The Ingredients of a Magical 5th U.S. Division Title


Standing along the ice last Saturday night moments before the annual Tips Awards Ceremony, and gazing at the electrified crowd of nearly 8,000 souls completely going crazy for a U.S. Division title, I couldn’t help but manufacture one appropriate word to summarize this incredible ride:

“Magical.”

How magical, you say?

Let’s start with local prognostications, everywhere including the words “favorites to repeat, with or without Barzal,” in description of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who in 2015-16 raced ahead of the Silvertips in the final three weeks of the regular season to take the U.S. Division title and then reach the WHL Finals.

The Silvertips? They came into this season as one of the youngest teams in the league. They lost four of their top six scorers from last season. By end of this season, they were still young – though the addition of Dominic Zwerger and Aaron Irving took them out of the “age basement.”

Yet consider the evidence:

  • They were the among the bottom four youngest teams in the Western Conference (by end of the season: 14 players on the roster were 98-born or younger). Two of those bottom four, Spokane and Vancouver, missed the playoffs.
  • By weight, they were one of the lightest teams in the Western Conference (heaviest? Seattle).
  • By height, they were one of the smallest teams in the Western Conference (biggest? Prince George).
  • They lost nearly 180 man games due to injury or World Junior Championships.

So how does this division title happen, outside the obvious element of warrior mentality?

  • GOALTENDING! Carter Hart – NHL property of the Philadelphia Flyers – was 32-11-6-2 with 9 bagels and tied the league’s best with a .927 save percentage.
  • SPECIAL TEAMS! The Tips penalty kill was best in the WHL this season. Their power play finished at 20.7 percent (very good efficiency numbers) – third best in Tips history – and torched their way through the final week, 8-of-24 at one point.
  • DEPTH! There were four guys who hit the 20-goal plateau (Bajkov, Zwerger, Fonteyne, Sutter) this season. Aaron Irving and Eetu Tuulola had 18. And … (*drumroll*) 18 guys were +1 or better.
  • COACHING! Kevin Constantine surpassed 300 wins – all with the Silvertips. Among winning percentage of coaches with four years or more in the WHL, he has the sixth best win percentage in league history (the only ones higher: Ryan Huska, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Johnston, Dunc McCallum, and Dave Lowry). Mitch Love’s defensemen teamed with the forward corps to allow only 2.3 goals per game, fewest in the WHL. We covered his penalty kill already. Brennan Sonne’s power play ranked in the league’s top ten nearly all year.

Starting in the summer of 2012 with general manager Garry Davidson overseeing the selection of the ’97 born draft class (think: Juulsen, Davis, Bajkov, Fonteyne), and culminating at the developing talent in the Silvertips dressing room under Constantine’s watch, the Tips have molded division titles in two of the last three seasons under a spectacularly coordinated array of moving parts. Or in other words, to quote the ancient Chinese proverb, “one finger cannot lift pebble.”

Banners are won throughout a 72-game process of blood, sweat, tears, analysis, and even some bounces along the way. It’s a division title that didn’t happen by accident. It happened, as once again, everything coming together.

Now it’s onto the playoffs: where anything can happen. I completely remember assistant coach Mitch Love’s heavy words of how “tight” the dressing room was this year. It was pretty evident that something special had been brewing.

We can’t predict how the playoffs will go. The point gap between the first and eighth place team in the Western Conference finished just 20 points apart, the smallest deficit since the Tips began play 14 seasons ago. This would be like trying to play darts with limp spaghetti.

One thing we can do: sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. Friday night is almost here.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

Thank You, Bob. We Smile Because It Happened.


“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

Remarkably and fittingly, those words were used by a similar Los Angeles play-by-play legend to wrap up his career. As we can smile because Vin Scully happened, we can now officially smile because of another career that happened, involving a name synonymous with a legendary listening experience:

Bob Miller.

He called it a career today after 44 years of one job, 3,351 games, and 57 amazing total years in broadcasting – many incredibly, with the Los Angeles Kings as THEIR VOICE. That’s a long time (especially in broadcasting!) to call one place, “home.”

Gazing live at the Kings livestream coverage of his announcement, the day became reality that we never wanted to see happen. I can’t believe it’s over, like you. But rest assured, as a guy who grew up listening to him from my living room television and later, extremely privileged to develop a relationship with him, I smile with you because he happened. Offering this summary for a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame for 17 years, he just didn’t have a career. He delivered an experience.

 

Case in point? Try Wayne Gretzky’s 802nd goal, breaking Gordie Howe’s all-time record:

“…. Robitaille with Gretzky the trailer …”

Your ears percolate.

“… Gives it to Gretzky … RIGHT SIDE TO MCSORLEY …”

 Your eyes bulge.

“… back in front to Gretzky … HE SCORRREES!!!”

As the Great Western Forum goal siren screams, and the crowd roars, your heartbeat races.

… Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record book is now complete! He’s the all-time leader in points, assists, and now with his 802nd goal … the all-time leading goal scorer – IN THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE!”

That’s what makes legendary hockey play-by-play guys so legendary. You don’t just listen, you FEEL IT.

Bob made you feel it. Growing up in the Los Angeles area during the years of my adolescence – and sharing similar  occurrences with fellow hockey fans – we were spoiled to get that experience for a whopping five decades. Bob’s voice delivered and unfolded the game as it was natural: rapid, pulsating, sharp, and electrifying. He is the vocal soundtrack to Wayne Gretzky in silver and black, to Marcel Dionne in purple and gold, to Drew Doughty and two Stanley Cup championships.

I’m certain to share this sentiment with countless individuals privileged to wear a headset for a living: he is the individual who single handedly inspired me to get into hockey, behind the mic.

Bob’s attitude, honesty, humility, and friendliness are among the most important tools in his communication skills tool belt. He shared the game with many listeners, viewers, and friends as if it was an up-close and personal experience. And when you finally got the chance to meet him, he made you feel more than just up-close and personal: he made you feel like a longtime friend.

I’m proud yet fortunate to know Bob Miller for more than just a distant inspiration. I’m proud to know him as a mentor and friend.

