“One look is all it took.”
Five words sum up a Pittsburgh Penguins overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers as both teams begin the backstretch of the 2019-20 NHL season.
A crucial point in the standings and another home victory for Pittsburgh. But for the fans who listen on the radio, the call ranks among the countless memorable phrases that are uniquely Mike Lange’s, the Penguins’ longtime announcer.
Calling play-by-play presents many challenges. To track the ebb and flow of a hockey game – while articulating each player’s moves or assessing the strategy and counter punch of the coaches – is a skill that carries broadcasters to the top of their profession.
And Lange has elevated his game-calling to an art form. When Sidney Crosby lasered the game-winning goal into the net on Jan. 31, it was no surprise that Lange uttered the precise words to capture that particular moment.
Speaking for the Pittsburgh Faithful
Originality and the twist of a phrase have become Lange’s literal calling card, and his 40-year career has colorized the colloquialisms of the Pittsburgh faithful.
“Call Earl Slick from Turtle Crick,” Lange might say, referencing a Pittsburgh neighborhood (Turtle Creek) so aptly mispronounced in the dialect-language-hybrid known as Pittsburghese.
Not a native son, Lange has told stories of his early days in hockey when he would visit Pittsburgh neighborhoods to get to know the fans. He would chat with anyone from New Castle to New Kensington and from Baden to Baldwin. Each conversation apparently provided snippets of Steel City lore, informing what has become his style, the hockey talk of Pittsburgh.
“Get in the fast lane, Grandma, the bingo game is ready to roll” is a nod to the city’s elderly population and their love for a serious network of church-basement games.
“Buy Sam a drink and get his dog one too” salutes the working class who proudly built PPG Paints Arena, as if Lange knows a guy named Sam in a South Side bar has just earned a free cold one.
Capturing the Best Moments
It is Lange’s succinct understanding of key moments that have cemented his connection to his adopted city. He effortlessly combines a moment with the best elements of hockey – a little creativity and a touch of showmanship.
During Game 6 of the 1991 Stanley Cup Final, it had become obvious that the Penguins would defeat the then-Minnesota North Stars. En route to an 8-0 loss, North Stars goalie Jon Casey had become frustrated and stood shocked in net.
Just before Casey was lifted, Lange slid a dandy across the crease of NHL history: “Casey doesn’t know whether to cry or wind his watch.” A collective cheer must have been heard across Pittsburgh as fans listening back home celebrated the city’s first NHL championship.
Then, each of the club’s shining moments would be christened with a Lange masterpiece. “Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, bring me the brandy.” (1992, to claim Cup No. 2)
“You can spit-shine your shoes, cause we’re going dancing with Lord Stanley.” (1990-91 to clinch their first Wales Conference Championship)
“Lord Stanley, etch their names upon your fabled Cup.” (2008-09 to assure Sidney Crosby’s spot in the NHL pantheon).
But the first time is always the sweetest, right? The utter simplicity of Lange’s Cup-winning call from 1991 resonates with Penguins fans as if a dream fulfilled: “The Stanley Cup is coming to the City of Pittsburgh!”
Often the way something is said is more powerful than the words themselves. The joy in Lange’s voice on that May 1991 night captures the end of what had been 25 years of hockey futility. After all, he had been there for most of it, having first flipped on a Penguins’ microphone in 1974.
Something underneath that first Cup proclamation also suggests that Lange knew that the Mario Lemieux-led squad was not only in it for one and done.
Lange’s Greatest Calls
Throughout the years, there have been standards that Lange returns to for the right occasion.
“Heeeee shoots and SCORES!” carries a guttural cheer.
“They’re passing out checks like the first of the month” infers toughness during a brutal stretch of physical play.
“If you missed this one, shame on you for six weeks” chides like a revered grandfather admonishing you because you know better!
Yet, Lange’s signature catchphrase remains woven through the city and its fans. He is often heard, almost shouting, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has just left the building!” as a victory is finalized. Pittsburghers are accustomed to rooting for winners, and the verbal confidence of that phrase has become an outright assertion of victory.
Think Lange’s catchphrases are trite? Maybe pithy? Well, to a Penguins fan they are a cherished bit of Pittsburgh’s fabric as a sports town. Or maybe you need to ask Lange himself why these calls are so prescient. He’d likely answer, “You’d have to be here to believe it.”