POSTED ON Tuesday, 08.9.2016 / 3:30 PM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

We are in the process of celebrating the anniversary of not only one of hockey’s biggest transactions, but also one that ranks among the top, if not at the top, of all sports history. As a matter of conjecture, we can also argue that the Nashville Predators might not even be in existence had it not occurred.

On August 9, 1988, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world by trading Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. This was a trade that impacted far more than those two teams, but the sport itself.

Ultimately, the swap played a critical role in the expansion of the NHL’s footprint across North America. It spread well outside the areas where most thought the sport could thrive.

Adam Proteau, formerly of The Hockey News, covers this thoroughly in his oral history of the transaction from virtually every angle.

Clearly, it was a deal that shocked the hockey world, but as with most moves, finances were at its base. New York Yankees co-owner Jacob Ruppert was able to take advantage of a difficult financial time for Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee when he purchased Babe Ruth for $200,000 cash and a loan of $300,000 in 1919. That deal clearly changed the course of baseball, as the Yankees dominated baseball for much of the 20th Century.

Years later, the financial difficulties of Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington led to a similar situation. You can read about them and what led up to the ultimate trade from Pocklington’s perspective in his 2009 book, I’d Trade Him Again.

In 1988, the Oilers had just wrapped up their fourth Stanley Cup title in five seasons with Gretzky leading the way. They were the dynasty that followed the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens. Dynasties do fade, but the outlook for that Oilers team indicated no such fall off in the foreseeable future.

To repeat, financial problems were at the root of this deal. The idea that Gretzky’s marriage that summer to actress Janet Jones (unfairly called “Yoko Ono” in some circles) was the impetus for it was a convenient smokescreen for Pocklington.

There is no reason to call this anything but an accommodation of Pocklington’s difficulties with not only the Oilers, but his other businesses (and there were many) as well. He owned the best team in hockey, but was cash poor, and Gretzky could have become a free agent in 1989. So, he used his most significant asset to try to ease his situation.

This is the trade that was fashioned by Pocklington and Kings’ owner Bruce McNall to masquerade the money concerns at its base: Gretzky, along with enforcer Marty McSorley and center Mike Krushelnyski, were traded to the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers received $15 million U.S. cash, forward Jimmy Carson, forward Martin Gelinas (whom the Kings had drafted in the first round that summer and who later played for the Preds in 2007-08), plus the Kings’ first round picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993. Those picks brought defenseman Corey Foster (in a trade with New Jersey), left wing Martin Rucinsky (who played just two games with Edmonton), and defenseman Nick Stajduhar (who also played just two games in Edmonton before finishing up with the Idaho Steelheads in 2000-01).

The Gretzky trade was only the beginning. It wasn’t long before the other six Hall of Famers were moved out of Edmonton: Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and even General Manager/Head Coach Glen Sather. Pocklington ultimately sold the Oilers in 1998.

So McNall saw his chance to bring hockey’s greatest star to the city that thrives on celebrities, Los Angeles. The Oilers were still able to win the Cup in 1990 with what was left behind. The Kings got to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 1993, losing to the Montreal Canadiens.

McNall’s financial empire began to crumble after that, (see McNall’s Story from 2003: Fun While it Lasted: My Rise and Fall In the Land of Fame and Fortune) and Gretzky was traded again, to St. Louis in 1996, before moving yet again, and finishing his career with the New York Rangers in 1999.

Moving away from those details, the Gretzky deal showed that hockey could draw consistent sell-out crowds in Los Angeles and make the Kings a huge draw on the road. After his move, the NHL returned to Northern California (San Jose) in 1991. The move to the Sunbelt began in earnest in 1992, when the Lightning began play in Tampa Bay, followed immediately by the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim the following year. Also in 1993, the Minnesota franchise was moved to Dallas.

The Panthers made it to the Stanley Cup Final in their third season. The next spring, the NHL announced it had awarded conditional franchises to Nashville, Atlanta and Columbus and was returning one to Minnesota. In 1999, the Dallas Stars won the Cup and went to the Final again the following year.

This trade had another effect – spreading the game to youngsters all over the map. Admittedly, the 1980 Miracle on Ice for Team USA in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid also played a role in this. As the demand for players has become greater, products from California, Tennessee, Texas and other Sunbelt areas are now playing junior and college hockey and being drafted by NHL teams. Did Gretzky’s trade accomplish this singularly? Perhaps not, but it was a major step.

Babe Ruth did transform the Yankees into a championship team, and his style of play had an incredible effect on baseball. However, it didn’t result in a mass expansion of baseball, or even the move of franchises into new cities (at least not until almost 20 years after the Babe’s retirement, when his last team, the Boston Braves, moved to Milwaukee).