Bob’s name still stands on my resume as a reference, and went above and beyond to phone the Stockton Thunder for a recommendation when I pursued (and landed) my first broadcasting job in hockey. As many fellow friends in the business can attest to, he was always willing to pick up the phone when you called his house. Whatever he was in the middle of, he was always willing to give you 5-15 minutes of an intimate and warming conversation, whether to catch up or provide solid, raw, and unfiltered career advice.

He taught me more than just the basic mechanics of handling the flow of play-by-play and preparation: he taught me about the value of being approachable. In the long run, you never know who you may meet, and use that valuable experience to “pay it forward.”

As an intern for the Los Angeles Kings in their media relations department for the 2000-01 (the “Deadmarsh beats the Red Wings”) season: I was 19 years old going on 20, inexperienced, full of ambition, willing to learn and eager to meet people, but swimming treading water in the real world trying to hang with the polished, big boys of the NHL. At first, it can be intimidating. In the end, it was rewarding. As a guy who would sit with you at the press table to chat, Bob was one of the those who made the experience rewarding.

We kept in touch. Later in college, my first legitimate feeling of having a shot to hang around in this business was after he listened to an old cassette of my rag-tag hockey demo work*, and replied with a formal typed letter of his critique, concluding with “I firmly believe you have a future as a play-by-play announcer.”

(*read: I spent 15 years living and going to school in southern California, where the college hockey options aren’t exactly robust as compared to their midwest/northeastern region brethren, so I connected with a youth roller hockey league to record several play-by-play demos from a series of games from the rafters).

He was a year removed from being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was my hockey broadcast hero growing up. For a college age guy, that felt like hitting the career lottery.

Phone call after phone call, he would ask about my progress, and remarkably was willing to provide an interview for my senior thesis at Azusa Pacific University which included an amazing story surrounding the famous game 7, 1993 Kings/Maple Leafs series in the Campbell Conference Finals that had the 5-4 final and ending reminiscent of a high-speed chase movie scene (long story short: he signed off and exhaled, head dropped to the Maple Leaf Gardens booth desk like a fighter at the end of a prize bout. The stage manager asked if Bob was okay. Bob said “I’m fine … just exhausted. It’s over.”).

Tagging along with my Dad, Greg, to a Kings game in 2007, three seasons into my career, and introducing Bob to my Dad (thus, a bucket list item for two male heroes to meet in that booth) is a bonafide life moment.

We still keep in touch to this day.

As he predictably responds with a humble tone of gratefulness, I still make a point to close every phone call with gratitude of our relationship, reminding how much he inspires people and the universal level of respect for him that knows no boundaries. More than just a model citizen to providing feedback, constructive criticism, and advice, he is a legitimate role model.

It’s easy to have a conversation with Bob and pause for a moment while someone new enters the circle for an autograph, photo, or merely kind words they want to share. The one thing I notice with Bob: he never forgets to ask “what’s your name?” when meeting a stranger. I took that with me, like a golden rule of communication skills.

He is the definition of “down to earth.” He is an inspiration.

He toiled for nearly four decades before getting a chance to call a Stanley Cup title for the Los Angeles Kings. There’s nobody who maybe handled the waiting period with a sense of balance and patience like Bob, but you had to feel for his endurance through even the most recent “lean years” (the Kings missed the playoffs from 2003-09) before he got a chance to call the one phrase that Kings fans waited all of their lives to hear:

JUNE 11, 2012, STAPLES CENTER: “The Los Angeles Kings are indeed the Kings of the National Hockey League. They are the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions!”  

For so much disappointment (and Kings fans, you remember the illegal stick at Montreal in 1993?), and even small trepidation for Adam Henrique’s late second period goal in Game 6 to make it 4-1, later that summer in 2012 I remember Bob once telling me, “you could sense that it was finally ‘going to happen’ when Trevor Lewis made it 5-1. You could finally exhale.”

No more playoff demons. Bob finally got his Cup call, a ring, and a memory he was waiting for a long time. He even justifiably added a riveting encore two years later – all fitting rewards of endurance for a model citizen who happened to make one of the greatest livings of all-time in the history of play-by-play.

Bob made it a fine career. You sir are a gentleman, role model, and an exemplary storyteller. I carry many of your examples as reminders in my journey, now handling play-by-play in the Western Hockey League with the Everett Silvertips.

So here’s to you, exhaling at the end of a fine career.

We smile because you happened.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

ROAD TIPPIN’! Manitoba / Saskatchewan or Bust.

 


COMPLETED! Scroll down for new stuff, unless you’re here for the first time.

On Tuesday, February 7, 2017, the Everett Silvertips embarked on their bi-annual odyssey otherwise known as the East Division swing. It covers over 2,400 miles, 13 days, six cities/games, and an insane amount of coffee/snacks/movies/manufactured humor which await stops in Brandon, Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and Swift Current. These are the tales.

DAY 1: Everett, WA to Lethbridge, AB
TIME: 11.5 hours (677 miles)

I work in broadcasting but am a husband and father first. So kissing my wife, Amy, and 2-year old son, Lukas, goodbye at 7:45 a.m. was hard to do since I won’t see them in the flesh for nearly two weeks, but am eternally grateful these days for FaceTime (which was accomplished today). Legendary Los Angeles Kings TV voice Bob Miller once joked, since he’s been married to wife Judy since the 70’s (the time when you could only communicate with a hotel phone or pay phone), they’ve “been married for over 45 years but together for about 28.”

A 56-passenger coach bus loads at roughly 8:15am at the corner of Hewitt and Broadway, and we’re outta here by 9:00am. Depending on your role, you’re either working or lounging. Thank heavens for bus WiFi, so opening the laptop and chiseling away at the day’s coal (read: e-mails, projects, off-air assignments) can be done. Players have dialed up 4 movies by 6:00pm.

I had to record the entire Silvertips Hockey Show yesterday, and have that transmitted to our radio magicians at Fox Sports 1380 by early this morning. So, what you heard was recorded talking editing wizardry (thanks again, Tyler Maxwell and Tyler Dietrich!).

