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Voice of Blackhawks puts game before HHOF honor

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Pat Foley could've found a substitute to stand in Sunday in the television broadcast booth at United Center.

Somebody else could've done the play-by-play during the Chicago Blackhawks game against the Dallas Stars so Foley could rest up for Monday, when he'll be in Toronto to receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award at the Hockey Hall of Fame NHL Media Awards Luncheon.

That's just not Foley's style. Asked if he considered taking the day off, Foley recoiled a bit.

"No, I've got a game to do," said Foley, who's in his 32nd season of broadcasting Blackhawks games. "There was no chance I was going to miss this [game]. Now, [Monday] I think I've got about a 4:45 wake-up. I'm supposed to give a speech at noon or something. I'm going to be a dishrag, so we'll see how that goes, but there was no chance I was going to miss this game."

It's an attitude that resonates with Blackhawks fans, many of whom are diehards born in Chicago and will live their entire lives here. Foley, 59, is just like them. He was raised in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, Ill., went to high school at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Ill., and made his lone departure for college.

Foley attended Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., where his broadcasting career started by calling MSU baseball and hockey games. His professional broadcasting career started in 1977, when he called games for the Grand Rapids Owls of the now-defunct International Hockey League.

Four years later, at the age of 26, Foley joined the Blackhawks as their play-by-play announcer. His broadcasts were simulcast on television and radio, and he quickly won over listeners and viewers alike. It was the beginning of a long stint in his hometown, a rarity most broadcasters aren't afforded.

"That's the thing," Foley said. "I've said this a lot, but I think I'm the luckiest guy in the world. When I first had this idea, about trying to form a career, you'd never bet you'd work in your hometown. This is a transient business. Most folks change jobs a couple of times, and I did, but I stayed at home and I'm really proud of that. It's been beyond dreamlike. It's been incredibly cool."

Foley was referring to what happened after the 2006-07 season. The Blackhawks didn't offer Foley a new contract, so he stayed in his hometown and worked for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. His stint with the Wolves, which included calling games for online and cable TV broadcasts, included the 2008 Calder Cup championship.

Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz took over the team following the death of his father, Bill Wirtz, in 2007 and decided along with Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough to rehire Foley.

In seven seasons since, Foley and former Blackhawks great Eddie Olczyk have teamed up to form one of the most popular broadcast combinations in a city with five major professional sports teams. Calling games for Comcast SportsNet Chicago and WGN-TV, they've added their voices to the backdrop of two Stanley Cup championship seasons (2010 and 2013) and remain a steady presence in the local broadcast landscape.

Foley, who's won three Emmys, was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and was also honored for his 30th season with the Blackhawks in a pregame ceremony April 19, 2013, at United Center. Through the years, he's filed away a lot of memories. One thing he hasn't done is wonder how his life would've turned out in a different career.

"I was going to find a way to make this a profession," Foley said. "To me, even back [when I was in college], I said to myself, 'If I wind up on a bus for years, following the Toledo Goaldiggers around, I'd be OK with that.' I like the job. I like the challenge of trying to describe the fastest game in the world, so it was going to work out one way or the other. I didn't know where, but the fact that it's here is unbelievable."

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