Ruth and Gretzky were historically two of the dominant performers in their sports. Both were moved because of the financial instability of their franchises. This is not unique to sports, it just points out that sports have fully become a business.

Also, another difficult time for a franchise almost resulted in a Stanley Cup champion defending its title in Music City. In 1995, as the movement was already underway to build what is now Bridgestone Arena, the Devils had just won their first Stanley Cup. Owner Dr. John McMullen was trying to get a better lease at the Meadowlands and had serious flirtations with Nashville. Those dealings caught the attention of the NHL, and though the Devils did not move out of New Jersey, Nashville suddenly became an attractive landing spot for an NHL team. Even after that, there were stories of the Edmonton Oilers moving to Nashville (as Pocklington was about to sell the team).

My conclusion: hockey is a much bigger business because of the impact of Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Canada to Los Angeles. The NHL capitalized on that, and one way or another, the interest in Nashville was going to result in a team setting up here. For those reasons I say: “Thank you, Wayne Gretzky!”

POSTED ON Friday, 06.10.2016 / 12:00 PM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

This is a difficult day. Muhammad Ali’s life is being celebrated in Louisville as this is written. Ali was truly a giant of our time who transcended sports. Then the news came that we have also lost Gordie Howe – “Mr. Hockey” – as well.

This man played 32 seasons of major league hockey! Yes, he was durable if nothing else, but he was far more than that. That Gordie lasted this long is a testimony to medical advances. Many thought we had lost him in 2014.

Howe was the force behind the Detroit Red Wings dynasty of the late 1940’s and 1950’s, a team that won the Stanley Cup four times and made the Cup Final three additional years between 1948 and 1956. Howe was the right wing on one of hockey’s most famous lines – the Production Line – with center Sid Abel and left wing Ted Lindsay.

The Red Wings were not able to sustain that greatness, but Gordie was a constant in their lineup, helping to sell the seats in the Olympia through all of his seasons. An arthritic wrist forced his retirement in the spring of 1971, at which point Gordie was given a title, but not much work to do. Later, he would refer to it as being given the “mushroom treatment.” Asked what exactly that was: “They stuck me in a little room in the basement (of the Olympia) and every now and then would open the door and shovel some (fertilizer) on me.”

He spent the next two seasons on the sidelines. The World Hockey Association – a challenger to the NHL – got started in 1972. The WHA thought that one way to win the battle for talent with the NHL was to draft 18-year-old players. The NHL observed a 20-year-old draft then. In the summer of 1973, a former teammate of Gordie’s, Bill Dineen, was trying to sign Howe’s two older sons: Marty, who was 19 at the time; and Mark, who was 18.

Dineen (whose son Shawn is a pro scout for the Predators) really thought the two Howe boys could help his Houston Aeros get over the top. They had lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the second round of the Avco Cup Playoffs the previous season. Dineen’s move would turn out to benefit all hockey fans.

When Dineen asked about the possibility of signing Marty and Mark, Gordie asked: “How about the old man, too?” After Dineen picked his jaw back up off the floor, the deal was done.

Thus began a tremendous addition to the Howe legacy. He would be his sons’ teammate for the next seven seasons: four with Houston (two WHA championships) and three with New England/Hartford, the last of those in 1979-80 in the National Hockey League (after the WHA-NHL merger). That final NHL season enabled a last go-round for Gordie, especially with the All Star Game played in Detroit.

Marty was a good defenseman who played almost 650 games combined between the WHA and NHL. Mark Howe was so good that as a 16-year old, he played on the U.S. Olympic hockey team that earned the silver medal at Sapporo in 1972. He played over 1,200 WHA and NHL games, first as a left wing, then as an All-Star defenseman, who made the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. He now is the Detroit Red Wings’ director of scouting.

Mark tells great stories about his dad, which I am sure will be recounted many times over the next few days as we celebrate Gordie’s life. Mark’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech includes a special one.

Maybe the best comment Mark has made on his father came about when he was asked how his dad would do in today’s NHL. To paraphrase: “He wouldn’t get to play much, he’d be suspended!”

That might be overstated, but during that final NHL season, Kings’ rookie J.P. Kelly lined up Gordie for a big body check and didn't realize they were in front of the penalty box. At that time, there was no glass there. Gordie tumbled head first into the box, and sheepishly emerged. In a humanitarian/protective gesture, Head Coach Bob Berry did not give J.P. another shift that night, realizing (from personal experience), that Gordie was likely to get even at some point.

