Reflecting on Blackhawks’ Pat Foley & His Broadcasting Career

After Thursday’s contest, Chicago Blackhawks games will sound very different from what they have for the past 41 years. Last June, the organization announced that longtime TV play-by-play voice Pat Foley will step down from his role at the end of the 2021-22 regular season, and Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks is set to be his final one in the booth.

Over the years, players, coaches, and even general managers may come and go, but play-by-play broadcasters often stay the same. Though not on the ice, they become just as recognizable as any player, and that’s exactly what Foley accomplished during his Chicago tenure. From his wit and enthusiasm to his brutal honesty during the Blackhawks’ toughest moments, I — along with many fans — will miss Foley’s calls.

Except for two seasons with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves from 2006-08, Foley, a Glenview, Illinois, native and 1977 Michigan State University alumnus, has been a Blackhawks staple since 1980 — a career that’s spanned five decades. He’s not just one of the most well-regarded announcers in the NHL but also a legend in Chicago sports media. Despite the Blackhawks’ recent tough luck, fans should cherish Thursday’s game as Foley steps behind the microphone one last time.

Foley’s Approach & Style

While some broadcasters mix and match and may not have a regular goal call, Foley always kept it consistent: “He scores.” Whether it was Ed Belfour or Corey Crawford, a jaw-dropping save would be accompanied by a “Big save.” However, despite his straightforward approach, Foley also came up with some unique catchphrases and calls, and these helped give him a personality.

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One of my favorite Foley moments was on Oct. 13, 2018, a game I vividly remember. The Blackhawks were playing the St. Louis Blues, and the teams were tied 3-3 in the third period (Chicago won 4-3 in overtime). With 3:33 left, there was a stoppage in play about which Foley exclaimed, “Three-three-at-three-thirty-three-in-the-third,” referring to the score and time left on the clock while silencing the letter “h” in his speech. As soon as those words came out of his mouth, I burst into laughter, even though Foley had used the joke on numerous occasions before. That’s what made Foley so beloved among fans: he regularly brought a sense of humor and developed his own catchphrases.

If the Blackhawks won, you’d know it by Foley’s words. “We hope you enjoyed the broadcast; we know you enjoyed the outcome,” he would say. Not only did these help Foley develop his media personality, but they also created a sense of nostalgia. Despite a new team on the ice, those who grew up with the Blackhawks in the ’80s can still relate to those teams of the 2010s since Foley’s approach rarely changed.

Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup
The Chicago Blackhawks pose for a team photo after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime and winning the Stanley Cup in Game 6 of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final, June 9, 2010. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Perhaps no moment better encapsulates Foley’s animated personality than when the Blackhawks were playing the Minnesota North Stars in the 1985 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Former Blackhawks goaltender Murray Bannerman had made an impressive save on a North Stars breakaway, and Foley responded with “BANNERMAN” in a loud, exclamatory manner. Though it was still early in his NHL broadcasting career, his call resonated with fans and helped build his legacy.

Yes, many announcers have their own calls and signature phrases, but Foley held his own, and his calls were never boring or overdone. He knew when to tone it down and was never afraid to speak up if the Blackhawks were playing poorly. However, his flair kept fans engaged, which will surely be missed.

Foley’s Legacy

Whether it was Dale Tallon or Eddie Olczyk, Foley became so well-liked because of his ability to build chemistry and develop a rapport with his partner in the booth. Play-by-play announcers might not always mesh well with their color commentators or vice-versa, but Foley’s attitude made him pair well with a variety of different partners.

While many fans today remember Foley working with Olczyk, some of his greatest moments in the booth came with Tallon. The pair worked together in the ’80s and ’90s, also during the 2002-03 NHL season, and were recently reunited for last Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars. Though I had never heard the pair call a game before, it was easy to see why so many fans enjoyed the duo’s wit back in the day; they weren’t afraid to tell it like it was and share their honest thoughts on the team.

Foley and Olczyk have not just built great chemistry together, but they also have a very natural delivery. Even during the worst games, you could tune in and still enjoy the friendly banter between the two. One of Olczyk’s strengths as a color commentator is to make any game sound like a casual yet meaningful conversation, and that’s what he did with Foley over the years. Although Foley made it work with both Tallon and Olczyk, he also had great success calling games with Troy Murray, Billy Gardner, Steve Konroyd, and others.

Eddie Olczyk
Former Chicago Blackhawks player Eddie Olczyk (AP Photo/Amr Alfiky, File)

Foley’s resume speaks for itself. He’s a five-time Emmy Award-winner, was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, and entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 as the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award recipient, which recognizes excellence in ice hockey broadcasting.

From his catchphrases to his enthusiasm, Foley has inspired several ice hockey broadcasters today. Even though his style might be a little old-fashioned and not necessarily what you might expect from younger broadcasters today, like Chris Vosters, who will take over TV play-by-play duties after Thursday, he still touched the lives of many and will be missed in the booth.

Thank You, Pat

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited for Vosters, who will call his first game as the full-time TV play-by-play voice of the Blackhawks this Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He’s personable, charismatic, and should build his own legacy as Foley did. He was also one of my top choices for a replacement, and I’m looking forward to watching him develop chemistry with Olczyk, as well as with younger analysts like Caley Chelios and Colby Cohen.

However, I’m going to miss Foley, and I know many Blackhawks fans will, too. The excitement. The laughs. The chemistry with each and every partner. The brutal honesty when it was necessary. All of it made Foley special, and he made the Blackhawks’ chair his own.

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Vosters might not be Foley, but no one ever will be. Fans should appreciate the memories while embracing the next era of Blackhawks’ hockey, as rough as it may seem right now. It will be bittersweet listening to Foley call his final game, a broadcaster Blackhawks fans have come to know and love. Except for radio play-by-play voice John Wiedeman, for many fans, Foley’s the only voice they’ve ever known, which should make the occasion even more special.

Thank you, Pat, for all the calls and all the memories. You brought a personality like no other to the booth and made the TV play-by-play position uniquely yours. You will be missed.