2 weeks on the road with the hockey fam. Here goes nothing. #RoadTipin #WHL #Manitoba #Saskatchewan

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There’s nothing really earth-shattering to reveal for now, except for the fact that Boston Pizza (stop for dinner) serves enough pepperoni / meat lovers / great white / supreme wheels for one hour to either feed a hockey team or the population of Bothell.

DAY 1 ROAD TRIP MVP: James Stucky (EQUIPMENT MANAGER). He books the travel, he writes/prints/distributes the itineraries, he picked the meal stops. It’s not an easy job. The pizza hit the spot.


DAY 2: Lethbridge, AB to Brandon, MB
TIME: 9.5 hours (615 miles)

The alarm goes off at 6:45am. Both Rob Tagle (I room with the trainer) and I bounce out of our beds, fully intended to get a good workout in. There will be no time for this for the rest of the day (we’re not due to pull into Brandon until roughly 11:30pm CT).

The bus leaves at 9am after breakfast. The gym has nothing but a treadmill and elliptical, so the sole option on my end is the P90x3 DVD’s in the hotel room, while Rob runs his brains out for the equivalent of four miles within a half an hour.

Road time, which includes nothing but white upon white upon white upon white snow for the ensuing four hours. Then comes the part where we pull into Swift Current, Saskatchewan, where this gets good.

Welcome to Credit Union iPlex, capacity 2,879.

It also has up-close-and-personal sightlines, opposite side team benches, and a four-side high-definition videoboard that hangs as low as the ceiling light in your living room.

Purist hockey barn, I dig the charm.

Practice over.

Then, onto the part where we all put down our books, card games, iPhones, earbuds, etc. and disembark the bus into minus-8 Fahrenheit temperatures, with the cold slashing at your face while your shoes descend into a mound of snow.

There’s a reason for this. It’s time to pay respects.

If you need a refresher, Dec. 30, 1986 is remembered as one of the most tragic days in hockey history, when the team bus for the Swift Current Broncos crashed while en route to a game at Regina, leaving four players killed and others injured. That year’s team included future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, and 10-year NHL forward Sheldon Kennedy. The WHL would eventually christen its Most Valuable Player Award as the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy.

Flash forward 30 years later, exactly on the date (Dec. 30, 2016), a memorial was unveiled to honor the four Broncos who lost their lives. It was an honor to visit the site 40 days afterward.

Onto Manitoba, with a dinner stop along the way.

DAY 2 ROAD TRIP MVP: Mitch Love (assistant coach). For the mere suggestion to the team there would be a stop at the Four Broncos Memorial, this is a grand slam.

DAY 3: Brandon, MB
TIME: None, we’re here.  

No more bus travel. One full day, one whole spot. The Silvertips take the ice at 11:00 a.m., giving yours truly with some time to set up the whole booth: up a flight of stairs, then up a second flight of stairs, then across a catwalk, then down a flight of stairs, then through the fire breathing dragons, then to the booth.

It’s a great set-up. Sightlines that give you action about 100 feet off the ice, and nearly above the playing surface, are the best sightlines.

Practice over. There are seven Silvertips originally from Manitoba, so obviously they’re pumped for this trip.

You may have caught that one bit about curling: it’s not for the weak of knees. Even more impressive, everyone showed up in business attire and managed to pull off the day without a tear in the suit pants. You understand the background and skill in those who looked comfortable sweeping.

All of this went down in Souris, Manitoba – the hometown of Garry Davidson and former Los Angeles Kings/St. Louis Blues head coach Andy Murray. A bus tour ensued. During the middle of said tour, the invitation was delivered to cross Canada’s largest suspension bridge – stretching 600 feet (that’s a lot of time for you to consider if you’re going to die while on a swaying bridge) – called the Swinging Bridge. The bridge was twice wiped out – most recently six years ago – due to severe weather.

Keep your phone in your pocket.

Made it alive. Onto game day, for what we all came for.

DAY 3 ROAD TRIP MVP: Anyone who jumped in for curling, and hadn’t done it before. Nothing wrong with trying something new, no matter how north or south pole your game is.

THE WEEKEND (Days 4-6): Brandon, MB to Regina, SK
TIME: 4 hours 

Things get whirl-crazy on a game day (that happened Friday and Saturday) plus a few projects called the attention on Sunday, so we’re lumping all the good stuff here.

FRIDAY
The Westman Place is connected to a hotel and several eating/watering hole establishments that make up Keystone Centre, which is good because for this California bred guy it feels like it’s -108°F.

The Tips drop a close one to Team Nolan Patrick (the kid is legit with a full skill package, and there’s zero wonder why he’ll be top choice in the NHL Entry Draft), 2-1. I loved the rhythm and speed the game developed. Tips MB scout Doug Sinclair (who seems like he knows everyone in the building) is an incredible fill-in analyst. And Perry Bergson / Branden Crowe make good company / hosts.

We’re outta there right after the game and several good byes. Because there are seven members of the Tips hailing from MB, about 1/4 of Westman Place seem to be filled even an hour after the final horn.

Good to see the fam jam 😋

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Four hours of a drive ahead to Regina, SK.

SATURDAY
We’re staying in Regina despite playing in Moose Jaw on this night (it’s only a 45 minute commute, which makes a logical roadie outpost).

Tips win 2-0 in their bi-annual appearance at Mosaic Place. The last guy to score for the Warriors, against the Silvertips, happened in the 7th year of the Obama Administration (Brett Howden in the 2nd period on Jan. 9, 2015 – Tips have blanked them for 156:53. Moose Jaw has never scored in two games on Carter Hart).

Mosaic Place is now one of my favorite road venues in the WHL, period. While intimate: it’s clean, pristine, eye-catching, and thoroughly planned with logistics. The “Crushed Can”, it’s not.

Now that we have the game matters covered, how about the postgame food? Ah yes, that bubbly, greasy, tasty, delectable piece of postgame food …

Behold.

Belly is full, brain is satisfied with working all that out of the pores on Sunday.

SUNDAY
Off day in Regina. Patrick Bajkov (like many players) have asked, “so what do you do on days like these?”