Perhaps, but for those of us who were lucky to see him play, I will always remember his strength, his grace, his humility and his willingness to talk to anyone. All who came across him held him in awe. Bobby Orr revolutionized the way the game was played, but Gordie Howe was the best player for the longest time, thus “Mr. Hockey.”

POSTED ON Monday, 03.21.2016 / 3:30 PM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

This trip into Nashville by the Los Angeles Kings – like the one last month – will be different for me. Bob Miller, who greatly helped me break into the National Hockey League many years ago, won’t be at Bridgestone Arena tonight.

Just before the Predators hosted the 2016 NHL All-Star Game, Bob underwent a physical. It turned out to be far from routine, as he learned that he needed quadruple bypass surgery. That has kept him away from the Kings broadcasts ever since.

The good news: the surgery was successful, and he will be able to return to the broadcasts. The bad news (for me) the recuperation period is indefinite, and he won’t be here for the final regular-season meeting of the Predators and Kings.

No one could have been as lucky as I was to learn how to do the job at an NHL level from another product of college hockey – Bob Miller. It was the fall of 1978. I was moving from Buffalo to Southern California. Bob had joined the Kings five years earlier from Madison, Wisconsin. He knew what a transition it would be.

Bob is a very gifted announcer. That’s been the foundation of his career. He’s always on top of the play.

After more than 40 years, he continues to have the love of the game, the enthusiasm for the work the job requires, the clarity and the great humor to continue at a high level. The humor?

Yes, that’s always been a big part of Bob’s game – how he reacts to the various situations around him and the game. Like the night a fan walking out of the Forum decided to let out a huge belch as he was directly in front of our crowd mic:

Nobody can tell a story like Bob Miller. I can’t think of anyone who can make me laugh harder than he can. He won the Foster Hewitt Award in November of 2000 for broadcast excellence from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Even though I left Los Angeles (initially for Seattle) in 1981, Bob always “kept me included.” He somehow found me in a hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa, in August of 1988 to tell me the Kings were getting Wayne Gretzky!

There were so many frustrating seasons for the Kings from their inception, several seasons where they didn’t make the playoffs. You could understand how that frustration turned to elation when the Kings qualified for the Cup Final for the first time in 1993.

That series with Montreal ended with the Canadiens taking the Cup, following the infamous stick-measurement that went against Marty McSorley. Instead of going home to Los Angeles with a 2-0 series lead, it was tied, and the Canadiens took the series in five games.

The Kings then failed to make the playoffs for the next five seasons, but in 2012 they went on an amazing run. Seeded eighth in the West, they knocked off the first (Vancouver), second (St. Louis) and third seeds (Phoenix) in a total of just 14 games to make the Cup Final.

An improbable dream was about to become reality for the Kings and Bob. They beat New Jersey in six games, and were able to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Kings Captain Dustin Brown brought the prize to Bob in a suite at Staples Center.

The emotion is clear to see on his face. That celebration was a long time in the making. The Kings lost the Western Conference Final the following season, but won their second Cup in 2014.

If you were to see how the fans react to Bob (and his broadcast partner since 1990, ex-Kings RW Jim Fox) around Staples Center, you would understand the high place he holds in their hearts. He has been as important to them as Vin Scully has been to the Dodgers and as the late Chick Hearn was to the Lakers. In a 1998 ceremony celebrating Bob’s 25 seasons with the Kings, Scully and Hearn were on the ice with him.

I am proud to have been his on-air partner for three seasons and lucky to count him among my friends. He will be missed tonight! Get well soon, my friend.

POSTED ON Thursday, 03.10.2016 / 9:00 AM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

While the Nashville Predators brought the National Hockey League to Nashville, when they began play in October of 1998, professional hockey first took root in Music City in 1962.

The Dixie Flyers joined the Eastern League that season and played in the then brand-new Municipal Auditorium.

They were true pioneers. They traveled on converted school busses from Nashville to Charlotte, Clinton, New York; Jacksonville, Florida; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Knoxville, Long Island, etc. The Dixie Flyers were in business from 1962 through 1971, and won league championships in 1965-66 and 1966-67. John McLellan coached the championship teams and later spent four full seasons as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The history of this team and all that followed was chronicled beautifully by Scott Osborne, who passed away after a brief illness on Dec. 28. He was a Vanderbilt student when the Dixie Flyers started and was the producer and driving force behind Gold Record: 50 Years of Hockey History in Music City, which first aired on Fox Sports Tennessee in 2012. Calling himself the “Hockey Hillbilly,” he wrote about it on an “On the Forecheck” blog:

Hockey was lucky to have someone of his caliber at the controls of that project. Osborne won 11 Emmy Awards during his career, which included time with all four of the major networks.

