-- Having called exactly 900 regular-season games in the radio booth for the Atlanta Thrashers, Dan Kamal has hockey running through his veins. He has also called play-by-play for the Hershey Bears starting in 1982 and two defunct Atlanta teams, including the IHL's Knights.
During parts of four decades in the booth, he has made his share of connections in the hockey world and recently he embarked on something of an odyssey in the form of a 4,642-mile drive from his home in suburban Alpharetta, Ga., all the way to Anchorage, Alaska.
For the 2011-12 NHL season, Kamal will serve as a reporter for Winnipeg's CJOB, a 50,000-watt radio station that is the city’s top-rated. Kamal will cover all of the road games in the United States for the now relocated franchise that he has followed since it entered the NHL in 1999.
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The offer from CJOB served as part of the impetus for the drive, but so did meeting his former broadcast partner Jeff Odgers
, the long-time NHL tough guy, on his farm in Saskatchewan, along with the mission of dropping off a 2000 Chevy Blazer that belongs to his son Chris, a goalie for the Alaska-Anchorage team.
In a route that meandered through the prairies, gravel roads and the Yukon Territory, Kamal came across nine elk, four mountain goats and a herd of wild horses -- they couldn't drag him away -- during eight days of driving across the continent.
"I thought a lot about how lucky I've been to be involved in the game this long," Kamal said of the long hours in the car. "How much I really wanted to stay involved in the game, if I were lucky enough to do so, but I also was determined to let it be a good distraction for me, a great chance to see places in the world I've never seen, visit one of the nicest guys I've ever met in hockey, and to see my son and see where he hangs out."
Day 1, Tuesday, Aug. 30, Alpharetta, Ga., to Kansas City: 830 miles
With about 125,000 miles on the vehicle, Kamal departed his home in Atlanta's northern suburbs at 5 a.m. ET with Kansas City as the day's destination. The trip ahead weighed on his mind and, as a result, he found difficulty sleeping the night before. That made for a long day of 14-plus hours in the car. He arrived at 6:30 p.m. Central Time.
Day 2, Wednesday, Aug. 31, Kansas City to Winnipeg: 933 miles
Flooding along the Missouri River in western Iowa closed portions of Interstate-29, which runs on the South and North Dakota side of the Minnesota border, forcing Kamal to backtrack. He headed east to Des Moines and up through Minneapolis before making his way back west again up to I-29 and north of the Canadian border.
Wanting to arrive in Winnipeg by nightfall so he would be fresh for a morning meeting in that city the next day, Kamal departed at 4:30 a.m. and arrived at 6:30 p.m. for another 14-hour day in the car.
Kamal explained what he did to pass the time.
"It was a good distraction for me because, you know, I've been sitting around," he said. "It was a summer of professional upheaval, obviously. You lose your dream job through extenuating circumstances, so you certainly are trying to respond to that and try to pick up pieces and turn it into something good, but some days go better than others. So it was a good distraction away from that for a while."
Day 3, Thursday, Sept. 1: Winnipeg to Spy Hill, Saskatchewan: 250 miles
In the morning, Kamal met for breakfast at 9:30 with CJOB Program Director Kevin Wallace and finalized his deal. In his role for the station, Kamal will gather sound from morning skates, practices and after games, and will appear on various CJOB programs.
He left Winnipeg at noon and, after so many days of long drives, drove only about four hours to meet Odgers at his office in Rocanville, Sask., where Odgers works as a security officer for a construction company. Then he went with Odgers about 20 miles away to Spy Hill, population 300, where Odgers' family owns a cattle ranch on 1,800 acres. Odgers lives on the farm with his parents, Fred and Cheryl.
Odgers spent 12 seasons in the NHL and was a fan favorite wherever he went, amassing 2,364 penalty minutes in 821 games. He played his final three seasons in Atlanta and worked several seasons in the booth with Kamal. He currently helps coach his two sons, John and Dakota, on the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, a Tier II league.
Kamal said the farm was like "waking up to a picture postcard."
"For me, the kid who grew up in the housing projects until I was 13, it's like every time I get to wide open spaces, I'm kind of in awe," said Kamal, who grew up in gritty Lawrence, Mass.
