He can’t skate a lick, but a Meadville native will be in the starting lineup for the Edmonton Oilers when the puck drops tonight to start their home matchup against the Vancouver Canucks.
On Monday, Jack Michaels, a 1991 graduate of Meadville Area Senior High, was named the new play-by-play announcer for Edmonton’s regionally televised games. Opening night on Wednesday was a nationally televised game, so Michaels was where he has been since 2010 — calling the game on the radio. He makes his TV debut as the Oilers’ lead announcer at 9 tonight, a quarter-century after he began calling Meadville Bulldogs hockey games for WMGW 1490 AM.
“You talk much less, that’s for sure,” Michaels said of the move from radio to TV, “and that’ll be a challenge for me.”
A day after using his voice to bring the game’s action to life for radio listeners, Michaels, 46, will take a more restrained approach for viewers who can see the game’s geography playing out before them.
“But, he added, “it’s a great challenge. I’m lucky enough to do this at the game’s highest level. I mean, let’s face it, it’s not a real job — I go to hockey games for a living.”
With a pool of just 31 NHL teams, reaching the level where Michaels now finds himself took more than luck, according to Meadville hockey coaching legend Jamie Plunkett.
“What was always so impressive about Jack was his preparation,” Plunkett said. “His level of professionalism — you could just tell that if he had the opportunity, he was going to do well.”
Recalling a high point for Meadville hockey and for Michaels’ budding broadcasting career, Plunkett pointed to the Bulldogs’ 1999 playoff run: four consecutive overtime game, culminating in a 3-2 triple-overtime loss to Conwell-Egan in the state championship game.
“I jokingly tell him Meadville Bulldog hockey got him his start,” Plunkett said.
It’s no joke, according to Michaels, who described announcing the games as a turning point in his career. The sequence of nailbiters came back to him easily, still clear in his memory despite the intervening decades and the 919 minor league games and 783 NHL games he has called since then.
The western Pennsylvania final was a match between Meadville and Central Catholic at “The Igloo,” the Civic Arena that was home to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since the Penguins were playing there later the same day, announcers Mike Lange, now a Hall of Famer who still does play-by-play for the Penguins, and Matt McConnell, now the Arizona Coyotes’ TV announcer, witnessed Michaels’ call of the double-overtime Meadville victory.
After the game, the two men went out of their way to talk to Michaels, who was covering Allegheny College football, basketball and baseball games in addition to hockey at the time.
“They both said, you should forget about basketball and football,” Michaels recalled. “You can call hockey, and not as many people can call hockey games.”
Later that year, those games provided the tapes he sent out to pro teams across the country before landing his first minor league job with the Colorado Gold Kings of the West Coast Hockey League. A few years later, he moved to Anchorage, Alaska, to call games and coordinate travel, hockey operations and corporate sales for the Alaska Aces of the ECHL.
When he moved on to Edmonton, Alberta, in 2010, he broke a barrier of sorts in doing so: The Oilers introduced him as the only American calling games for a Canadian NHL team. Today, Michaels is breaking ground again as an American taking over the TV job for a Canadian team.
“If I have a claim to fame, that would be it,” he said. “I’m the first one ever as far as I know.”
As sports trivia goes, the distinction is perhaps a bit obscure, but in a nation where in normal years every Saturday from October to April is Hockey Night in Canada, it’s one of numerous points of pride for Michaels’ parents Lloyd and Mary.
Jack and his family — his wife, the former Emily Moutsos, a 1992 MASH graduate, 16-year-old Callie and 14-year-old Tyler — typically visit Meadville each summer, but haven’t seen Lloyd and Mary in person since December 2019 due to the pandemic.
Mary shared Lloyd’s pride, but as for the love of sports her husband and son have shared since Lloyd read out loud to a preschool-aged Jack from the sports section of The Meadville Tribune — not so much.
“Those two are maniacs for sports,” she said, “and I am the oddball in the family.”
Still, after years of listening to Jack’s radio broadcasts, she knows her way around a hockey game, according to Lloyd. And both parents will be able to watch along with Jack now: on Tuesday, Lloyd made sure they would be able to view games through NHL.tv on their television. (Edmonton games can also be viewed by ordering the NHL Center Ice package through satellite providers; the package is not available through Armstrong.)
Despite the distance, Lloyd has long kept track of Jack’s broadcasts. Early on, that meant occasional grammar advice — Lloyd spent more than 40 years teaching English at Allegheny College. Before long, however, Lloyd was sending the odd bit of trivia when the on-air conversation drifted from hockey to other sports, even occasionally earning a reference from his son.
Such moments were achievements, Lloyd said, because one of Jack’s strengths as a broadcaster is the ease with which he draws on decades of hockey knowledge.
“If there’s anything to his style that I find amazing, it’s that he has a photographic memory for sports trivia, so while the action is going, he’ll insert information that I find astonishing to hear,” Lloyd said. “He’ll talk about a game 25 years ago that ended 3-2, and the play reminds him of that.”
For Plunkett, the key to Jack’s broadcasting style is the love he brings to the game he has been watching and narrating for so long.
“He’s got a lot of energy,” Plunkett said. “You certainly won’t fall asleep listening to him. He’s got a great goal call, a great overtime, game-winning goal call, and he knows the game.”
It’s easy to be enthusiastic when your job doesn’t seem like a job at all, Michaels said. And after years of struggling, things are looking brighter for the Oilers.
Two of the last three league MVPs are on the roster, and the team is coming off a season in which it had the best record among Canadian teams. That’s significant this season, when Canadian teams will only play other Canadian teams.
“It’s going to be a bit of a bloodbath,” Michaels said.
That’s likely to be even more true of the games between the Oilers and the Calgary Flames, the other Alberta team located three hours south.
Last February, the matchup traditionally referred to as the Battle of Alberta produced one of Michaels’ most memorable radio calls, a clip of which has been viewed more than 16,000 times on YouTube.
With fights breaking out across the ice, the rink transforms into a boxing ring and the announcer seamlessly transitions to calling punches instead of shots on goal. Michaels’ voice steadily climbs in intensity as the scene culminates with the two goalies meeting at center ice.
In a voice that begs to be transcribed in all caps, Michaels lands a blow of his own: “This is the Battle of Alberta we’ve been waiting for for three decades!!!!”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
You can watch
link to YouTube clip of call in kicker: