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Being arena voice of Stars a 'dream job' for Kovarsky

Known to audiences as Jeff K, the man behind the green microphone has seen - and announced - it all

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

The first 30 minutes of last Monday's game between the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers wasn't a thrill-a-minute affair. Sure, the Stars had a 1-0 lead, but other than that, there wasn't much going on.

"I didn't think there was much energy on either side," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said.

But midway through the second period, Stars forward Mattias Janmark drew a holding-the-stick call on Oilers defenseman Matt Benning, and public address announcer Jeff Kovarsky made one of his signature calls to get fans involved in the game. 

"With the Edmonton penalty," Kovarsky's voice echoed throughout the building, "powered by TXU Energy, your DALLAS STARS are on the …" and then fans in the building finished off the call, yelling "POWER PLAY!"

The Stars didn't score with the man-advantage, but they had some quality chances and then followed with a couple more at even strength. That helped raise the energy in the building, and the Stars got some momentum. Momentum that Montgomery said was key as the Stars scored twice in the first seven minutes of the third period to extend the lead to 3-0 on their way to a 4-1 victory.

The Stars are 10-3-1 at the AAC so far this season, and Montgomery cites the atmosphere in the building as one of the key reasons for the home success.

"I feel like we have a lot more energy at home and I credit our fans for a lot of that," Montgomery said.

The people in the seats at the AAC do bring the enthusiasm and energy and trying to help fuel the fire is the game presentation staff. Kovarsky is a big part of that.

"He is such an energetic PA guy," said Jason Danby, the Stars' Senior Director of Brand Presentation, Production and Promotions.

"He's not a classic PA guy in the sense that he's not just a big booming voice. He has such an incredible voice and presence, and passion for the team. It comes across in how he amps up the crowd, whether it is with the power play or how he does the starting lineups."

Kovarsky, who is popularly known as Jeff K, is in his seventh season as the public address announcer for the Stars. When he's on the job at Stars games, he calls it a "pinch-me moment." As a life-long hockey fan, he's got one of the best seats in the house.

"Without a doubt," he said. "It's a dream job."

He's at center ice, on the glass, and getting paid to be there. He gets a great view of the game and warm-ups. He brings fans along for the ride, sharing some of his perspective on social media, posting images of scoresheets, goal pucks, and video clips from warm-ups. And whether it is announcing a Stars power-play opportunity or a Dallas goal, Kovarsky is always looking for ways to bring fans into the mix.

"I am a big fan of every opportunity to get the fans involved in the presentation the better," Kovarsky said.

It's a great job and a lot of fun, but it does require a lot of work and preparation. Kovarsky's day starts with getting game notes from the Stars public relations staff. That night's rosters are important, especially the opposing team's.

"You've got to go over opposing team pronunciations," he said. "I think that's the most important thing, making sure you get the names of the players correct."

There can be challenges. The recent game against Ottawa presented one in Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki. It's pronounced "BOHR -vee -YHET -skee."

If there is a question with the Stars, Kovarsky will check with the team's Vice President of Communications, Tom Holy, and the Stars' PR staff. The call-up of defenseman Taylor Fedun, a recent acquisition from Buffalo, was one instance. His last name is pronounced "fuh-DOON."

"Then there is the script," Kovarsky said. "Jason Danby will send me the script for the evening. Most of the benchmarks remain the same, but there is some stuff that changes from game to game, whether it is 'Hockey Fights Cancer Night' or a pregame ceremony or a drop of the puck.

"There's things you've got to make sure you get right. The more that I can practice and rehearse before the game, the better I can be."

Then there is the game itself. Unlike media people on Twitter and TV broadcasters, Kovarsky doesn't get to call out names immediately when goals are scored. There's a process before he makes the announcement.  

"It's good to be fast with the announcement, but it is better to be correct, so I have to wait for the official announcement that comes from up high," he said.

Kovarsky is monitoring the Stars broadcast with Josh Bogorad and Daryl Reaugh in one ear and watching as well, so he has a good idea who has scored. But he has to wait for the officials upstairs to confirm everything, and once that happens, it is sent to the official scorekeeper, who sits next to him at ice level. Kovarsky double-checks everything and then alerts Danby, who is lining up graphics of the goal scorer to show on the scoreboard.

"And then when Jason feels it is appropriate for me to make the call, he tells me to do it, and that's when I do it," Kovarsky said. "So, I don't do it when I feel like I can do it."

Of course, if it is a Dallas goal, it's a lot more fun.

Kovarsky has his signature goal calls. For example, there was this Alexander Radulov call from a home game back in November: "Dallas STAAAAAAARS GOAL! His sixth of the season, scored by No. 47 ALEXANDERRRRRR RRRRRRADUULOVVVV! Assisted by No. 4 Miro Heiskanen and No. 14 the captain Jamie Benn. Time of the Stars goal 18:20."

"It sounds so much fun in the arena with the R's going between Alexander and Radulov, so I kind of put that together," Kovarsky said. "I'd love to have more opportunities to do [Valeri Nichushkin] because I say, 'Valeri' and I pause on the 'Neeeee' and the crowd says 'Choooooskin.' So that's a lot of fun."

Opposing goals are a different matter, but there is still fan involvement with the crowd yelling out "Who cares?" after Kovarsky announces a goal by the other team. Some people have an issue with the crowd response, but not Kovarsky.

"I love that. It gives fans a chance to chime in. It's another opportunity for them to pay attention and jump in," he said. "I think people misunderstand it as meaning we don't care that we got scored on. That's not what it is. It's 'Who cares, Jeff?' I am announcing, and people are like, "Ah, who cares?

The public announcer gig for the Stars is a perfect fit for Kovarsky, a radio veteran and hockey fan. He's been following hockey since his youth when he was a New York Rangers fan growing up in New Jersey, attending games at Madison Square Garden with his dad in the early 1970s. In the early 1980s, his dad got a job in the Dallas area, and Kovarsky was on his way to Texas.

"I still followed the sport, went to the exhibition games here, Gretzky vs. Lemieux, and when the Stars came to Dallas, I signed up for season tickets on Day 1," he said.

And he wasn't just pumping up the Stars from his seat at the arena on game nights; he was doing the same in his job, which was as a DJ on the radio. That passion caught the attention of the Stars.

"[Colin Faulkner, former VP of Marketing for the Stars] used to listen to me on 'The Edge' back in the day and said, 'Hey, you ever thought about having Mike Modano on the show?' and I am like 'Oh my god, Mike Modano,'' Kovarsky said. "And [Modano] was as fascinated with me being a radio DJ as I was with him being a hockey superstar. He was like, 'You get to play Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam!' and I am like, 'You get to score a lot of goals!' It was a relationship that blossomed over the years."

That helped open the door for Kovarsky, who began to work for the Stars in 2005 when he came in to consult on music and eventually became music director. And there were memorable moments -- the 2007 NHL All-Star Game at American Airlines Center was one.

"Everyone seems to remember it, and they either love it or hate it," Kovarsky said. "It was presented to me that we're going to lower you from the rafters onto a stage with flames and you're a DJ, so we're going to have you mixing and scratching. Don't worry about it. It's going to look great on TV. I'm like 'Ugh.' So, we rehearsed that for two weeks."

A rehearsal before a live crowd during the first night of All-Star festivities didn't go so well. The wrong song played as he descended from the rafters, so DJ Jeff K was scratching to a song where scratching made no sense.

"It was just awful," he said.

But on the night of the game, which was carried nationally by Versus (now NBCSN), all went well, and it looked good on TV.

"But I think that was the year the All-Star Game was moved to Tuesday or Wednesday, and it was up against 'American Idol,' so it was the least-watched NHL All-Star game in history," Kovarsky said. "So, I don't know how many people saw it."

And there was Modano's last game as a Dallas Star in 2010.