Two months later, on Feb. 28, longtime sportswriter Harold Huggins passed away after suffering from leukemia. A 1961 graduate of Battle Ground Academy, Huggins was 73. Harold began his career with the Nashville Banner in 1969. His beat at the start? Covering the Dixie Flyers! Harold was elected to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame last November.

On March 3, the highest-scoring member of the Dixie Flyers (over three-straight seasons: 60, 39 and 53 goal years), Ted McCaskill, died.

Ted got into just four games with the Minnesota North Stars, but he got his break with the creation of the World Hockey Association. There he played two seasons with the Los Angeles Sharks from 1972-74, and finished his career with the North American League’s Binghamton Broome (County) Dusters in 1974-75.

That was a good break for him. Why? Well that was the same league that featured the Johnstown Jets with Ned Dowd, who was keeping a diary and notes of his experiences. Those jottings turned into the cinema classic SlapShot, and Ted was in it – uncredited – but in it.

And pictured in this group shot with Paul Newman on the left:

Scott Osborne, Harold Huggins and Ted McCaskill – three big losses from Nashville’s hockey history in such a brief time. We thank them for their contributions to our memories!

POSTED ON Monday, 01.25.2016 / 10:30 AM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

I have been incredibly lucky to attended 11 NHL All-Star Games - one of them for my radio station in Buffalo (1978), and I broadcast another (while working for the host, Los Angeles, in 1981). The game in Nashville will mark my 12th game, second as an on-air broadcaster. The memories I have taken from these spectacles are many.

The 1978 game, played at the “Aud” in Buffalo, was my first. I am still amazed I was there and working it as a reporter. Take a look at the lineups that night, right here.

It was as if I was reporting on a traveling Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit. How about a defense corps with Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Borje Salming, Brad Park and Serge Savard? Do you think you could put together a power play with them and Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Guy LaFleur, Steve Shutt, Bill Barber and Bryan Trottier? Of course, if the power play didn’t work, you could count on Ken Dryden and “Battling” Billy Smith to stop the puck in your end of the ice!

All of that talent was deployed by the top coaches of the era: Montreal’s Scotty Bowman and Philadelphia’s Fred Shero.

In the summer of 1978, I was lucky enough to move from working for a radio station where covering hockey was part of the job, to working for a team. The Los Angeles Kings came calling that August, and three years later, they hosted the 33rd All-Star Game at the “Fabulous Forum” in Inglewood.

I was truly fortunate to learn how to do the job at an NHL level from another product of college hockey: Bob Miller. Miller had been Voice of the Wisconsin Badgers, and he moved to the Kings in 1973, just after calling the Badgers NCAA championship. I guess we can say he has made it now. He is still Voice of the Kings and was honored with the Foster Hewitt Award by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000. Miller and I were the radio broadcast team for the 1981 game.

There was a great deal of excitement when it was announced the Kings would be the hosts. It was the biggest thing that had happened to the franchise, which had begun play in 1967.

At that point in time, I was also doing some writing for the Kings’ edition of Goal Magazine. The coaches for the game were set – Scotty Bowman, then with Buffalo, and Pat Quinn of Philadelphia. The Kings had a trip into Buffalo just before the New Year’s holiday, so I had my first chance to talk with Scotty Bowman for the All-Star Program:

After that, it seemed as if Feb. 10th came around quickly. It was game time! The 1981 All-Star rosters may be seen here.

Notice this lineup included No. 25 from the Vancouver Canucks, defenseman Kevin McCarthy! It was a very special night for the host team and Kings fans.

This was an era of the lower-scoring NHL All Star games, which really didn’t change until the 1990s, when the scores began hitting double digits. In the 1978 game in Buffalo, the final was Prince of Wales 3, Clarence Campbells 2, in overtime.

The 1981 game will always hold a special place in my heart because we hosted it in Los Angeles, which until that time seemed like a “hockey stepchild.” Maybe it still was until Wayne Gretzky was traded there in August of 1988, but for those days surrounding the game, it seemed like hockey had overtaken Southern California. No one appeared to be unhappy about making the trip, I can tell you that!

As the color commentator at the game, I was given a great assignment – head down the back stairs of the Forum to the dressing room area to interview the All-Stars during the intermissions. That included two players who were already well on their way to the Hall of Fame:

When the game ended, the Campbell Conference had defeated the Wales Conference, 4-1. Goaltenders who have played in this game over the past 25 years or so would probably shake their heads to know that it was one of their brethren – Mike Liut of the St. Louis Blues – who was named the game’s MVP:

After working two All-Star Games in four years, it would be 1996 until I attended my next – at what is now the TD Garden in Boston. Never to be forgotten there – the performance of local favorite Ray Bourque in a 5-4 win for the East over the West – and the debut of the “FoxTrax Puck.” Fox had recently taken over the national broadcast rights for the NHL, and was attempting to come up with an answer for the casual fan who would complain about how difficult it could be to follow the puck on their television screens. It solved that, but upset the purists, so the glowing puck and its comet tail soon disappeared.

