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.

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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)

MONDAY MATTERS: It’s Time.

MONDAY MATTERS

Welcome back.

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T-minus four days and counting until we play for real. T-minus five days until downtown Everett comes alive again. I can type with full honesty, even with the Tips getting into the second round, that the summer flew by quickly.

When you help provide the narrative of a team that had its season come to a close unfortunately in late April, we tend to mentally prepare for an offseason that’s way too long.

(Fortunately, there was Carter Hart, a slam dunk of an Import Draft, the big day signing of Ethan Browne, and voila – training camp snuck up on us.)

So it brings me great pleasure to deliver the four words we’ve waited to hear for a while:

Welcome

To

Hockey

Season.

Training camp is in the rear view mirror, at 2-3-0-2. We love to predict, but the purpose of preseason is experimentation and manpower maneuvering, so with the auxiliary dressing rooms empty, the roster is a little more defined, and the real calendar upon us, you can’t judge preseason on the connection to regular season success / sluggishness. It’s time to get it going. Among the elements setting the scene (we’ll be quick) this week:

  1. NEW BLOOD: It’s obvious we start with the roster. Goaltender Lasse Petersen, acquired from Spokane, helps strengthen goaltending depth with all-world / Flyers prospect Carter Hart coming off a ridiculously decorated season. Mario Petit earned a shutout in his playoff debut. Safe to say, the Tips are solid here this season.

Then, there are fresh faces up front, aiming to fill the gaps left by the departed (Laurencelle, Leedahl, Stadnyk, etc). Eetu Tuulola was over a point per game and dazzled on every shift in preseason (he’s back soon presumably from Flames camp). Brett Kemp, the first player off the board for the Tips in the 2015 draft, earned a legit goal in the preseason finale on a power play wrister. Gianni Fairbrother (on the Hockey Canada radar), Everett native Wyatte Wylie, Montana Onyebuchi, and Ian Walker have taken siginifcant turns on the blueline. They haven’t looked out of place.

Taking into account the returning Matt Fonteyne, Patrick Bajkov, Noah Juulsen (soon, from Montreal), Graham Millar, Lucas Skrumeda and more, the hybrid of grizzled veterans and youth with be a fascinating development starting Friday.

  1. FRIDAY STARTS ANEW, FOR MANY REASONS: Vancouver Giants, Langley version makes its debut at the new (soft number) 5,000-seat venue just across the border. That’s easier access for traveling Tips fans than say, the commute, through bustling downtown. It’s also a more diminutive venue than the Pacific Coliseum.

Gordie Howe will be honored (former co-owner of the Giants, mind you) during the evening. Expect many of these tributes this season, the first following his passing (family will be in Saskatoon the following evening to spread his ashes outside the SaskTel Centre).

  1. HELLO, (BIG LEAGUE) HOCKEY WORLD: The Tips were pretty busy – former and current – making some noise at respective rookie camps.

Noah Juulsen:

Nikita Scherbak (just keep playing this as long as you’d like):

Eetu Tuulola:

Ben Betker:

Carson Stadnyk

I had the following text exchange with Carson Stadnyk, who has a deal with U. of Saskatchewan waiting in the wings, after today’s finale vs. Winnipeg. He’s pretty pumped from the experience with the Oilers.

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Stadnyk ended last season in the top five of all-time Silvertips games played. All signs point to a long and continuous future in hockey.

  1. HOCKEY SHOW! It’s bigger, badder, tastier. With Tuesday delivering the season debut of the Silvertips hockey show, I am reminded how at this time last year, admittedly I fostered some butterflies. It felt like the first day of school.

Now it feels like the first day, but with the same friends in the same classroom. We’re back at Sporty’s, the 20-year olds (Skrumeda, Millar) get the mic first, we debut new segments, we give you a new sound, we have the same unbelievable food (trust me, the $1 soft tacos taste priceless).

Tweet a question in response to the following below, and you may win my opening night tickets (I have a full slate to give away this year).

  1. SATURDAY: My favorite booth gets opened again. The same passionate, friendly, and courteous faces decked in green return. We play for keeps. There’s anticipation in the air. The blast of the Silvertips goal horn awaits the first snipe. The changeover in the booth (the spirit of Al K. lives on, while Justin M. had a slam dunk “dry run” last weekend with yours truly … he’ll be good). It’s opening night baby, and I can’t wait for the energy. Hope to see you there (or, on the radio – at Fox Sports 1380 or the Tips App)!

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

MONDAY MATTERS: Intermission

In an effort to keep you updated with what’s happening, and yet meet the responsibilities of my full time job (I get paid to do more than just be on the air, and the regular season is approaching us as fast as a speeding bullet train), we’re bringing “Monday Matters” back soon on a consistent basis. Among the topics you’ll be seeing:

  • Preseason wrap / roster report
  • Hockey Show details
  • An ode to Vin Scully (there is relevance here)
  • A commercial we shot last weekend (you should hear the chirps)
  • Road trips (there will be more of them)
  • Tristen Pfeifer getting engaged

Before closing this post, here’s ode to a swell guy, friendly face, gentle spirit, and honest worker Brandon Ralph:

As he was passed through the waiver wire and then let into the world as a free agent, it’s comforting to know his next step in life will be in his own original backyard.

Thanks, Ralphy. You’re a great man, and all the best.

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