Fair question: it’s the weekend, and family is more than a thousand miles away. I miss them. So, we FaceTime twice. I put some production work behind the scenes with a few digital media projects. Clothes, quarantined from the Brandon (remember the mumps breakout news?) swing and a workout, have been returned from the hotel laundry.

Tim Horton’s is a block away for lunch. I am happy.

Dinner is at Earl’s. I am happy.

All of that closes out a day of rest, much needed through a swing like this.

MONDAY
Pretty straightforward day: breakfast, practice, lunch, hotel room for work, dinner. 

It’s my first visit to Brandt Centre, home of the Regina Pats. Formerly the Agridome and opening in 1977, it drips with history. There’s no elevator, so the climb upstairs to the press gondola is a leg day workout in itself.

But stop, take a deep breath, and soak it in. You’ve got a fine atmosphere, Regina.

#RoadTipin Day 6. Regina, Saskatchewan

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Comments from Brad Richards (former Pat back in his old stomping grounds), Connor Dewar (who’s slamming these interviews) and Lucas Skrumeda are coming later. Not to mention, we bumped into good ol’ former Tip Dawson Leedahl prior to Monday morning. That was fun. He’s still fun.

UPDATED ROAD TRIP MVP’S
DAY 4: 
At the risk of tooting my own horn (it’s good to bundle up), here’s James Stucky:

Thanks Stucks. Check’s in the mail.

DAY 5: Assistant coach Mitch Love, for a slam bang postgame interview and delivering a D-corps that helped Carter Hart whitewash 42-goal guy Jayden Halbgewachs and Tampa prospect Brett Howden.

DAY 6: Silvertips MB scout Doug Sinclair. “Sinkie,” as we know him, has exceptional communication skills and is always good for 26 stories each time we see him. He delivered top notch entertainment at/after dinner. And he’s good for mobile phone cartoons, that anyone of all ages can enjoy.

DAY 7: Assistant coach Brennan Sonne, who organizes the alumni corps – many of these guys come into play each East Division swing (based on their hometowns of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, etc.). It was like old times for Sonne and the coaching staff to have a rendezvous with Cody Thoring, but it was my first time meeting the gentleman. Brennan arranged the moment, and it’ll last forever.

TUESDAY
For the magnitude of two WHL beasts butting heads at Brandt Centre, the day’s vibe gave a direct indication the Silvertips were ready, prepared, and driven. As I interviewed Dawson Leedahl, peeking his head around the Regina side of the curtain at morning skate, suddenly my company was joined by Lucas Skrumeda and company intended to have a playful moment with the former Tips captain (hey, they’re brothers off the ice, but the battle lines are drawn on the ice). Flash forward: by the time it was 4-1 at the end of the second period, Brandt Centre sounded quieter than your local public library. Final: 4-2, big win, end of story.

DAY 8 MVP: Silvertips trainer Rob Tagle, who got one of their leading goal scorers back on the ice in the blink of a stitched eye. After Zwerger drew blood at 1:17 on Connor Hobbs’ high stick, Tagle contained the bleeding with Zwerger’s face, patched him up with two stitches and helped him return to the ice in a little over two minutes to go on the Silvertips double minor power play. That’s not a drill, and that’s skill.

WEDNESDAY
Saskatoon is the home base for the Silvertips, where they get into the hotel at a little before 1am. Bags are hauled to SaskTel Centre: Rob and I give a helping hand. James Stucky playfully tells us to scram, and he sets up the room in solitude for who knows how long … while Rob and I head back to the hotel to crash and burn.

Carson Stadnyk’s in the house to join only a few Silvertips on the ice that morning, participating in a two-on-two battle resulting in a pulsating 7-5 win over the players, whilst I tend to work in the press box. Stadnyk’s now playing for U. of Saskatchewan after grinding his way into the top 10 list, all-time games played in Tips history and ending his WHL career last year as an overager.

Great seeing “Stads,” a poised, calm and cool cat.

As for the 2-1 Tips shootout win, concluded with a jump back into first place and the call from the gondola of the House that Brodsky built/Gordie Howe became immortal, I had to stop and collect thoughts on another tremendous building with character. SaskTel Place was designed a few years after Saskatoon pursued the St. Louis Blues (it almost happened) in the 80’s. Times have changed and while amenities may be out of date, the place seats nearly 16,000, the press facilities hang in a well manufactured hovering office space with incredible sight lines, and provides near tangible charm with the names of Clark / Skrudland / Ashton hanging from the rafters. It’s a swell place to take in a game. It could host an AHL team, based on capacity.

DAY 9 MVP: Silvertips head coach Kevin Constantine. From my instinct and communication during our pregame conversation, he got this team prepared and turned the page from the Regina thriller the previous night.

THURSDAY
Off day. Let them bones rest, get some work done, go the mall (my little guy’s getting a present when we’re back home), then take in the scenery.

Yeah, there’s some liquid gold in that cup.

DAY 10 MVP:  Kohl Bauml. Yes, he was here too, though not skating with Stadnyk the previous day (that sound familiar?). He’s his teammate again at U. of Saskatchewan, and we caught up in the hotel lobby after a quick rendezvous after Wednesday night’s win. I never had a chance to call one of Bauml’s games, but spending an hour with the guy leaves you soaked with his communication skills, maturity and character. He oozes it.

DAY 11: Tips win 3-1 over Prince Albert, after an hour commute to the confines of Art Hauser Centre. It’s easily the smallest building I’ve called a game in, but the venue seating 3,567 drips history like the other buildings we’ve visited. Mike Modano and Dave Manson have their numbers in the rafters.

In addition, the press box overhangs the penalty box. Twenty five feet above. You can hear the players breathe.

DAY 12: Overnight drive to Swift Current (only about 3 hours). Tips win 3-2 in OT. And we survive the good ol’ ladder climb (thanks, Shawn Mullin for the help with the 40-pound case downward after the game, and for trading interviews beforehand).

DAY 13: Stop in Lethbridge to sleep from 3-9am. Stop for breakfast (two pancakes, eggs over easy, bacon, sausage and coffee). Stop for the border. Stop for the driver change at a local filling station. Don’t stop the rest of the way.

