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Iowa's Mr. Everything: O'Donnell does it all for Wild's AHL affiliate

Team's radio guy also handles a handful of other jobs in Des Moines

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

EDITOR'S NOTE (NOV. 4, 2019): Iowa Wild radio announcer Joe O'Donnell will be handling play-by-play duties for Minnesota during the team's 10-day road trip to California and Arizona. Here is a feature on him originally published last January when joined Iowa for a two-game road trip during the NHL All-Star break:

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Ask Joe O'Donnell exactly how to get his job ... and he just smiles.

"Which one?" he's quick to fire back.

O'Donnell's exact job title is Senior Director of Broadcasting and Team Services. With nearly every NHL team, the jobs O'Donnell does for the Iowa Wild would be divided into about five or six different people. 

But in the minor leagues, with resources limited, everyone is expected to chip in a little more and pick up more of the slack.

That means on any given day, you can find O'Donnell working as the team's unofficial concierge, helping players find tickets to a game, or a hotel room or an apartment. 

The next day, he might be booking the team's travel, including airfare and hotels for the team when it's on the road. 

Others, he might be assisting with community outreach efforts, like he was recently during the team's 'Hockey & Heels' event.

Oh, and there is his day job of course, serving as the voice of the Wild on the team's flagship radio station, AM 1460 KXNO. 

"I'm a radio guy," O'Donnell says proudly. "I like TV. I've done a thousand or whatever broadcasts and the majority of them have been radio. I like radio because you get to be more descriptive. It's a totally different medium and I'm not used to letting the game breathe as much as you do on TV."

Spend just a few minutes of a game day with O'Donnell and it'd be easy to feel overwhelmed. The guy barely stops moving from the time he wakes up until the day comes to a close, especially when the team is on the road.

But make no mistake, O'Donnell says he loves his job.


O'Donnell joined the Wild organization on the eve of training camp in 2008 when he became the radio voice of the Houston Aeros. 

The native of Philadelphia was just three years removed from his big break when the broadcaster of the ECHL's Idaho Steelheads had quit his job with 15 games left in the season. O'Donnell, then an intern in Reading, Pennsylvania for the Reading Royals got a call from Idaho's team president, Eric Trapp, who needed a guy -- at the minimum -- to fill in for the rest of the season. 

Reading had a broadcaster when O'Donnell was there, so he did anything he could to get experience, including managing the press box and doing video board interviews. But he had done some play-by-play for the club hockey team at the University of Delaware, and the job was what he wanted to do. So O'Donnell flew to Boise on a whim, was offered the job and accepted it.

"I didn't have a clue what I was doing," O'Donnell said. "I was as raw as it gets. I had done a couple of pro games for Reading, and I obviously worked in college, but I had no idea what to bring on the road. I had never sold before."

He finished the rest of that season then took over on a full-time basis the following fall. In addition to his broadcasting job, he was selling tickets and corporate advertising and moderating a nightly talk show during the season.

"That got me a lot of hands-on radio experience," O'Donnell said. "That was a great job."

But when it comes to broadcasting minor-league games, the person doing it has to be willing to put in some additional hours.

"It's pretty typical. Almost no market allows you just to call games," O'Donnell said. "You're either doing P.R. and media relations or you're selling [advertising and tickets]." 

O'Donnell had been doing corporate sales since he joined Houston in 2008, but added the team services title four years ago. It's a job that is one of the most demanding and high-pressure in the industry. 

The team services guy or gal with any hockey team is relied upon to, for lack of a better way of describing it, make it happen. 

Need tickets? What's the best restaurant in town? Have a question about a charity event? Need an extra hotel room? O'Donnell is a players' or a coach's first call with essentially any issue that pops up, home or away.

O'Donnell is the de facto "fixer."

"He's amazing. I've been around a lot of good people in organizations and he's as good as I've ever seen," said Iowa head coach Tim Army. "I am amazed at how many balls he can have in the air and get it done. And usually, it's done immediately. If you text him, something random, you're getting a text back in 10 minutes and it's done."

The job has become easier over the years, as O'Donnell has met people in different cities across the league and established contacts in each of those locations. 

And while he has someone in Grand Rapids for A, or someone in Rockford for B or Winnipeg for C, it's still O'Donnell's job to find a way to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together and work as the go-between for staff and what they need.

"You've gotta be very detailed and committed," Army said. "It almost gets to the point sometimes where you just sort of expect it, you just throw it out there because you don't even think about the extra demands you're putting on him because he always gets it done. Sometimes, I have to take a step back a little bit."

O'Donnell is able to do all of this with a team-first attitude and a smile on his face. Having played the sport himself through high school back in Philly, he's keenly aware of the ways of the dressing room. 

O'Donnell is a popular figure for players because he's able to get just about anything done for them, but they also love him because he can take it as well as he dishes it out.

"In a team environment, you're gonna get it from some guys, they're gonna ride you, that's just the way it is," Army said. "And they'll ride him and it just doesn't phase him. He'll give it right back. You gotta have the right personality to be involved with the team in that role and he's phenomenal."

O'Donnell does all of this with the support Cara, his college sweetheart whom he married three days before he interviewed for the Houston job more than a decade ago. He's been with the Wild organization ever since, spending more than a decade with the club and remaining in place when the Aeros moved to Des Moines and became the Iowa Wild in 2013.

Since moving to Iowa, Cara has given birth to three boys, Jake, James and Christopher, ages 8, 6 and 4. 

"She's the best. We're on the road half the year, and we don't have family in Des Moines," O'Donnell said. "Half the year, from October to April, she's solo. They're playing hockey, they have baseball camp or swimming lessons, school, friends, parties ... you name it, she does it all. And she never bats an eye."

Cara had to know what she was getting herself into back in college when Joe would hop on his bike to go to club games or ride an hour each way to Reading. 

The dream back then was the same as it is now, and it's no different than any of the players O'Donnell serves on a daily basis: He wants to be an NHL broadcaster one day.

"It's what I love, it's why I'm in this business," O'Donnell said. "And it's something I hope to do one day in the NHL."

More from the trip:

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