He is Tony Gilliam, a 34-year-old Raleigh native and converted hockey maniac.
“About four-and-a-half years ago I got a call from a gentleman who worked for the Hurricanes,” said Gilliam. “He told me he’d like me to come up and be promotions announcer. I said, ‘I’m not really interested because I don’t know anything about hockey.’ He said, ‘Come on up and give it a shot just one time.’ I said no and we went back and forth for two or three weeks. He would call about every couple of days. Finally I said, ‘Sure, I’ll come up.’”
For Gilliam it was not love at first sight.
“To be honest with you, the first two or three games, I did what I had to do and left - drove back from Greensboro,” said Gilliam. “He asked, ‘Why are you leaving so early?’ I said, ‘I just don’t care about hockey.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you come up early and watch the game?’
“Now, I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life. (Hockey) just kind of grew on me.”
Before joining the Hurricanes Gilliam worked in television for CNN, WTBS and World Championship Wrestling for seven years.
“The commutes were tough,” said Gilliam of his television days. “I would fly back and forth from Raleigh. Hockey and major league sports - there’s a lot of similarities in the sports entertainment business. But, the difference is, all of the sports have a major break. Sports entertainment, professional wrestling, you don’t have a break.
“The biggest year I ever worked was 1990-91. I worked 300 days each of those years. 65 days one time on the road without a day off. When you’re on the road you’re not in Raleigh one day, Durham the next day, Greensboro the next day and Charlotte the next day. Rather, you’re in Raleigh one day, Phoenix the next day, Boston the next day, Tampa, possibly Japan or Toronto, so, you really do travel. It’s an interesting business.”
Despite now having a “stay at home” job, Gilliam does not stay completely grounded. He is still prone to traveling to follow his new love.
“Now I travel all over the country to see not only (the Hurricanes) but, last season, I went up to see Toronto and Ottawa play,” said Gilliam. “I enjoy the sport. It’s a big difference from sports entertainment, that’s for sure.”
Like many Caniacs, Gilliam constantly tries to convert friends and family to hockey.
“Everyday I try to touch one person somewhere in my life and explain to them what a great sport this is,” said Gilliam. “Truly, it’s a lot of fun.”
Gilliam’s work with the Hurricanes goes beyond what he does on the ice. He works full-time in the team’s office in business development.
“I work closely with several major corporations and I’m the liaison with Duke University Medical Center,” said Gilliam. “I’ve just been appointed to the Fair Commission by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture as the liaison for (Hurricanes’ parent company) Gale Force Holdings to deal with issues concerning the State Fair.”
Dealing with the State Fair may prove to be a more daunting task than one might expect.
“This year we have two games during the State Fair - one on a Wednesday and one on a Saturday, Saturday being the biggest day for the Fair last year with 132,000 people,” said Gilliam. “I’ll help to try to find a happy medium for both of us that will allow us to have our game and have a great crowd and for the Fair to have their record day while working with the parking department we have in making the traffic flow easier. The bottom line is that we’re trying to get all the headaches out.”
When not negotiating, promoting or entertaining for the Hurricanes, one way Gilliam cures headaches is with a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
“I love, absolutely love Krispy Kreme doughnuts,” said Gilliam. “That’s a well-kept secret. People reading this wouldn’t know that.”
One thing Gilliam does not want to keep secret is his love for his job.
“I have a deep, burning passion for what I do,” said Gilliam. “I have an undying love for the team in the sense that I was someone that knew nothing about this five years ago. I came in with an open mind, no pressure from anybody, and have learned quite a bit about the sport on my own. I’ve had a lot of help from (Carolina General Manager) Jim Rutherford who has taught me a lot. So, that’s one thing, other than the doughnuts, that people should know. I just have an undying love for this team and I want to turn people on to this sport.”
Down the road Gilliam hopes to take his career back to the airwaves.
“One day I hope to get back into TV and I hope it’s with hockey,” said Gilliam. “I hope to be the third man. I think it would be a lot of fun to be a sideline, off-ice reporter.”
Well, Tony, we like you just the way you are - doughnuts and all.
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.