UPDATE: I stopped blogging for a few days. We all got off the bus and went home. No practice Monday. I was face-planted in bed. The rest of the team? They’re doing whatever they can away from the confines of XFINITY Arena to decompress. Tuesday called for a return to work and, essentially, feet to the schedule fire (emcee two appearances, a radio show, and co-host Tip-A-Tip at the Silver Lake location). I’ve now finally had time to return to this blog space and give one quenching approach to completing the odyssey, as shown below:

Back from the road. Reunited and it feels so good. 👪

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Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

Holiday Movies, Ranked


December delivers a parade of lifestyle options for an eight day period of no games, no practices, no trades, and no obligations (for on ice matters).

It’s called the holiday break. It’s much desired.

At the moment, the Silvertips carry first place in the U.S. Division and are one point behind top record in the entire league: for Snohomish County, a warming holiday reality.

The mind settles, the body relaxes. On our last Hockey Show on Tuesday before the Christmas and New Year holiday, Brian King said he’s sleeping in a little more (as a part of the 99 and 00-born group, it means no early morning school commitments). Kevin Constantine, out with family to the San Juan Islands, takes mind-unwinding walks or could be chopping wood at the moment.

The front office has departed until boxing day, meaning yours truly files this blog from the comforts of kitchen, whilst snow layers on the crisp evergreens and grass outside in the backyard (I’ll stop before this begins to sound more like the opening scene to a Hallmark Movie).

NHL Network is on the tube at times (yes, two-year old Lukas has already begun to request it). But you need some “downtime.” The flicks, as you may relate to, are an ideal way to soak in the time. Ranked below, as from this side of the computer screen:

(Don’t judge) …

  1. White Christmas
  2. Christmas Vacation (National Lampoon)
  3. Home Alone 2
  4. Home Alone, the original
  5. It’s a Wonderful Life
  6. Miracle on 34th Street
  7. The Santa Clause
  8. Christmas Story
  9. Holiday Inn
  10. Muppet Christmas Carol

World Junior Championships featuring Hart + Juulsen ramp up on Boxing Day, and the first place Tips starring Bajkov, Fonteyne, Petit, Davis, et al are back to action the next evening in Langley, BC.

(And, for you Hockey Show friends … we’re back at Sporty’s on Jan. 3).

Until then, don’t let the egg nog or your spirits go bad. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

Halloween Things, Ranked


CANDY!

Sometimes, it will float around in the office. Sometimes, it’ll float in the press box. Looks like Halloween claimed my gut again (hello, tomorrow’s cardio):

  1. 100 Grand
  2. Milky Way
  3. Heath
  4. Nestle Crunch
  5. M&M’s (pretzel)
  6. Twix
  7. Starburst
  8. Sugar Babies

851. Mr. Goodbar (allergies)

COSTUMES!

The non-practice day version:

  1. Any character from an 80’s movie / TV show
  2. The Beatles
  3. Any character from The Simpsons
  4. Super Mario Bros.
  5. Paw Patrol (ok, I have a son, so I’m biased).

Talk with you tomorrow.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

MONDAY MATTERS: Whew. We’re Back (and in first place).


QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Common sense is like deodorant. The people who need it most never use it.”
– Unknown

Returning from the road, all 2,600+ miles of it, delivered four road wins (five overall), four cities, 44 (possible) energy drinks/shots/cups of coffee, and numbers falling out the ears by the time the bus returned to downtown Everett on Sunday.

I know many used the word “tired” on Sunday, so many like me were up to doing a deluxe face plant into the pillow of our own beds Sunday night. Oh the rewards, for landing into first place in the U.S. Division.

So here’s where we are with the Silvertips holding first place through 13 games:

  • DEPTH: The Silvertips just got Eetu Tuulola (eight games), and Devon Skoleski (five games) back into the lineup. While they were gone, Dominic Zwerger put up a 10-game point streak (still active), longest in the WHL. Noah Juulsen and Patrick Bajkov are over a point per game, each.
  • DEPTH IN THE PIPELINE: Six Silvertips prospects suited up in the Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup. Two rock stars (Ethan Browne, Dylan Holloway) picked up a gold medal with Team Alberta. Both were nearly at a point per game in the tournament, and both scored in the championship game. I’d say the future is bright.
  • ANOTHER ONE IN THE WALL: Shane Harper’s NHL debut meant strong significance: he’s #16 in 14 years to graduate from the Tips and make the NHL. It means, proof positive, dreams to come true – even if you’re coming into WHL training camp as an undrafted, and listed player and miss a chance to be drafted by an NHL team. I never had the privilege to watch Shane Harper live, but heard the accounts of his work ethic, warm personality and freakish strength. The pieces fell into place. Oh and by the way, we’ll have more on him during this week’s broadcasts, including his first two NHL goals – both in the “legit” category.
  • GONE, AND CERTAINLY NOT FORGOTTEN: Hockey Canada’s World U17 Hockey Challenge fires up this Thursday in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, another display case for an “all star” type of setting for the young prospects of the CHL. With Two Silvertips representing in the event (Mitch Love, assistant coach and Brett Kemp, forward), they’ll be answering the nation’s call for the next several days. Expect them back after November 5.

    That will also induce a necessary shuffle in the Silvertips lineup (which, we’re waiting patiently on for the word by next game, on Thursday) and duties within the coaching ranks. Coverage is available on hockeycanada.ca/WU17 all tournament long, while TSN will provide telecast coverage starting with the semifinal games. More info here.

  • NEXT UP: Silvertips and Tri-City Americans, in a rare Thursday night 7:05pm game (get your tickets here, by the way, starting at just $8). A rematch with Victoria follows on Saturday, starting at 7:05 pm as well in downtown Everett. While that’ll be an attractive evening for memorabilia hunters at the gate (Silvertips hats will be given away free to the first several hundred fans), it’ll also be a delicious rematch after the Silvertips opened the series with a 3-1 win last Saturday (one night after Victoria overwhelmed Swift Current, 9-2).
  • RADIO: You know where to find us for all games this week, in addition to Tuesday night’s Hockey Show – Fox Sports 1380. Noah Juulsen and Patrick Bajkov will join me (and hopefully you) on Tuesday night at Sporty’s, so drop in, say hello, and fill up on $1 tacos. Because, you can never say “no” to tacos. Or a Juulsen & Bajkov handshake.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

MONDAY MATTERS: Bus Play-by-Play

The hockey season is long. Sometimes, too long (especially if you take every day seriously, like life or death). You need some entertainment in your life.

So, naturally, when on the road and in need of entertainment, it’s routine to pick the “I’m here for the entertainment guy,” the radio guy.

This happened last Thursday, en route to Spokane. In the middle of four games in five days (amazingly, the Silvertips channeling unheard-of energy to sweep the week), we’re weary. With my work done in preparation for Friday, I tuned into the MLB stat cast of the historic Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Washington Nationals NLDS “winner take all” game five.

Backtracking: with part of my roots tracing to the Pacific Northwest, I have a soft spot for the Seattle Mariners. But growing up for years in California, I bled Dodger blue. And stated before, obviously adopted Vin Scully as a role model. As this became natural education for our coaching staff over time, a nickname developed.

Sometimes, Kevin Constantine calls me “Vince” (long for “Vin”).

“Hey Vince! Can you help with this scoring change?”

 With our bus 25 minutes away from completing the 12-hour odyssey from Prince George to Spokane, the Dodgers headed to the ninth inning in the epic elimination game, sending Kenley Jansen to close the deal in his third inning of work. Clayton Kershaw (as many of you know the ending to this one) was in the bullpen.

“Hey Vince! Call play-by-play for us on the bus.”

 So, my voice belted over the bus for entertainment. As the first “baseball call” for me in roughly five years (my last was a Stockton Ports game), I channeled the inner Vin Scully for the final inning, delivering a half-serious call (“Jansen toes the rubber, glares in … and the strike two pitch is SWUNG ONNNNN AND MISSED!”) and half of comedy relief (Here comes Jayson Werth … fully bearded with a bat in one hand, beard trimmer in the other”).

Of course, the bus pulls in right when Kershaw is summoned. We all help unload the goods, which take about 10 minutes – enough to miss the high drama of Daniel Murphy’s pop out. But stepping back on the bus, the coaches beat me, and decided to have a little bit of fun …

“Uh oh Vince, game winner. Homer. Un-bee-lie-vable.”

And of course, I’m half laughing at them (“come on, stop it”) and half secretly checking Twitter for updates, nervously. I admit for a second, Mitch Love had me.

Back to the updates. Kershaw delivers the knockout blow: a two-strike curveball to Wilmer Difo.

“GOT HIM! And to the contrary, the Dodgers are headed to Chicago!”

I made sure the coaches heard that one.

Back to Spokane for this one. Tomorrow, 7:05pm. Items worth noting:

  • “Next man up”: the Silvertips stretch of four wins in five days is impressive, considering the crunch of schedule. Then, consider they had no Eetu Tuulola. Then, consider they lost both Matt Fonteyne and Lucas Skrumeda after Tuesday. Then, consider they lost Devon Skoleski and Brian King after Friday. Then, consider they had a full lineup by Saturday, but had to ask defenseman Mackenzie Dwyer to play out of position at center (by the way, he stole the puck off a breakout pass and delivered a juicy backdoor feed in the third period to Orrin Centazzo which nearly iced the game).

Voila, the Silvertips in the four-in-five stretch:

  • Won all four games
  • Rallied from a third period deficit in one of them (Friday’s OT win at Spokane)
  • Only trailed for a grand total of 4:29
  • Scored 17 goals
  • Outscored their opposition 17-8
  • Went 7-of-23 (30.4%) on the power play

Yeah, that’s not bad.

  • Helping those in need: Silvertips fans and Pink The Rink generated over $81,000 to help treat and prevent breast cancer, shipped along to Providence Medical Center in Everett. By count, according an organizational resource, the Silvertips also combined with building and external organizational partners to raise over a staggering $163,000 total from the event.

That’s not bad.

  • Radio intel: because it’s game on Tuesday night in Spokane, there’s no Silvertips Hockey Show again this week (things will pick up again next Tuesday at Sporty’s). This week, you have every game on Fox Sports 1380. You’re also reminded that we take your questions EACH GAME on the Tips App, via Tips Talk. We’ll invite you into the booth now for road games, so all you have to do is download the Tips App and enter your question via the Tips Talk news button. You get promo code points too.

That’s not bad.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

MONDAY MATTERS: That Vinning Feeling

MONDAY MATTERS: That Vinning Feeling

A pleasant good evening wherever you may be.

Kid you not: setting up shop at Toyota Center yesterday, this came across my phone at 4pm. I almost cried in the booth.

This is my inspiration, this is the Uncle I never had, and this is my role model.

So, with music blasting and the shred of skates during pregame warmups, as we went on the air – I  felt appropriate to lead off the pregame show with this. Hope you didn’t mind.

If you’re getting the feeling that reading this blog, and ingesting Vin Scully tributes is starting to feel like drinking water from a fire hydrant, my apologies. And I swear, this will be the last time (at least for now) that we’ll wander off topic for this tribute.  So, thanks for bearing with me in the last few weeks as the heart was poured, and the soul was filled.

Admittedly, the emotions are still in “reconciling” mode that my Commentator-in-Chief has jockeyed into the sunset. However, I don’t cry because it’s over. Indeed, I smile because it happened.

THE TOP FIVE:

  1. IT’S A START: The Silvertips were a goal away from their first 4-0-0-0 start since the Craig Hartsburg era. While Michael Rasmussen’s goal prevented that reality, seven of eight possible points are nothing to grimace over – especially given the fact they’ve played all but one game on the road, are second in fewest goals allowed (2.0), got 17 players with a point or more already, and Carter Hart has a .932 save percentage.
  1. “PLEASE PICK UP THE WHITE COURTESY PHONE”: For those tuning into the meat of Sunday’s game and noticing a rather grainy, static like texture to your audio experience, our apologies. And fear not. Without getting into excessive detail about how broadcasts work, building issues eliminated our ability to set up our equipment and transmit a signal properly. Thanks to Americans radio voice Craig West, and thanks to the Toyota Center crew, who helped troubleshoot for a temporary solution, although a rather routine one for a communication device: the telephone.That got us on the air. So for 2.5 hours, one side of my mouth attended to my headset (to record our game and also feed the WHL Live viewership), while the other side was busy with a phone mouthpiece to feed the radio beast. I felt like this guy. But we made it. And thank you for bearing with us (back to normal, expectedly, tomorrow for the hockey show).
  1. SPEAKING OF THE SHOW: In case you missed it, I better start hitting the treadmill. Mitch Love is a size 32 waist. I’m a 36. And it just so happens a dare made last Tuesday is now in effect that if we win the U.S. Division, I must wear Mitch Love’s white suit (brandished during the home opener, derisive of Colonel Sanders). Gulp.

