Contrasting Play-by-Play Voices: Colorado and Minnesota

One of the pleasures of playoff time is getting to hear broadcast crews you’ve never heard before from all around the league. The variety itself is enjoyable, but there’s no denying some of what varies is the enjoyability.

At one end of my personal taste scale is Bob Kurtz, the play-by-play voice of Las Vegas’s first-round casualties the Minnesota Wild, who may just have called his final season after 43 years in the business, 20 with the Wild.

I loved listening to this guy. The above-linked article calls him “a throwback”, and maybe it’s so. His calls were clear and easy to follow, and he’s got a great voice for the sport. With his even demeanor, smooth baritone, and flat northland vowel sounds, you’d think Stompin’ Tom Connors was calling the action.

By contrast, another voice I got to hear for the first time this post-season was Conor McGahey, an extreme homer* for the Colorado Avalanche who stuffs his radio broadcasts with forced catchphrases, giving them the desperate energy of an attention-craving teen’s TikTok feed.

The worst of these many, terrible catchphrases comes when goalie Philipp Grubauer makes a timely save, and Conor McGahey bellows “I! Am! Gruuub!”

Get it? Like Groot, from Guardians of the Galaxy? Yeah.

I’m not against play-by-play commentators having signature turns of phrase. Working Red Wings games, Ken Daniels regularly called out a “Datsyukian Deke”. Ernie Harwell, longtime voice of Detroit Tigers baseball, would say of a batter who took strike three, “he stood there like the house by the side of the road”. But unlike either of those examples, McGaheyisms don’t don’t tell you what happened, or how. They are just the things he says after certain events. (Worse, “I am Gruuub” doesn’t even make sense. McGahey isn’t Gruuub; Grubauer is.)

And they’re all like this. None of McGahey’s silly catchphrases mean anything at all beyond “look at me, I am so funny, and it is I, not the game on the ice, that you came here to enjoy!” Gross.

But I have no doubt Colorado fans eat it up. Who cares if this schtick causes severe second-hand embarrassment in those of us outside Avs nation? That’s fine. It’s not for us.

Also, play-by-play broadcasters, like the rest of us, should be their authentic selves. And different markets demand different styles. Minnesota, in the unassuming heartland with its long and rich hockey heritage, probably wants a Bob Kurtz. And Colorado, in the flashier, bigger-talking west, nouveau riche in terms of the sport, and comparatively un-self-conscious, probably wants a McGahey.

May his act never catch on more broadly.

*When opponents score, McGahey reports the fact in passing, downplaying it to the point that listeners might miss that it even happened. When the Avs net one, by contrast, he goes unhinged. (Talking about his own old-school style, Kurtz could have been thinking of McGahey when he told Wild.com “the screaming in hockey really bothers me. There’s more to calling a hockey game than screaming on a goal.”)

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