Every player who plays in the AHL dreams of making it to the NHL. The same is true for those who don’t perform on the ice.
Longtime Grand Rapids Griffins radio broadcaster Bob Kaser had a dream come true Nov. 10, as he made his first NHL call for the Detroit Red Wings during his 38th year of doing hockey play-by-play.
Kaser filled in for Ken Kal, who is ill, for three games (Nov. 10 vs. Vancouver, Nov.12 at Montreal and Nov. 15 vs. Tampa Bay) and will call three more games (Friday at Washington, Sunday vs. Calgary and Wednesday at Buffalo) before Kal returns.
“(The Red Wings) asked me if I was available, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, yeah,’” Kaser told The Hockey Writers after the Griffins’ 6-3 win against the Texas Stars on Wednesday at Van Andel Arena. “I got off the phone, I thought about it for a minute and thought, ‘After all of these years, I might have a chance.’ I called my two boys to let them know right away.”
‘A Dream Come True’
Kaser received a call Nov. 9, the day before the game against Vancouver, and the Red Wings informed him there was a possibility his services would be needed. The next morning, Kaser officially got the call to the big leagues.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “It’s unfortunate circumstance with Ken Kal being sick. I’m glad they thought of me, I’m honored they thought of me. The opportunity to do it is about the best thing that has happened to me in hockey in a long, long time.”
— Peter Ross Dickow (@PeterRossDickow) February 7, 2015
Kaser joined color commentator Paul Woods in the Joe Louis Arena press box, as Kaser witnessed a 3-1 Red Wings victory during his first NHL call.
Despite doing hockey play-by-play for the past 38 years, Kaser, who is in his 17th season with the Griffins, admitted there were butterflies before the first game.
“That first game was terrible,” Kaser said of his nerves. “It was funny, I probably spent as much time for the marketing/promotional stuff as I did the actual hockey, which is kind of unusual. But they have a lot of stuff going on there, so I needed to understand how it all worked and how it flowed.”
Kaser said working with Woods was one of the highlights of the experience. He said he admired the color commentator’s work ethic and love of the game.
“He’s been fantastic,” Kaser said. “I have tremendous respect for him. His work ethic, his focus and his love of the game and passion for the game just shines through. Even coming back from Montreal after the game there, he’s on the plane and he’s got all of his notes and newspaper stories — no laptop, nothing. He’s handwriting for the next broadcast, which is three nights later.”
The Dream continues in Montreal. Morning skate, prepping for original six broadcast and meeting the legendary Bob Cole! pic.twitter.com/E63gq7SuQv
— Bob Kaser (@bkaser1) November 12, 2016
After the first game, Kaser said his nerves calmed down, despite being in one of the most established hockey arenas in the world in the Bell Centre.
“I was so relaxed it was scary,” he said. “Here I am, an Original Six game on a Saturday night in Montreal, maybe the greatest hockey environment in the world. I wasn’t the least bit nervous, because I was able to focus more on the hockey side and be more prepared and got the nerves out of the way having done that first game.”
Although the NHL game Kaser called wasn’t any different than the AHL version he is used to, Kaser admitted the intensity surrounding the game was much higher.
“The NHL part of it, it’s ramped up,” he said. “The media attention, the excitement around each game. It’s the American Hockey League times two. And that’s not to diminish the American Hockey League, the AHL is the second-best league in the world, and I’ve absolutely immensely enjoyed working in this league, and especially working here in Grand Rapids.
“But the NHL is the NHL, and that’s why players strive to get there, and for that matter, broadcasters strive to get there, too. I got the chance to experience it and see it firsthand, and it’s so good. I look forward to a couple of more games.
Kaser won the AHL’s 2009-10 Ellery Award for excellence in radio broadcasting and is a two-time International Hockey League Broadcaster of the Year. Kaser won his seventh broadcast excellence award from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters in 2016, and he has three Michigan Associated Press radio awards.
Even with a mantle full of broadcasting awards, Kaser said he had convinced himself he wouldn’t be talented enough to ever land a full-time NHL job. However, these recent games with the Red Wings have refueled his desire.
“It’s rekindled that for sure,” he said. “I kind of stepped away from that for a long time, because I’ve had it so good in Grand Rapids. I work for phenomenal people and around phenomenal people and great fans and just as good a city as you could ask for. … It reminded me of what I’ve missed out on, not having worked hard, maybe to get an NHL job. To be honest, I’ve never had a tremendous amount of confidence in myself to get that job. It’s tough. It’s a hard thing to do.”
Kaser said he is looking forward to the next three NHL games, especially seeing the players and coaches who used to be with the Griffins.
“Every game that comes my way is a bonus,” he said. “I love the opportunity to be around that environment — seeing all my old friends playing with the Wings and coaching with the Wings. That organization has been magical for me. They’ve been so good to me; I can’t even describe it.”
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.