Then, it was four-straight All-Star Games for me with two different formats: In Denver and Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002, it was North America vs. the World, and the two sides split those games. One great aside tor the second game in Los Angeles, and first at Staples Center – the first full reunion of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” team.

The 2003 game in Sunrise, Florida, featured the first appearance of the shootout as the West beat the East, 6-5. In St. Paul, Minnesota, the following year, it was all part of a great Winter Festival with the East over the West, 6-4.

My next game was in Dallas in 2007, the West prevailed 12-9. The 2011 game in Raleigh, North Carolina, brought about the first of the “Fantasy Drafts,” which also seemed to usher in the super high scoring games. Nick Lidstrom’s team won, 11-10 over Eric Staal’s. In Ottawa in 2012, ex-Senator Zdeno Chara’s team beat the local captain, Daniel Alfredsson, 12-9. Last year in Columbus, they wore out the Blue Jackets’ cannon as Team Toews prevailed 17-12 over Columbus Captain Nick Foligno.

What will you remember from this year’s game, the 2016 edition in Music City? While it’s a fairly young group, there will be some Hall of Famers to remember, first among them Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, along with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who already is far and away the goal scoring leader of the NHL Draft class of 2004, with over 500. If you get to any of the activities, just absorb as much as you can. Hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, please do tune in!

POSTED ON Friday, 01.8.2016 / 3:00 PM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

The NHL All-Star Game has undergone tremendous change over the years. From its informal beginnings as a benefit for an injured player (covered in a previous post) to what is about to be unveiled at Bridgestone Arena at the end of this month, there has been a great variety of “Best vs. Best” in the hockey realm.

The All-Star Game officially became a regular part of the League’s calendar in 1947. At the outset, it was a preseason game, in which the previous Stanley Cup Champions would play the All-Stars from the other five NHL teams. That was essentially the form the game took through the start of the 1966-67 season.

There were some adjustments during that period as well, however. In both 1951 and 1952, the League had its previous season’s first All-Star team play the second, which produced two tied games.

In 1966, things began to dramatically change. They didn’t start the 1966-67 season with the All-Stars; instead, the NHL moved the game to midseason, where it has remained ever since. After the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967, the NHL doubled in size, from six to 12 teams, adding Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis (each at previous points NHL cities), Minnesota, Oakland and Los Angeles (the 50th anniversary of this important NHL expansion will come next year in 2017).

Thus, the 1968 game was the last of the “Cup Champion against the remaining All-Stars” matchups. In 1969, the League pitted the Eastern Conference (established teams) versus the Western Conference (expansion teams).

At this point in time, hockey truly began expanding. The rival World Hockey Association appeared on the scene in 1972, so the NHL, not wanting to leave potential markets to that circuit, accelerated the expansion pace.

Buffalo and Vancouver began play in 1970, and those teams were both placed in the “established” Eastern Conference, with Chicago joining the 1967 expansion teams.

When the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames joined in 1972, followed by the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals in 1974, the league created the Clarence Campbell Conference with the Patrick and Smythe Divisions, and the Prince of Wales Conference with the Adams and Norris Divisions. If you want to check the records from that period, you will observe that most of them were geographically challenged. (Boston, Buffalo, and Toronto with California/Oakland?)

So in 1975, the NHL began staging the game with the Wales playing the Campbell Conference. There was a one-season departure in 1979. The Challenge Cup was staged at Madison Square Garden: a three-game series of NHL All-Stars against the Soviet Union, and the Soviets took it, two games to one.

In 1980, it was back to the Wales vs. Campbell format in Detroit, where 51-year-old, Red Wing-favorite Gordie Howe, representing the Hartford Whalers, drew an incredible reception at Joe Louis Arena:

From 1994 through 1997, the All-Star Game returned to the East vs. West format as the NHL renamed its conferences and divisions. For the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, NHL professionals were allowed to compete. From that sprang five consecutive games pitting the North America All-Stars vs. the World All-Stars. This featured some interesting matchups of NHL teammates competing against each other.