  1. WELCOME TO THE CLUB, EETU: I just can’t get Eetu Tuulola’s goal out of my head from Sunday. Getting the elephant out of the room, his injury late in the second period eliminated his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame and forced a line shuffle all the way to the finish line. But when he returns, let’s remember he’s capable of high-octane goals like these. (00:25)

THE CALL (Fox Sports 1380 / Tips App)

 

  1. GIVING BACK: First major stop of the in-season “shake hands and kiss babies” tour was at Providence hospital today. Several Silvertips (mainly, those who had finished high school) trotted the hospital’s circuit to greet nurses (two we met who are rabid season ticket holders, so they were up for amazing conversation), adult age patients, and the cutest/most adorable little ones in the pediatric ward. Indeed, time well spent.

Talk with you tomorrow at Sporty’s.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton is in his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, and 12th in the game. Tweet at him here.

 

 

 

 

MONDAY MATTERS: Pull Up A Chair

SPEAKING OF MONDAYS  A SPECIAL MONDAY TO YOU, WHEREVER YOU MAY BE

“Pull up a chair.” Because this one’s got all the feels.

Again, one of my role models is calling it a career in less than a week, and said goodbye to his last houseguest yesterday. There is enough room in this blog to pass thanks into the baseball world, for a man who defined the art of play-by-play and making the viewer/listener feel important. I was thrilled when the Dodgers gave him the perfect home send-off, and choked up for his “Wind Beneath My Wings” swan song while holding my 22-month old son on my lap.

Perfect. Bless you, Vin.

“Now back to this one…”

  • WEEKEND ONE: To say the Silvertips began the year at 2-0-0-0 at an impressive mark would be stating the fact pretty modestly. After all, they outshot Vancouver, 31-13 on Saturday, and 64-36 on for the entire weekend. The five goal detonation in the first 13 minutes set the mark for the most goals in one period since Sept. 2014. The Tips line of Millar – Fonteyne – Bajkov combined for 11 points. Bryce Kindopp and Brett Kemp earned their first WHL goals. It is just a total of one week out of a year featuring 72 games, but let’s just say “flying colors” were a part of the starting act.
  • GOOSEBUMPS: “From Everett Washington … defenseman … Wyatte Wylie” … hearing Greg Piland belt the introduction through the public address speakers sent a shockwave of emotion through the crowd of XFINITY Arena, formally putting another brick in the structure of Everett, Washington as a hockey town. Wylie is the first born and trained player to be drafted by the Tips, and make his WHL debut. Pretty awesome moment, and pretty awesome to see the faithful send up their salute.
  • THE WINDS OF CHANGE: A near point per game player from last season is now coming to the Silvertips in the Dominic Zwerger deal (for a third rounder). To start, Mario Mucka had a smile on his face and terrific attitude from day one while proceeding through training camp and the start of the season. He’ll be great in his next stop. Turning the corner, Zwerger is entering his overage season, so he and his 27 goals from last year fill the last overage hole with Graham Millar and Lucas Skrumeda as the 20’s, and the second and final import spot with Eetu Tuulola (not too shabby). Zwerger arrived in town late tonight, had a beaming smile on his face as he entered Silvertips headquarters, and will wear #96. He’s a native of Austria and speaks fluent english. Nearly on the date two years ago (and also a week into the season), the Tips acquired Nikita Scherbak from Saskatoon.
  • HOCKEY SHOW: Mitch Love and Matt Fonteyne will stop by at Sporty’s, so why not stop by and say hello to a legendary assistant coach, and one of the top returning forwards? We’ll be giving away a Mitch Love bobblehead to those attending live, plus tacos are just $1 at Sporty’s. No one can say “no” to tacos. Send us your questions too via Facebook and Twitter (we’ll give away tickets there to one lucky commenter), and don’t be shy about anything.
  • TIPS / NHL MATTERS: Eetu Tuulola slipped into Flames duds this evening at the Saddledome (Flames fell short, 2-1 to Edmonton / Tuulola had 3 shots) … Jujhar Khaira laid out 3 hits in the Rogers Place lid lifter … Carter Hart had a smashing debut in Philadelphia, splitting duty in a shutout rookie win over the Islanders.
  • AND … SCENE: Lamoureux Real Estate (good friends of the Silvertips) released a commercial featuring Carter Hart on the sidewalk, the Bud Blaster, the Fanboni, pizza, Mitch Love on a lawn, and yours truly calling morning play-by-play in a bathrobe. You have permission to laugh (probably at me). (Watch it here)

Talk tomorrow at Sporty’s. “Good night, everybody.”

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Tweet at him here.

The Vin Scully “I Know”

Let me start by reaffirming that the page you’re reading is a hockey blog. It’s meant to detail, disseminate and deliver stories from the hockey world, in between broadcasts.

But what you’re reading is partially inspired by not just a great voice, but an icon. And that icon is retiring the mic this season, and leaving everyone who leant an ear to the speakers with a flood of memories. That icon made an impact on not just those working in baseball, but across the entire sports landscape.

That icon is Vin Scully.

The figure who inspired me will leave the booth forever after he signs off in the Los Angeles Dodgers regular season finale at San Francisco on Oct. 2. It compelled me to pour out my heart and explain the Vin Scully “I know,” like crystalizing a warm, gentle, wise and incredibly articulate family member. Except he wasn’t a part of my family. He felt like it, though. And there are few people in many lives that influence decisions on a career path. He was one of them.

