For the last several Alaska Aces hockey seasons, the end of the line always came with a frantic footnote: The annual rumor -- the annual fear, really -- that broadcaster Jack Michaels was hitting the road for a new gig.
That lousy day arrived Tuesday.
Lousy, because the minor-league club and its supporters lose a gem of a broadcaster who also served as an executive, a corporate salesman and in seemingly countless other roles -- he really was the Jack-of-everything. And as a guy here at the typing factory pointed out, after eight seasons with a club that plays in a developmental league and sees players and coaches come and go, Michaels wasn't merely the voice of the Aces. He was the face of the Aces too.
But, hey, don't mourn long -- Michaels' new job is as sweet as a bullet to the top shelf in overtime. Or as he would rack it, in full throat over the jubilant, ear-splitting, cowbell-clanging noise from the fans at Sullivan Arena celebrating an Aces victory in extra time: "Ooovvvveeerrrr-time.''
He's the new play-by-play radio man for the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.
Dude skipped a move from the ECHL, the Aces' league, to the American Hockey League one step above, and instead bounced straight to The Show. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the NHL is the best hockey league in the world, and this is a job Michaels has coveted his entire career.
"There's no question about it -- this is what 15 years of work is for, getting to this point, getting to the NHL,'' Michaels said over the phone from Edmonton. "It's a chance of a lifetime, let's be honest.''
And he's not landing in some relative hockey backwater. He's in Canada, where hockey is not religion -- it's far more serious than that. Check it out: The Oilers held a press conference to introduce Michaels. What do they do at the trading deadline in Edmonton, cancel school? And while the Aces' Cowbell Crew is passionate, the Oilers are followed by a fan base that possesses pucks in its DNA.
"It's Oilers, all day, all the time,'' said Michaels, 36. "It's basically Anchorage on steroids.''
Michaels previously enjoyed chances to move up to the AHL level, but, frankly, he couldn't eat the pay cut. The Aces annually added to his responsibilities and that, combined with his aptitude for sales, boosted his income.
Good luck to the Aces with replacing Michaels -- they're going to need it.
"Oh, we're just not going to broadcast this season,'' Aces managing member Terry Parks said, deadpan. "We're just going to close it down.''
Parks was joking, of course, but he was serious when he said whoever replaces Michaels as broadcaster -- Parks hopes to make a hire within two weeks -- will initially have fewer responsibilities. After all, in addition to broadcasting, Michaels sold sponsorships and ads, handled all the club's hockey-related issues and public relations, booked its travel and accommodations, served as the conduit of player movement, distributed per diem for road trips and was the point man for dealing with a certain cranky old sportswriter.
"He works, and he works hard,'' Parks said. "Very few people can do several things at once, and do them all well like Jack.''
At a home game last season, those qualities were amply evident.
During an intermission, Michaels dealt with his producer, played an interview conducted earlier, borrowed a computer to book a player's travel, glad-handed a corporate sponsor, checked in with the visiting broadcaster, texted on several fronts, greeted a couple of fans, appeased said cranky old sportswriter and promptly went back on the air live, sounding as engaged as a guy who had used the entire break to think about the game being played.
On air, Michaels did not harbor even a hint of what we in the business refer to with disdain as a "homer,'' or what an old hockey buddy of mine derisively calls a "tire-pumper.'' Those describe a broadcaster who slants things to make the home club look good. You can never trust the word of a homer because he's always working an angle.
With Michaels, you got truth. You got superb play-by-play and analysis, with context and historical perspective. (Nerd alert: He possesses a remarkable memory, nearly Rainman-level, which is how he once came to confess he can rattle off the score and location of every Super Bowl, and then proved it).
Probably didn't hurt that one of the first things Parks told Michaels when he hired him was to be straight up.
"I told him, 'I want you to announce as if you don't work for us,' '' Parks said.
For 679 Aces games, Michaels hit the mark. Including three seasons with the Colorado Gold Kings in the now-defunct West Coast Hockey League, he has broadcast 919 pro games -- that info straight from Rainman! Michaels guided listeners through the Aces' run to the 2006 Kelly Cup -- that club's bench boss was Davis Payne, current head coach of the NHL's St. Louis Blues -- and to the 2009 Kelly Cup Finals.
In Edmonton, Michaels will be an American broadcasting a sport that is part of a Canada's culture, and he'll be stepping in for a legend in Rod Phillips, a Hall of Famer who retired at last season's end but will work 10 games in the upcoming season.
"You don't replace a guy like that,'' Michaels said. "You just come in, do your thing and, hopefully, they come to appreciate you.''
It says here Michaels will clear those formidable hurdles. After all, he's been playing in a league below his skill-set for years, and now he's headed for a level that matches his game. Remember, when Michaels was growing up in the 1980s, the Oilers epitomized greatness -- five Stanley Cups in seven seasons.
Michaels interviewed with the Oilers earlier this month, and while on vacation in Hawaii last week with his family -- wife Emily, daughter Callie (6) and son Tyler (3) -- was informed by the club he was their man.
"I thought, 'My dad's really going to be proud of me,' '' Michaels said.
Lloyd Michaels, an English and film professor at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, e-mailed to second that emotion. He said the family is ecstatic over the kid seizing his dream.
One franchise's loss is another's gain.
So, Cowbell Crew, it's OK to be a little bummed Michaels is hitting the exit, but be happy he is headed where he belongs, and that you got to listen in for eight seasons.
To swipe Michael's signature sign-off, the pleasure was all ours.
This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing