As we tweeted on Sunday, all of us at Tech Hockey Guide were deeply saddened to hear of about the passing of long time Michigan Tech radio voice Bob Olson. His influence was far reaching throughout college hockey as the creator of the first nation college hockey poll at WMPL. His efforts were motivation for THG to start the WCHA poll in 2010. While all of us at THG know what Bob Olson did, we were not diehard fans/followers of the team until after he retired from broadcasting, so we asked our friend Dave Ellis if he could say something. Included throughout the story are videos Dave Ellis was nice enough to provide to THG. – Tim Braun
In an interview I did with him in 1993, I asked Bob Olson how he would characterize his style calling hockey games.
“I don’t have any particular style. I just try to be myself and just get excited, that’s the main thing.”
There’s hardly a better way to describe his outlook on anything.
As a young kid, Tech hockey games were the highlight of my winter. My dad took tickets first at Dee Stadium and later at the Student Ice Arena, and I was taken to my very first game as a babe in arms at the Dee on November 13, 1970. Across the rink that night, Bob Olson was calling his first game on the radio for the Huskies. It seems a little serendipitous that the dates would coincide, because we both had Tech hockey ingrained in our personalities from that moment on.
One of the things that I will always be grateful for was the way so many people went out of their way to help out a punk kid who was fascinated by everything around the MTU hockey program when he was an impressionable 8 year old. Thanks to my dad’s wide circle of friends at the university, I met people who would influence my love of college hockey to this very day. His best friend Tom Hruby was the chief statistician for home games, and along with a shot chart marker and official typist he sat in the old glassed-in portion of the original press box. My job was to take the completed sheets to the locker rooms between periods – and to not bother them in their very serious work during the period. So instead of returning to the family seats on the other side of the arena, SID Denny Hanks allowed me to stay in the press box as long as I didn’t get in the way. And that meant I could watch Bob Olson in action as he called the game.
I’ve seen many play-by-play announcers since then – including myself – and no one has matched the calm demeanor that Bob always started the game with every night. He was relaxed and always wanted an extra minute to ask everyone how their week had been. He probably knew more about my fledgling hockey career than my own parents, asking me about my most recent games as a goaltender and how I thought the Huskies netminders were doing. No matter who you were, Bob Olson made you feel ten feet tall.
Some of my greatest memories of hockey come from games I never attended or watched – they are from Bob calling games on the road and making me feel like I was there. When the Miracle on Ice happened, I only celebrated with the rest of the town for a short time, because the Huskies were in Denver about to make John MacInnes the winningest coach in college hockey on the very same night. He interviewed my dad in the pregame at DU since he happened to be there for an alumni function, and found out that there were only two people who were in the building that night that had also been at win #1 for the coach – my dad and John himself. Finding that kind of nugget is a hard thing to do, but Bob always made it sound easy.
When I got to high school, I was really interested in working at the radio station. But living in Calumet without winter wheels, I was pretty much out of luck getting to the studio reliably. Fortunately for me, Bob offered to have me file one minute wrapup reports on games from the Armory that weren’t being covered live on WMPL. I called them in, and they played them back on the air during a different game or the next morning on the sports report. I did it for free and didn’t even care, because I had what I considered to be my big break as a future broadcaster. I had my foot in the door thanks to Bob. And I continued to listen to Tech games on the radio every weekend, even getting myself in big trouble with my mom when I snuck a radio with an earphone into a showing of Amadeus at the Lode Theater. I didn’t want to miss a game just for that.
His calls were always excited, but never over the top. Bob knew how to give you exactly what you needed to paint the picture in your mind. If you heard Bob say “he’s in!” it meant that the forward had a breakaway or had somehow slipped behind the D. “Save by Rockwell/Roach/Rhodes/Ram and he covers up” showed up in every game. And there were perfect moments, like one particular call I remember well from a 1993 game against Minnesota-Duluth.
“A power play goal would look good here…this is Young to Storm, he’s in…SCORES! Through the legs of Lendzyk, that’s just what the doctor ordered!”
I was in my second year reporting for WLUC in Marquette for that season, and I convinced the rest of the sports department that there were a lot of great radio voices in the UP who got very little recognition outside of their broadcast area. So we cooked up a weekly feature called “UP Sports Mic”, where we either clipped a microphone on a radio play-by-play announcer in the booth during a game, or plugged a transistor radio into the audio inputs as we shot video. It got us some great stuff from legendary names like Harry Rizzi from Ironwood, Ed Holmgren from Ishpeming, and Joe Blake with NMU in Marquette. But my secret motivation was to do it for Tech games, so I could capture Bob’s calls for posterity.
When I learned of his passing, those clips were the first thing on my mind. I went back and watched the highlights of each of the five games I had and marveled at how well they still stood up against any current broadcaster. He still had his penchant for the corny jokes and the distracted conversation that always made my brother rant and rave that he wasn’t paying attention to the game, but now when you could see it with video you realized he was just covering up parts of the game that dragged along. It was a hidden talent that you only understood if you brought a radio to a home game.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to be in the booth for TV6 as they began televising hockey games between Tech and Northern five years ago. Even with so many amazing opportunities and experiences in my career, these games will always be some of my proudest moments, and I knew exactly who I had to thank. I asked if we could run some clips of Bob on the broadcasts for the people who didn’t get a chance to hear him call a hockey game. After we showed a few and they were so well received, I sent him a message and a link to the clip. He texted back a short response – “Thanks so much for filling me in on that tribute at the Tech-NMU game and thanks for being such a good friend. God bless you.”
And if I never get another award in my broadcast career, that’s OK.
I made my first mentor proud, and that meant more to me than any trophy or plaque ever could.
– Dave Ellis
Featured image courtesy of Michigan Tech Athletics