I wanted to be Vin Scully.

I was one of hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of kids who pretended to go to sleep just to satisfy mom and dad, when truth be told I was sneaking a radio under my covers just to listen to him clean up the ninth inning. I was mimicking Orel Hershiser in my Mom and Dad’s bedroom to their mirror, while the game blasted on 790 KABC-AM.

I was glued to the TV when he would lyricize each image on KTTV and KTLA. I rewound the 1988 World Series VHS tape a thousand times, copying every lyric he and Joe Garagiola articulated on a spur-of-the-moment script carried out on NBC (I don’t know how long it’ll last, but there’s a full length version now on YouTube).

It’s the tone, diction, and countenance of Vin who creates motherlode of appointment viewing/listening. He is timeless. Of course, over time, a broadcaster learns to cultivate his own genuine personality, and not copy his role models. But over time, his fundamentals remain the root of my broadcast philosophy (talk “with the listener,” not “at the listeners” – notice the change to plural in the latter).

This reaffirmed in my only personal, one-on-one encounter with him that will be one of the greatest highlights of my life, let alone in my career.

It lasted three days, in the summer of 2000, as a production intern for Fox Sports West (they had the Dodgers rights for years until forming their own network, SportsnetLA). As an intern, in part to the educational experience, at every sporting event in the greater Los Angeles area they covered you’re given the “option” of shadowing:

  • Personnel in the production truck and leaning about the bells and whistles
  • The broadcasters, stage manager, and statistician in the broadcast booth

Three Dodger games were coming up on the schedule. I admired the honest, hard-working individuals in the truck, but this was like getting a chance to watch Picasso paint inside his studio. Vin, please.

I didn’t talk to him (nor, have any ounce of courage to do so) that first night. On night #2 (June 26), inside a hot, cramped, but historic Dodger Stadium broadcast booth, I give him a “hello” nod and he returned the favor (a lot was happening – it happened to be Orel’s last game in his Major League career).

Side note: I’ll never forget the silent exchange Vin had with former Dodger broadcaster Ross Porter (handling radio that night), who took the time to drop into Vin’s TV booth after Hershiser was pulled by manager Davey Johnson. Hershiser left the mound to a standing ovation. All it took was for Ross to stare at Vin, and Vin to return the favor for a few seconds of silence to understand the gravity. We all realized Orel had emptied the tank.

On night #3, a couple of weeks later, I finally worked up the courage. Leaving Vin’s booth to use the restroom in the Dodger Stadium press box after the game, I returned to the dining hall quarters to find Vin sitting down over a cup of coffee with his stage manager, Boyd Robertson.

I thought “this is now or never, so let’s do this.” I walked up and found opportunity to tactfully interrupt Vin’s conversation when he made eye contact with me. And it was the most errantly fumbled introduction I ever had. I was legitimately starstruck.

“Excuse me Mi—Mister Scully …  pardon me …”

Vin (with a smile and in his familiar and elegantly soothing tone): “hi son, how are you doing?”

Did that ever release the pressure valve.

We exchanged names, “pleased to meet yous”, the short “get to know you,” and I explained to the greatest about THE GREATEST three days of my whole life getting an educational experience from a figure I looked up to since I was eight years old. And now interning for Fox Sports West, hopefully it’s a springboard to a career he served as an inspiration.

Vin: “terrific Mike, I am very glad to hear it! Welcome aboard, It’s great to have you here!”

Feeling compelled to let him go and return to his one-on-one conversation, I thanked/apologized for any interruptions, and got into my car for the drive home from Dodger Stadium on one of the greatest adrenaline highs of my whole life. It’s often said, “don’t meet your heroes – you’ll be disappointed,” but this is one example couldn’t have turned out any better, short of him inviting me for lunch the next day (I probably would have fainted).

Experience taken, immediately to heart. What I learned about Vin Scully that night, on a deeper level, is the root of his “charm.” It’s genuine. It’s what delivered the obvious and seemingly natural connection with every listener for decades. Even though you’re separated by a TV screen or a radio apparatus, you feel like it’s just you and Vin in the room, enjoying the game together.

Case in point: you know how Vin makes each call so incredibly intimate, even though it’s just him, on-air in the booth? He relies on others in the booth who are off the air. For instance, Vin’s line of communication is transmitted as sheer “broadcaster-to-listener,” but he looks at the stage manager, statistician, or others as he shares a story – as if he’s talking with THEM. That enhances his tone of voice. I consider it my “a-ha” moment.

Not to mention, his scorebook is about the size of a Marcel Proust novel. He is an expert at the game. He does his homework.

I admire Vin Scully.

It’s his kind of on-air style, the “intimate, storytelling, engaging” figure that serves as my backbone and I hope continues to live on. It taught me about the importance of a listener, as if they’re already a friend (and the bonus to meet them in real life). Your responsibility is to manufacture an “on air” relationship, and give the details.

Sure, there’s less time in hockey to review in detail what Carter Hart routinely eats for breakfast, comparable to when Vin shared a story of Madison Bumgarner killing a snake to save a baby rabbit.  As recent as 20 years ago, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way to find out the score and “how it happened” (now we have the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, etc … in addition to the good ol’ fashioned AM/FM/XM dial!). But the timeless standard that carries on is Vin’s genuine, friendly, and inviting charisma that offers you to “pull up a chair” for each broadcast.

The men and women who hold a microphone and talk with you still matter. People still watch or listen to a game simply because it’s 2-3 hour live theatre at its best, and they still want to relate to and enjoy the presence of other people.

The games are a never-ending book of humanity. It needs the ultimate narrator. That’s Vin Scully.

He’s got only a few weeks left until his entire career rides into the sunset. And aside from holding out hope the Dodgers release a “Best of Vin Scully’s Games” on Blu-Ray, I feel satisfied/happy/fulfilled to have experienced three decades of his on-air masterpiece that left an impression on me as a listener, and three unforgettable nights that made a difference in my career, forever.

I will forever remember Vin Scully.

Award winning broadcaster Mike Benton will be entering his second season as radio play-by-play voice of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. Tweet at him here.

(Photo credit: Dominic DiSaia)