Video: Modano's final game as a Star at the AAC

"We didn't have any music prepared for the end of the night on Mike Modano's final night," Kovarsky said. "So, in the moment, I grabbed Fat Boy Slim's 'Praise You.' If you go back and watch the ceremony with him tearing up and him skating and the camera going up to his tearful eye, and the music is playing, and the lyrics are: 'We've come a long long way together, through the hard times and the good, I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should.' It just worked. It was a very proud moment for me."

After long-time Stars public address announcer Bill Oellermann announced his retirement, the Stars hired Kovarsky, who was in the in-game host role, to take over for the 2012-13 season. There were more memorable moments. Again, there was Modano and this time it was his No. 9 being raised to the rafters in March 2014.

But just a couple days later, a challenging moment -- Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsing on the bench in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the AAC. There was a stunned silence at American Airlines Center as people waited for news.

"I kept thinking, 'Should we be saying something, should we be saying something?' " Kovarsky said.

There was a lengthy delay before an announcement was made in the building, but it was about getting all the facts and getting it right.

"And then making the announcement that a game has been postponed and making the announcement that Rich has been taken to the hospital and that he was doing okay, that was very tense and touch and go," he said.

At that time, Kovarsky wasn't at ice level. He was upstairs in one of the booths on press box row. In this case, it worked out well, according to Danby.  

"Having Jeff next to me in a crisis moment, when I was communicating with multiple people in different parts of the arena, we were scripting on the fly things for Jeff to say -- ink and paper -- and that was beneficial," Danby said.

Eventually, though, the decision was made to move Kovarsky down to ice level and in between the penalty boxes where he is more involved in the game.

"I am much more focused down there and right on top of the action," Kovarsky said. "I have a good rapport with off-ice officials, and we all work in unison to make sure we are all on top of the game. Those guys look out for me with the one minute remaining in the period. My first season, when I was up [in the press box], I might have missed one or two."

He was on top of the action early on after the move downstairs when Jamie Benn tallied four points in the regular season finale to win the 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer. Benn's final point -- an assist on a Cody Eakin goal -- came in the final seconds of the game and Kovarsky got caught up in the moment.

"It may have been exposed as one of my most unprofessional moments in my young PA career," he said. "There were many photos of Jamie celebrating with his teammates right in front of the PA booth/ penalty box, and all of the off-ice official guys are in their jackets and very stoic, heads down and writing the fact that Jamie just got his assist, and I am up on the glass banging, 'You did it! You did it!' That was a lot of fun."

Being in between the penalty boxes puts Kovarsky in the crossfire of a lot of interesting conversations.

"You'd be surprised at some of the things that are said. My job is to act like it is no big deal and I can't turn around and watch them in their conversations. You hear all that stuff for sure," Kovarsky said. "(Former Star) Antoine Roussel, every time he would get a penalty, or after a fight, we would all look at each other and say, 'Oh, here it comes.' Jamie Benn, if he takes a fighting penalty, he usually has a discussion with the opposing player in a very respectful manner -- that was a great fight, or I did this because of that. They seem to have a kind of mutual respect. Whereas with Antoine, it was all about the manhood."

A sign of how good Kovarsky is at his job is that he also is the in-stadium host for the Dallas Cowboys. He hosts on-screen games with fans, conducts a post-victory interview with a player and hosts a postgame plaza party.

"That's also a pinch-me moment," he said. "I'll do a full season of Stars games and people will hear me but not see me as much as they used to. One Cowboys game and I get the texts, 'Hey, I saw you at the Cowboys game.' "

There is still the radio work. He hosts the afternoon drive on Lonestar 92.5 KZPS-FM and is busy with commercial production work. Chances are you've heard his voice on radio commercials. He's not just voicing them, he's producing them. This year marks his 30th year in the radio business.

And then there are those game nights with the Stars at American Airlines Center where he gets one of the best seats in the house.

"It's a league-mandated position. There's only 31 positions in the world who get to do what I do," Kovarsky said. "As a guy that was a season ticket holder for a decade -- from Day 1, the day they moved to Dallas -- now look at what it is I get to represent and do for the Dallas Stars.

"I have to pinch myself."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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