A change is coming in the Chicago Blackhawks‘ broadcast booth. After 39 years, longtime Blackhawks TV play-by-play announcer Pat Foley announced his retirement from broadcasting last June and said this season would be his final one with the organization.
The Blackhawks have not yet named a full-time replacement for Foley. They’ve taken an interesting approach this season with their regional broadcasts, with Foley handling approximately half of the games and the others being split up among a group of different announcers who could find themselves in Foley’s chair next year. Think of it as “open auditions,” if you will.
A solid, well-qualified announcer can make or break a team’s broadcast. And as someone who has enjoyed Foley’s wit and enthusiasm over the years, I’m curious to see what direction the Blackhawks go in next season with finding his replacement. With that in mind, here are my top five candidates who should replace Foley next year in the Blackhawks’ broadcast booth.
No. 5 – Jason Ross Jr.
On Jan. 8, Ross Jr. made history when he called the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights as the first Black TV play-by-play announcer in team history. Currently, Seattle Kraken radio voice Everett Fitzhugh is the NHL’s lone Black play-by-play voice, so there’s no doubt Ross Jr. would bring some much-needed diversity to the booth if the Blackhawks chose to go this direction.
Along with the Blackhawks, Ross Jr. calls college sports for ESPN and FOX Sports 1 (FS1). While he isn’t a household name in sports broadcasting yet, he is only 23 years old. I enjoyed Ross Jr.’s call while watching Marc-André Fleury defeat his old team. His delivery seemed simple and to the point, but he got excited at the right times.
There’s no doubt Ross Jr. has plenty of time to work his way through the ranks, but he also has room to grow. As an Original Six franchise, I have a feeling the Blackhawks may look to find someone with a little more NHL experience. I’d be very surprised if he got the full-time job, but I wouldn’t rule out hearing him on more games moving forward as a fill-in.
No. 4 – Chris Vosters
Vosters most recently called Chicago’s 3-2 shootout loss against the Kraken on Jan. 17 and worked a handful of games in early November with analysts Eddie Olczyk and Colby Cohen. Like Ross Jr., he’s young but brings a little more versatility. Vosters currently calls college sports for FS1 and Big Ten Network and has some college hockey experience. He also worked the 2018 Winter Olympics for NBC, a high-profile gig for anyone in sports media.
From a viewer standpoint, it felt like it took Vosters some time to adjust to the NHL. However, I feel like he’s improved since then and brings great energy. His chemistry during his last game with Cohen was enjoyable, and the duo almost reminded me of a younger version of Foley and Olczyk, adding some humor when appropriate while keeping the game at their forefront.
I’ve enjoyed Vosters, but like Ross Jr., I do think the Blackhawks would prefer someone with more NHL experience. Even if Vosters isn’t Foley’s replacement, though, I’d be very surprised if we don’t hear him in some capacity after this season.
No. 3 – John Buccigross
Now, this is a bit of a long shot. Most fans know Buccigross for his ESPN work as a longtime studio host and play-by-play announcer, and he has played a vital role in welcoming the NHL back to the network as part of their seven-year deal. While Buccigross hasn’t been a part of the rotation the Blackhawks have used on Foley’s off nights, he has no shortage of experience when it comes to calling hockey and knows the league inside and out.
Buccigross is, quite literally, the NHL’s Gus Johnson. He is truly passionate about the game. As part of his ESPN duties, he called one of Chicago’s signature wins this year, a 3-2 overtime victory against the St. Louis Blues back on Black Friday.
Due to Buccigross’ national work, though, he already has a full slate of games on his plate. Would he want to potentially scale back on his ESPN duties for Chicago? Would he want to call most of his games for a rebuilding and struggling franchise, despite being an Original Six team in the United States’ third-largest media market?
It’s worth noting many national announcers have full-time regional gigs while calling national games on the side. Kenny Albert, lead voice of the NHL on TNT, is also the New York Rangers’ radio voice. Similarly, Olczyk is the network’s primary game analyst and held the same position at NBC for more than a decade while still working most Blackhawks games regionally. It’s possible Buccigross could call games for both the Blackhawks and ESPN, but the two sides would need to make it work.
No. 2 – John Wiedeman
Wiedeman has paid his dues. After working New York Islanders games for four seasons, he came to Chicago in 2006 and has been the Blackhawks’ lead radio voice ever since, calling games with 16-year NHL veteran Troy Murray. Wiedeman and Murray have become fan favorites, arguably nearly as much as Foley and Olczyk. They’ve seen it all, including Chicago’s three Stanley Cups in the 2010s.
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What makes Wiedeman so great, especially while listening on radio, is his ability to paint the picture and use details. Although radio is a whole different medium than television, I thought Wiedeman translated well to TV when he filled in for Foley earlier this season. Plus, he seemed to have good chemistry with Olczyk.
Without a doubt, Wiedeman would be the easiest choice for fans to adapt with, especially when it comes to nostalgia. That said, he does such a great job on radio. Would he want to make the move between mediums? I also have a feeling Chicago might prefer someone younger, though I wouldn’t complain if he got the job.
No. 1 – Stephen Nelson
Nelson, a current play-by-play announcer and anchor for NHL Network, brings no shortage of national experience. At 32 years old, he’s called the World Juniors for the network and regularly calls its weekly showcase game while also contributing to MLB Network.
Back in November, Nelson called the Blackhawks’ three-game Western Canada road trip, and one thing that immediately stood out to me was his flair. His confidence was evident, and he wasn’t afraid to bring his own persona, like his “Cash or Trash” shtick, without overdoing it.
As a national voice already for two out of the four North American major professional leagues, Nelson is due for a full-time regional gig at some point. The Blackhawks seem to be focused on getting younger in nearly all aspects, so it would make total sense for the organization to pursue someone like him. He’s a rising but established talent, a successful trend across NHL broadcasting.
While some fans would be upset with this decision, the Blackhawks should be focused on getting someone young but also experienced and well-rounded. Nelson would certainly fit that bill for me.
Who Gets the Call?
While it would probably be the easiest for the Blackhawks to stick Wiedeman on TV and find a new radio voice, I have a feeling the organization wants to go young, which is why Nelson — or even Vosters — would make so much sense. All five of these announcers, however, have solid calls, and there are good arguments for each.
Given how long he’s been at the helm, losing Foley will be tough, but fans need to be patient with this decision and embrace whoever gets the call. There’s no doubt whoever gets this job will face scrutiny because they aren’t Foley, but no one ever will be. As the Blackhawks enter a new era, fans need to embrace the changes, and that includes the broadcast.