When the game moved away from that, back to East vs. West in Sunrise, Florida, in 2003, the NHL added the shootout, as the West beat the East, 6-5, in the breakaway competition. The West’s Markus Naslund (Vancouver), Bill Guerin (Dallas) and Paul Kariya (Anaheim) all tallied in the shootout, with the East’s Dany Heatley (Atlanta) scoring the only successful try for the East. Heatley, with four goals in regulation was the MVP, and the shootout would come to the NHL regular season after the lockout of 2004-05.

Labor unrest (1995, 2005 and 2013) and Olympic (2006, 2010 and 2014) participation resulted in the loss of six All-Star games. In 2011, the NHL created the Fantasy Draft of players who had been selected for the game. That was abolished after last season’s game in Columbus.

Now we have the 3-on-3 tournament this month, and I am looking forward to this as Nashville welcomes the hockey world!

POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.22.2015 / 11:30 AM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

This one sort of snuck up on me, but by going through some other records, I realized I did my first hockey broadcast for pay (as opposed to a student station), on this date in 1974 – yes, 41 years ago!

A great deal of my youth was spent reading and watching sports, but I also spent a lot of time with the radios in our home, tuning in to games from all across the Midwest. In the summers, I regularly tuned in to Harry Caray and Jack Buck and the Cardinals on KMOX, Bob Elson and the White Sox on WMAQ, Ernie Harwell and the Tigers on WJR and many others. In the fall, it was Joe Boland or Van Patrick calling Notre Dame football with my dad joining me by the radio. The winters were reserved for Lloyd Pettit and Chicago Blackhawks hockey:

His “supercharged” calls of the adventures of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall (later Tony Esposito) and the Hawks of that era caught my attention on those winter nights. (And I was just as charged-up when the Nashville Predators joined the NHL and Petit’s Milwaukee Admirals became the Predators farm club!)

In any case, it was those times listening to the radio, absorbing all I could, that drew me to the business and the games. I wanted to be able to call hockey like Lloyd Pettit! (The current Voice of the Blackhawks, Pat Foley, was a “member” of the same club!)

So, I got to Notre Dame just as varsity hockey was coming back to the school, and the Irish became full members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in my junior year. They no longer had to depend upon a frozen St. Joseph Lake to play; they had an indoor facility in the North Dome of what opened as the Athletic and Convocation Center in 1968. Charles “Lefty” Smith was the coach they brought in from St. Paul, Minnesota to oversee the rebirth of hockey in South Bend, and he oversaw the program from 1968 to 1987.

He was a great “father-away-from-home” to all of his players and the rest of us around the program. I was sitting at my computer in early 2012, ordering a birthday gift for him when I got the word he had passed. That was not an easy day.

Lefty was so patient to teach the intricacies of the game to so many, and was always very generous in the time he gave me. He also introduced me to the other giants of college hockey: Murray Armstrong of Denver University (winner of five NCAA titles), John MacInnes of Michigan Tech, who won three; “Badger Bob” Johnson, who won three championships at Wisconsin before moving onto the NHL; and, of course, Herb Brooks, who won three titles at Minnesota, along with the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid.

It is all well and good that I had this ambition to get paid to broadcast my alma mater’s hockey games. In the spring of 1974, I learned that the man then in that saddle, Tom Ballinger, was going to give up that job to remain at WNDU Radio in an administrative role. So I set up a meeting with him to see if I might be able to become his successor.

It was set for the afternoon of April 4, 1974. I was sitting in the reception area of the station, the TV tuned to the afternoon’s NBC programming, when an announcer broke in, informing us that in Cincinnati, Henry Aaron had just hit his 714th home run, tying Babe Ruth’s record. Knowing that was going to come sooner or later, it was really no shock. What happened next was. A gentleman came out, introducing himself as “Station Operations Director Chuck Linster. Did you have an appointment with Tom Ballinger?” I replied that I had indeed. “Well he is no longer with us. Could I help you?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Are you guys looking for someone to replace Tom doing the Notre Dame Hockey games?” Within a few minutes – or so it seemed – I had achieved my goal!

That began a two-season stint broadcasting Notre Dame hockey on radio and anchoring weekend TV sports – and occasional weeknight fill-ins for Tom Dennin. (He played himself in the movie “Rudy:”)

Those two years in the WCHA brought me into contact with announcers Chuck Kaiton (Michigan and Wisconsin, then Hartford and now Carolina), long-time Rochester Americans voice Don Stevens (North Dakota) and Rich Marotta (Colorado College), now calling boxing for Fox Sports, whose spot I took next to Bob Miller (Wisconsin) on the Los Angeles Kings broadcasts several years later.

