The new age of NHL broadcasting: How Burke, Mears and Faust are leading the way


Many kids grow up dreaming of playing in their favorite professional league, imagining one day jogging out of the tunnel for the Green Bay Packers, climbing the steps of the dugout in New York Yankees pinstripes or skating onto the ice for the Boston Bruins. Some might dream of another future, though: behind the microphone as that team’s play-by-play broadcaster.

But the weird thing about the NHL, in particular, is one’s odds of becoming a player are probably better than becoming a team’s announcer.

In the United States, there are only 24 — soon to be 25 when Seattle enters the NHL — television play-by-play jobs on the various regional networks, and only six of those gigs have changed hands in the past five years. Those numbers will start to grow in the near future, but there’s simply not a lot of turnover. The average time TV broadcasters have spent with their current teams is 14 years, and nine have careers spanning more than 20 years with the same club. Several others have spent time in multiple booths.

The broadcasting post is one that can often be romanticized by fans. That singular voice can bridge generations, trigger the pangs of nostalgia and establish a tangible relationship with the viewer that is difficult to break. But time remains undefeated, and an older generation of NHL broadcaster is slowly moving on.

Bob Cole, an institution in Canada, called his last game for Hockey Night in Canada at the end of last season. Other long-time voices, such as Bob Miller with the Los Angeles Kings, Mike Haynes with the Colorado Avalanche, Paul Steigerwald with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ralph Strangis and the late Dave Strader with the Dallas Stars, and Howie Rose with the New York Islanders, are among those who have left their posts in recent years. Rick Peckham, the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s only TV broadcaster in franchise history, announced that 2019-20 would be his final season, too, after 42 total years in the business.

There are still several long-time broadcasters who continue to put forth spectacular work that has connected fans with the team for decades. Rick Jeanneret has scaled back some of his broadcast duties, but he’s in his 49th season with the Buffalo Sabres and is the dean of hockey play-by-play announcers. Sam Rosen of the New York Rangers and Pat Foley of the Chicago Blackhawks are also members of the 35-year club.

Unquestionably, however, the shift is underway. As the experienced broadcasters move on, another generation is getting an opportunity to land highly-coveted seats in the booth. It often takes years of stops and starts, and the timing usually has to break just right. Three of the league’s newest broadcasters had very different paths, landing behind an NHL mic before age 40. Here’s a look at how some of the young talented voices in the NHL got to where they are today.

Brendan Burke, the young journeyman

If you’ve seen Burke calling NHL games for the Islanders on MSG Networks and occasional national games with NBC Sports Network, you might think he came out of nowhere. At 35, he is especially young in broadcasting years. But make no mistake, he has paid his dues before reaching the big time.

Burke spent 10 years riding the buses in the minors, first in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he got a hit on one of the many, many demo reels he sent to teams around hockey and baseball. He was only 22, but the ECHL’s Nailers needed a new broadcaster. After a few years, he made the jump to the AHL, where he called games for the Peoria Rivermen while also working with their public and media relations and community outreach.

He was even responsible for team travel, and when the St. Louis Blues needed an emergency fill-in on their radio broadcast in 2009, Burke was actually in the middle of trying to get the Rivermen back to Peoria after their bus broke down in Rockford, Illinois. He got the team home, set up the press box for the AHL game, drove three hours to Chicago for a direct flight and managed to make his first NHL broadcast in Nashville with only a few hours to spare.

But that taste of the dream job was briefly spoiled when the Rivermen ceased operations in 2013, leaving a newly married broadcaster jobless and the NHL seemingly very far away.

“I was wondering if that was the right path,” Burke says. “I had been in the AHL for five years. So I was wondering is a sixth season going to be what it takes to get to the NHL? Is it going to take seven? Should I start doing some freelance TV? What is the right path to get where I want to go?”

Fortunes shifted when the AHL moved the franchise to Utica, New York, where it would become the Vancouver Canucks‘ AHL affiliate. Burke’s wife is from the central New York town, not too far from Syracuse, and it was the perfect place to keep the dream alive. Within three years, Burke got the call he had been waiting for after longtime Islanders broadcaster Howie Rose decided to focus exclusively on working New York Mets baseball games.

“I grew up in New Jersey and the New York City market, so to me, this was coming home,” said Burke, whose father Don Burke covered the Yankees and Mets for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. “To wind up in the No. 1 media market in the world and to have it be the place where I’ve always wanted to end up, it was perfect.”

Replacing Rose, who was beloved by Islanders fans and an influence on Burke as a young broadcaster, was not easy. But the rookie broadcaster got a vote of confidence in a call from Rose just before his first preseason broadcast. “‘Don’t act like you’re filling in for anybody, this is your job,'” Burke recalls Rose telling him. “That was his one piece of advice and it was perfect because your natural inclination is to try and replace the guy who’s been there for 20 years because that’s what people are used to. I really took that to heart, and it changed how I approached it.”

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