Day 4, Friday, Sept. 2: Spy Hill
For the first time on the trip, Kamal stayed in one spot. Odgers put him to work on the farm, helping to repair some electric fencing. At one point, Odgers warned Kamal about a particularly wet section of ground, but the unheeding greenhorn found himself sunk into mud up to his knee and had difficulty extricating himself from his predicament, to Odgers' great amusement.
"I played Billy Crystal to his Jack Palance," Kamal said, referring to the film, "City Slickers." "The only thing I didn't do was ride a horse backwards."
Day 5, Saturday, Sept. 3, Spy Hill to Edmonton: 620 miles
Kamal traveled in something of a caravan from Spy Hill to Edmonton with Odgers and members of his family to see Odgers' older son John trying out for Prince George of the Western Hockey League. After an all-day drive, they arrived around dinner time. Prince George was participating in the "Edmonton Oil Kings Invitational," along with Red Deer and others and anxiously awaited the next day's events.
Day 6, Sunday, Sept. 4, Edmonton to Ft. St. John, B.C.: 430 miles
John Odgers was playing that morning and Kamal met much of the extended family. When Jeff Odgers
worked as a radio analyst for the Thrashers, his sons would often visit their father in Atlanta during the holidays in December and pop into the radio booth. John played on a local Atlanta team with the son of Ray Ferraro
, Landon, who was a second-round pick of Detroit in 2009.
"Met a bunch of a great people," Kamal said. "Talked hockey all morning, watched the game and waited around to see Johnny after the game just to tell him how great I thought he played."
Kamal left at 2 p.m. and arrived just over the border from Mountain Time to Pacific Time.
Day 7, Monday, Sept. 5, Ft. St. John to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory: 843 miles
Kamal left at 6:30 a.m. and drove for about 12 hours before lodging for the night at the Gold Rush Inn. He took in the spectacular scenery of the downtown area with the snow-capped Northwest Rockies standing in the distance.
Day 8, Tuesday, Sept. 6, Whitehorse to Anchorage: 736 miles
Shortly after Kamal hit the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, B.C., he started to hit gravel patches in the road. Packages in the vehicle at times hit the roof.
"To me, the most difficult part was about 200 miles out of Whitehorse and they warn you the road is going to get really rough and what happens is you hit dips and not dips like you and I -- I mean, these are dips that if you’re going too fast you’ll do Steve McQueen in that famous old movie, 'The Cincinnati Kid'," Kamal said. "That went on for 200 miles outside of Whitehorse all the way to the Alaska border."
Kamal made sure to always have 100 miles' worth of gas but never really worried about running out, as he noticed plenty of gas stations. Breaking down could have meant losing a day or more on the road.
Two hundred miles outside of Anchorage, the heater core on the vehicle went. Kamal was driving into the sun and the inside of the windshield steamed up. Determined to get to Anchorage that day, he had to squeegee the glass the last few hours of the drive.
After 12 hours through peak foliage and gorgeous horizons, he arrived at his final destination.
Sept. 7-12: Anchorage
Kamal spent six days with his son Chris, 22, who made a torturous journey to NCAA Division I hockey, holding out years for his dream. Chris played most of his youth hockey in metro Atlanta, but by high school age he moved on to Gilmour Academy in Ohio.
From there, he played junior hockey in Vermont, where he met with some bad fortune in April 2008 when he suffered a multiple fracture of his right leg and required three surgeries. He took off 10 months, rehabbing while living with his parents, a process that made it even harder for a kid from a non-traditional hockey area to land an offer from a Division I program.
In 2009, due to a lack of goalies, he received an offer from to participate in the Thrashers' prospect development camp and was named MVP of the championship scrimmage by his teammates. He was able to land an offer to play junior in Alexandria, Minn., and eventually got the offer to play in Anchorage as a non-scholarship player. He accepted.
As a freshman last season, he shut out the powerhouse program at the University of Minnesota twice, including in the WCHA tournament -- his father in the stands for the earlier game.
Having arrived in Alaska and bestowed the vehicle -- fitted with a new heater core and snow tires -- to his son, Kamal was able to attend a meet-and-greet hosted by the team. He spent the next few days sight-seeing and visiting with Chris. He left the Chevy Blazer behind and never expects it to leave Alaska.
Kamal took a red-eye flight home and this week will be in Winnipeg for six days to help report on the Jets' return to the NHL. He hopes one day he again will have the opportunity to call play-by-play for an NHL team -- his dream job.