After that, I moved to Buffalo and in addition to covering the NBA, NHL and NFL there, I was able to do a lot of college play-by-play, including University at Buffalo hockey. UB had a young center, Frank Anzalone, who went on to a long coaching career at Lake Superior State, winning the Frozen Four title in 1988. A future Predators defenseman (Dan Keczmer) was on that time, as well as a future Predators broadcaster (Mike Greenlay).

I had no idea of the journey that was beginning at that time, and I have had no legitimate complaints about any of my three NHL stops: Los Angeles, Buffalo and Smashville!

POSTED ON Friday, 11.20.2015 / 9:30 AM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

I think sports fans of all ages always want to see the “best against the best” in whatever sport(s) they follow. Over 80 years ago, one such fan, who attained a high level of influence, stepped forward to make such dreams come true.

Arch Ward was the Sports Editor of the Chicago Tribune, but he stepped over from supervising the coverage of sporting events to creating them. When the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair came to Chicago in the early 1930s, he convinced baseball’s American and National Leagues to meet in the first MLB All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in 1933. Just to make it “official,” Babe Ruth hit the first home run in the All-Star Game!

With that success, baseball has continued that game to this day. The following year, Ward put together the first College All-Star Football Game at Soldier Field – pitting the collegians against the professional champions from the previous season. In the earlier years, this proved to be a fairly even match, and the game continued through 1976.

Did you know that the NHL All-Star Game, which will be staged in Nashville on Jan. 31 had its roots around that time as well?

It all happened as a way to benefit some injured players. Toronto’s Ace Bailey had to retire after a check from Bruins defenseman Eddie Shore left him with a fractured skull. To raise funds for Bailey, on Valentine’s Day in 1934 (see what Arch Ward had started), a sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs, who beat a team of All-Stars selected from the other eight NHL teams at the time. You may have seen the picture of Shore shaking hands with Bailey in a pregame ceremony (above).

The NHL staged two more benefit games soon thereafter. On Nov. 3, 1937, at the Forum in Montreal, the Canadiens lost to the All-Star Team. This game was to benefit the family of Montreal great Howie Morenz (the great grandfather of former Nashville Predator Blake Geoffrion). Morenz had died after suffering a broken leg early that calendar year.

The third happened on Oct. 29, 1939 – the “Babe Siebert Memorial Game.” Siebert had drowned during the summer, the summer before he was to become head coach of the Canadiens. The All-Stars beat the Canadiens 5-2 that night.

It wasn’t until 1947 that the All-Star Game became a regular part of the NHL schedule. In those early days, they stuck with the concept from the three benefit games, pitting the Stanley Cup champion against the All Stars. Rather than doing it at mid-season, they did it to open the year, and the All-Star Game opened the NHL slate through 1965! That was fine for a League that had only six teams at that point.

But, as we have found out, the NHL All-Star Game is an ever-evolving product. We will examine that in more detail soon.

POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.14.2015 / 1:30 PM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

The National Hockey League really is in Brooklyn now – with the move of the New York Islanders from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

The NHL was in Brooklyn, but by name only, in the 1941-42 season. The New York Americans played that year under that moniker, but never moved from Madison Square Garden, as there was no suitable facility in the borough to house the team.

In 1925, the Americans had become the second team to call the United States home, following the Boston Bruins. Their box office success prompted Madison Square Garden to get a team of their own – the Rangers – the following season.

The Americans suspended play after that one season playing under the Brooklyn name, ostensibly to return at the conclusion of World War II. The League, however, decided not to reinstate the franchise and folded it instead. Thus, the inaccurate phrase “The Original Six” came to life and lasted through the 1966-67 season, after which came the various waves of expansion.

In reality, the NHL came from the National Hockey Association, beginning NHL play in 1917-18 with four teams: the Montreal Wanderers, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Arenas. In its history prior to the 1940s, there were also teams in Quebec, Hamilton, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and St. Louis, so “Original Six,” really should be “Surviving Six.”

That’s the “hockey part” of the story. The other involves the location of the Barclays Center, where the Predators play Thursday night. Its address is 620 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn – at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. It is built above a platform over the Atlantic Terminal of the Long Island Railroad. This brings us to the “baseball part” of my story.

The Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. But was Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley truly the villain here? Shortly after taking over control of the Dodgers in 1950, O’Malley realized that Ebbets Field was about to outlive its usefulness. Ebbets Field had roughly 700 parking spaces around it, and with the exodus of so many Dodger fans from the borough to Long Island and other suburban locales, O’Malley recognized that public transportation would be the key.

At the time, Robert Moses was effectively New York emperor of all land development. Never elected to a public office, Moses nevertheless was behind numerous public authorities, which put him in charge of bridges, parks, highways and many urban renewal projects.

