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Hockey Fights Cancer

Blues broadcaster keeps father in thoughts

John Kelly will be thinking of his dad during Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night in St. Louis

by Louie Korac / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. LOUIS -- John Kelly still has the press pass from Nov. 17, 1988.

On that night, the television voice of the St. Louis Blues worked a game in Philadelphia with his father, Dan Kelly, the Hockey Hall of Fame voice of the Blues. Dan Kelly, who had been broadcasting Blues games since the 1968-69 season, had been diagnosed with cancer and was working his final game. He died three months later on Feb. 10, 1989.

"I was doing the Rangers at the time and I had stayed over and announced with him, the only time I ever did a game with him, and I kept that press pass with me," John Kelly, 55, said. "I look up at the banner every night [in St. Louis] after the anthem and I say a little prayer. To say that my dad is with me in spirit and in the broadcast booth every night is completely accurate."

John Kelly keeps that press pass with him as a reminder of his father, who died at the age of 52. The man known for his legendary call of "He shoots … he scores!" was lost too soon to the Kelly family, which includes John's younger brother, Dan, who was part of the Blues' radio broadcast team from 1997-2000.

So when the Blues hold Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night against the Colorado Avalanche (5 p.m. ET; FS-MW, ALT, NHL.TV) on Sunday, Dan Kelly will be there in spirit with John, and if the younger Kelly needs a pep talk, he can turn to his left and take a look at the Irish clover banner hanging in the rafters at Scottrade Center.

 

Broadcaster Dan Kelly (right) with Barclay Plager in 1975

 

"It's amazing. He died at 52," John Kelly said of his father. "He loved what he did, made himself into a great broadcaster, and just out of the blue to get that disease and to get it as badly as he got it, he only survived four months once he got it. He didn't have much of a chance. 

"That's almost 28 years ago and they've made so much progress in that time … but it still is affecting and killing way too many people."

When John Kelly calls the Blues game against the Avalanche on Sunday, he'll take great comfort in knowing his father is watching over him and keeping him as sharp as ever.

"He's on my mind a lot," John Kelly said. "Because of my job and the fact I in a way took over for him, albeit a few years in between, I'm going to be connected with him forever and certainly he's on my mind. He was very proud of the fact that I was a broadcaster. Unfortunately he died before my brother became a broadcaster. He'd be very proud that he had two sons that followed in his footsteps." 

Cancer affected the Kelly family again when John's wife, Jennifer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.

"Whenever you get that diagnosis it hits you like a brick in the head," John Kelly said. "But the good news is her diagnosis was Stage 2 breast cancer, and she's gone through treatments and her surgery. Her outlook is very good. To have it happen again to our family, it's tough, but that's life and life isn't always fair and a lot of families have to deal with that or a lot worse. The good news is she's doing really well and is getting through it."

The NHL began the Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness campaign 18 years ago, and it has grown into something John Kelly appreciates.

"I think it's fantastic that they do it," he said. "It's all encompassing. It's not just the players. It's the coaches that are involved, the broadcasters, the fans are involved. To have this initiative to raise awareness about this and to raise money to help people with cancer or to find a cure, it's fantastic. I think it's pretty obvious that every single person knows somebody that's been affected by this terrible disease.

"For my family it's hit home with my dad, and my wife with breast cancer. It's a great initiative and I applaud everybody because I really think the players and the coaches, and the broadcasters in particular, all take it very seriously. It really hits home with all of us."

John Kelly will wear a lavender tie honoring the Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness campaign Sunday, and if there's one message he hopes to get across, it's that the fight against cancer must continue until a cure is found.

"Until this disease is cured and we find a cure, then we need to work as hard as we can to raise awareness and to raise money and to make cancer no longer," he said. "I hope that day comes very soon, but it seems nowadays like more people are getting cancer. Until we find the cure, then we need to keep pushing as hard as we can, all of us."

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