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Q&A with Voice of the Stingrays, Mike Kelly

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Toronto native Mike Kelly has spent more than a decade broadcasting hockey games all over North America. The Stingrays’ director of broadcasting and ticket sales manager is heading into his second season as the team’s radio play-by-play voice. A tireless worker with a tangible passion for the game, Kelly also hosts a weekly radio show from Bobby Hartin’s Sports Grill, a Charleston sports bar and restaurant. We were able to sit in on Mike’s weekly show and one of his game broadcasts during our visit, and he also took the time to chat with us while we watched the morning skate at North Charleston Coliseum prior to a Stingrays home game.

Mike Vogel: Give me an idea of what your day is like on a game day.

Mike Kelly: “I’m mainly on tickets. We split the duties up. A lot of my media relations responsibilities include the game re-cap. I help out with some media stuff as well. I do a lot of tickets, group [sales] and season tickets and things of that nature. That keeps me very busy. Then of course, preparing for the radio broadcasts. That goes all day long. You’re always fishing for information, and scoops will come up and little anecdotes that you can use in a broadcast.”

MV: Does it make it a little easier when you have games against teams like Columbia and Charlotte, teams that you see a lot? You’re more familiar with them and probably have to do less leg work than you would for a game against a team outside the division.

MK: “Absolutely. This is our 11th time against Columbia, and so do the players. There are really no secrets when it comes to this part of the season. There are lots of stories to tell from how the season series developed as well. You can go back to previous games, head-to-head match-ups. It makes it fun. These guys know all about Columbia. There are no secrets there.”

MV: How did you get involved in broadcasting to start with?

MK: “I grew up in Canada, a hockey hotbed of course. It is part of the culture I think, and a lot of people get involved with it somehow. I went to broadcasting school in Canada, at college. That’s where I met my wife as well. I wanted to get into sports, and I was fortunate. I worked for The Sports Network in Toronto for four years as a producer and a writer, so I gained that good basis and background in sports. I wanted to try the on-air side of things, and that’s how it developed. I worked with a lot of great people up in Toronto. They were true pros and some outstanding broadcasters. They were very helpful to me, in my younger years especially.”

MV: What’s it been like for you as a Canadian first in Mississippi and then here? You grew up around the game, and like you say it’s part of your culture. It’s got to be great for the markets that you’re in that you are able to bring that out to people who didn’t grow up around the game.

MK: “In some ways, I’m like a teacher I guess. And I like that aspect of it, being able to teach the game and the hockey 101 part of it, bring fans along and teach them about the players and the rules of the game. If they have any questions, I am always happy to answer them. Throughout the game from time to time I will try to explain how things happened. You have the novices that listen plus the veterans. I just try to involve everyone if I can, and make everyone feel a part of it.”

MV: What are some of the highlights of your career so far?

MK: “Being in the United States is a thrill for me. We’re really enjoying it. Mississippi was great. The fans there were terrific to us. Just after Hurricane Katrina though, everything kind of got off the rails. But we enjoyed our time there, and we certainly enjoy our time here in South Carolina. People are very friendly and everybody wants to talk hockey, especially when you’re around the arena. Just being part of the game is really the biggest thrill for me. Every day for me is like Christmas. I just love being part of the game.”

MV: Talk about Hurricane Katrina for a bit. You’re a month away from starting the season and then the storm hits. What were the thoughts then? I don’t think anyone who wasn’t there can imagine what that storm wrought. It turned so many lives upside down.

MK: “It did. It was devastating to so many people down there, and my heart goes out to them. We lived through it, and we lived there for nine months after Hurricane Katrina. It changed everything in Biloxi, Mississippi, and the whole Gulf Coast over to New Orleans. You can’t believe how one day can change the paths of so many people. And it did. Hockey was suspended there for two seasons. They’re going to be coming back in October, and that’s awesome for the fans there. I know they are really excited to be bringing back their Sea Wolves.

“We were just a few weeks away from the 10th anniversary season, and we had so many things planned, like jersey retirements and the first alumni game. They were ECHL champions back in 1999 and there were a lot of fun things planned. The celebration has been put on hold for two years now. They’re going to call it ‘The Decade in the Den.’ They called the home arena there ‘The Wolves’ Den.’ I know everybody is really pumped about it.”

MV: Were you there for that championship season in 1999?

MK: “No, I came two seasons after that. They have some great stories from that [championship season]. It went to double overtime in Game 7 in front of a sold out Mississippi Coast Coliseum crowd – 9,150 – and they won it on the power play, of all things. It was the first-ever pro championship for the state of Mississippi. The stories are legendary now. Bruce Boudreau was the head coach and Bob Woods was a player-assistant at the time. Woods scored the tying goal with less than three minutes left in regulation to send it to extra time in Game 7.”

MV: After having survived that long off-season in Mississippi, what led to you coming to South Carolina?

MK: “Once the Sea Wolves suspended operations for the second season – and that was in mid-April – I made a decision. I sat out that one season, and it was very difficult. I’m used to 70-plus games and I only saw five games that season. I had to travel to San Antonio, Houston, Memphis, Pensacola and Corpus Christi to see my five games. Those were long road trips. The shortest was two hours and the longest was an 11-hour drive just to see a pro hockey game. It was very difficult for me. And even the National Hockey League, they didn’t get Versus or OLN down in Biloxi so I literally saw five games all season. I listened to a lot of games on the Internet that year.

“I just needed to get back in the game somehow, and I was very fortunate to land here in South Carolina. It’s a perfect situation. Being involved in the ECHL, I really enjoy this level. It’s the premier Double-A hockey league, and over 325 players have advanced to the NHL. It’s a very progressive league, and the players are very accommodating, as I’m sure they are at every level. You know, you ride the bus and you get to know the guys even more. It’s a lot of fun on the road – and at home, too – there is a lot of joking and carrying on with the guys. Jason [Fitzsimmons] and Jared [Bednar] are terrific to work with. It’s really a professional attitude and a great atmosphere here.

“The fans here have been really welcoming to my family and I, my wife Suzanne and our two-year-old son Gregory. They’ve been amazing in making us feel like this is home to us, and it’s been that way since the first week here. It felt like that right away.”

Q&A with Voice of the Stingrays, Mike Kelly
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