being behind the times in 2004 in terms of how the league, starting with the owners, thought about the game and marketing it.

Clearly, that has changed for the better. The lockout reset the egos and the fan is better off for it. The NHL has an excellent website, an excellent NHL Network, and teams with 21st Century PR staffs. Not having them as a partner at ESPN has been a void for me, and I think the network, but with Melrose still here and my ESPN.com blogumn/vlogumn going on its 11th year, I still feel connected.

Random Cities: Bob Miller

Puck the Media’s bi-weekly feature, Random Cities, takes you inside the world of broadcasting from an angle you might not have seen before. We take each personality through various cities that have impacted their life and/or career, and let them elaborate with stories and memories about each. Enjoy.

This Week’s Subject: The legendary Bob Miller, who has been the play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Kings (currently on FS West) since 1973. He is a recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, and is the only man associated with hockey to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

City #1: Nashville, Tennessee

Bob Miller: I like country music. I play guitar, but not real well, so Nashville is one of my favorite NHL cities. We stay downtown, so the country music honky-tonks are just a block away. I especially like it when we are in Nashville a day before we play. I visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry and at night go to the various music places.One of the most famous is Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, located right behind the world famous Ryman Auditorium, the home of the Grand Ole Opry. The story goes that in the heyday of the “Opry” the various performers would go to Tootsie’s, and play a few songs until they had to be on stage at the Opry. They would then go out the back door of Tootsie”s and on stage at the Ryman.One day I was in Tootsie’s, having a cranberry juice by the way, when the performer on stage asked if anyone would like to come on stage and sing. I was tempted but chickened out. It would have been my chance at glory in Nashville.One night, my former partner on the telecasts on L.A., Pete Weber, now the voice of the Nashville Predators, and his wife Claudia got us backstage at the Opry while the show was in progress. It was a thrill to see behind the scenes and meet the performers personally.I’m happy that Nashville is in the NHL.

City #2: London, England

BM: In the 2007-08 season the Kings opened with regular season games in London, England. We played the Anaheim Ducks in two games at the beautiful O2 Arena located on the shores of the Thames River. Our hotel was also right on the river at Canary Wharf and due to the traffic congestion in London it was faster to take sightseeing boats to the Arena. It was the first time in Kings history that the team went to games in boats.

It was thrilling to see 18,000 fans at the games in London wearing not only NHL jerseys of their favorite teams but also the jerseys of numerous European hockey teams. The oddity was that the Kings and Ducks travelled some 5,000 miles to play each other when they are located only 30 miles apart in Southern California.

City #3: Montreal, Quebec

BM: The most exciting finish to a Kings season was in 1993. The Kings did not have a great regular season, finishing third in the Smythe Division with 39 wins and 88 points. But, the playoffs were a different story. Led by the hot goaltending of Kelly Hrudey, the Kings, in spite of opening every playoff series on the road, advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. The Kings beat Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto to earn the right to play Montreal for the Stanley Cup.

I went to the media headquarters at a Montreal hotel to get my press credentials. While in the elevator returning to the lobby, a woman asked me, “What is the Stanley Cup?” I couldn’t believe my ears, getting that question in Montreal of all places. I began looking for Alan Funt because I thought I was on Candid Camera. She explained that she was from the United Kingdom so I told her the Stanley Cup was like the World Cup in soccer. As the elevator doors opened there was the Stanley Cup on display in the lobby so she got a first hand look.

Unfortunately after winning game one, the Kings lost four straight, three in overtime, and Montreal won the cup 4 games to one.

City #4: Anaheim, California

BM: I guess I would be the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first voice of the Mighty Ducks?” I have never worked for the NHL Ducks but I was the play by play announcer in the Disney movies Mighty Ducks and D2: The Mighty Ducks.

The first film I simply did the play by play voice which we recorded at the same Disney studio where they recorded Alice in Wonderland. In Mighty Ducks 2 I had a scene on camera, and I don’t think I would enjoy being a movie actor. Too much time is spent waiting to do your scene.

I was told to be at the arena in Anaheim, which is 70 miles from my house, at 10 a.m. Just before I left my house at 8 a.m. they called an said to be there at noon. I arrived at noon to do my 30 second scene but we didn’t film it until 7:30 that night.

The funny part of being in those films was that during the NHL season several players in the league said to me, “You’re on in my house every day”. Their kids would watch those movies every day of the week.

City #5: Los Angeles, California

BM: In spite of popular belief the Kings have had numerous exciting moments since coming into the NHL in 1967.

In the 1982 playoffs, the Kings staged what is still the greatest single game comeback in Stanley Cup Playoff history. It took place on April 10, 1982. The Kings and heavily favored Edmonton Oilers were tied at one game apiece in their best of five opening round. That night the Oilers had a 5-0 lead at the end of two periods. In the third period the Kings scored 5 unanswered goals, the last one with 0:05 seconds left to tie the game and sent it into overtime. The Forum in L.A. was in a frenzy. Two and a half minutes into overtime rookie Doug Smith won a faceoff in the Oilers zone and another rookie Daryl Evans sent a laser shot over the right shoulder of goalie Grant Fuhr and the Kings won 6-5.

That game has lived on in Kings history as the “Miracle on Manchester” named after the street that ran past the Forum. The most exciting moment for Kings fans, off the ice, was on August 9, 1988 when the Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers in a trade that shocked the sports world. Kings fans snapped up 4,000 season tickets in a few days and the team became the highest profile team in the NHL.

On October 15, 1989 Gretzky became the greatest scorer in NHL history passing Gordie Howe with his 1,851st point. I was fortunate enough to call the play by play of that historic moment and capped the call of his record setting point by saying, “The Great One has become the greatest of them all, the all time leading scorer in the history of the National Hockey League.”

The second historic night came in Los Angeles on March 23, 1994 when Gretzky became the greatest goal scorer in NHL history with his 802nd goal, again passing Gordie Howe. I capped that call by saying, “Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record book is now complete, he’s the all time leader in points, assists and now with his 802nd goal the all time leading goal scorer in the history of the National Hockey League.”

Another thrilling moment for Kings fans was in the spring of 1993 when the Kings played Montreal in the Stanley Cup Finals. After the first two games in Montreal, which the teams split, the series shifted to the Forum in Los Angeles. The night of June 5, 1993 was a night Kings fans had been waiting for a long time. I remember seeing fans below our TV booth toasting each other with champagne as the Stanley Cup was paraded out to center ice. It was a sight some Kings fans thought they would never see. Unfortunately the fans never got to see it on the ice again as Montreal won the series four games to one.

(Special thanks to Rudy Kelly from Battle of California for his help)