Moses and O’Malley were constantly on opposite sides of various arguments. In 1955 (ironically, the year that marked the only World Series championship in Brooklyn Dodgers history), Moses rejected O’Malley’s offer to build a $6 million, domed stadium at the very sight where the Barclays Center now sits. The only land that Moses was willing to give O’Malley was in Flushing Meadow, where Shea Stadium was built, adjacent to the Mets’ current home, Citi Field.

As a result of that spat, New York was without National League baseball from 1958-61 (as the Giants left the even more decrepit Polo Grounds, joining the Dodgers on the West Coast), and Brooklyn’s downtown development was delayed by almost 60 years.

In hindsight, O’Malley’s heirs are probably grateful – and that’s the rest of the story of Brooklyn and major league sports.

POSTED ON Monday, 09.21.2015 / 9:30 AM CT
By Pete Weber - Radio Play-by-Play / Pete Weber's Hockey Blog

About a year ago at this time, there was so much doubt surrounding the Nashville Predators. The team had missed the playoffs each of the previous two seasons, though they were somehow six games above .500 the season before.

There was someone other than Barry Trotz behind the bench for the first time in team history. The Central Division was shaping up as the most difficult in all of the NHL (the maximum five teams made the playoffs in 2014-15: St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, Minnesota and Winnipeg).

Again, a year ago at this time there were so many questions surrounding the Predators. Peter Laviolette was taking over behind the bench, bringing his long-time assistant, Kevin McCarthy with him, joining up with holdover Phil Housley. How would the team react to the change behind the bench?

After not being available for 51 games in 2013-14, would Pekka Rinne be able to bounce back? Was he healthy enough to carry the team again? Another question of health regarded Mike Fisher, who ruptured an Achilles tendon during summer workouts. Would he be able to bounce back – and if so, when?

Every team has questions heading into training camp. A year ago, there was a great deal of concern about them.

With the Predators opening the Ford Ice Center in September and hosting a prospects tournament with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers participating, thing began to look better very quickly.

New Head Coach Peter Laviolette found a key answer to the team’s need for increased scoring in Filip Forsberg, who made the all-tournament team and took that into a spectacular first full season. Forsberg played in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus and finished with a team-high 26 goals and 63 points.

Forsberg spent much of the season on a line with Mike Ribeiro (signed to a one-year “show me” contract during the summer) and James Neal (acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh) to give the team a legitimate first line. As it turned out, Fisher was able to return in late November and helped provide a solid second line and lead Colin Wilson to his first 20-goal season.

Pekka Rinne bounced back splendidly, playing 64 games and winning 41 of them, two shy of his career best in 2011-12, when he played in nine more games.

Who can be the answers to this season’s questions? Will Barrett Jackman add an edge to the defense? How will Seth Jones perform in his third season?

There are so many youngsters to watch as this camp begins – one caught the eye of many in the recent prospects tournament in Florida: center Yakov Trenin, an 18-year old Russian who played in the Quebec League last winter in Gatineau.

Kevin Fiala got into a bit of action with the Predators last season, and he has vowed to make the team in this camp. Free-agent signee Steve Moses, out of the University of New Hampshire, came over from the KHL where he was a dominant scorer. Cody Hodgson is getting another NHL shot after signing as a free agent from Buffalo.

Those are just some of the candidates to be “answers.” Have fun watching!





1 z - DAL 82 50 23 9 267 230 109
2 x - STL 82 49 24 9 224 201 107
3 x - CHI 82 47 26 9 235 209 103
4 y - ANA 82 46 25 11 218 192 103
5 x - LAK 82 48 28 6 225 195 102
6 x - SJS 82 46 30 6 241 210 98
7 x - NSH 82 41 27 14 228 215 96
8 x - MIN 82 38 33 11 216 206 87
9 COL 82 39 39 4 216 240 82
10 ARI 82 35 39 8 209 245 78
11 WPG 82 35 39 8 215 239 78
12 CGY 82 35 40 7 231 260 77
13 VAN 82 31 38 13 191 243 75
14 EDM 82 31 43 8 203 245 70


F. Forsberg 82 33 31 1 64
R. Josi 81 14 47 -3 61
J. Neal 82 31 27 27 58
S. Weber 78 20 31 -7 51
M. Ribeiro 81 7 43 11 50
C. Smith 82 21 16 4 37
M. Ekholm 82 8 27 14 35
R. Johansen 42 8 26 10 34
R. Ellis 79 10 22 13 32
C. Jarnkrok 81 16 14 1 30
P. Rinne 34 21 10 .908 2.48
C. Hutton 7 5 4 .918 2.33