John Kelly Follows in His Father’s Inflections
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ ″He shoots ... he sco-o-o-res 3/8″
Those four words, the late Dan Kelly’s calling card for 20 seasons of broadcasting hockey games for the St. Louis Blues, have been passed on to a worthy successor in the booth. His son, John.
Listen in as John Kelly makes the call on Brett Hull’s 55th goal, which set a team record for most goals in a season:
″Hull gets it ... turns ... shoots ... he scores 3/8″ Kelly says, the excitement swelling in his voice as Hull takes control of the puck and picks his spot. Just like his dad, who died last February of cancer at age 52, John Kelly knows that a few well-placed words, with the right inflection, go a long way.
Hockey, with end-to-end action and 100 mph slap shots changing the complexion of the game in the blink of an eye, is perhaps sports’ toughest announcing challenge. John Kelly rarely falls behind the play.
At age 29, he seems like a natural. Rightful heir to the man Sports Illustrated once referred to as ″Lord of the Rinks.″
At times, he even sounds eerily like his father, such a revered figure on the Blues that shamrocks at center ice and a banner high atop the St. Louis Arena - next to the names of retired greats - pay homage to the stout Irishman.
″I picked up quite a bit from my dad,″ Kelly said. ″If my voice sounds like him, or the some of the phrases, it’s probably more inherited than anything else.
″I consciously try to avoid some of the things he used, some of his sayings, because I don’t want to sound like a copycat. But most of it is subsconscious because I listened to him for so many years and that’s the way I’ve always felt broadcasts should be done.″
But it’s not as if the job was handed to him. Kelly, who shares the Blues broadcasting chores with Ken Wilson, did six years of minor-league hockey work before earning a part-time job on the New York Rangers broadcast crew last season.
When his father died, John Kelly was still beating the bushes. The Rangers job was a foothold in the National Hockey League, but he also worked as broadcaster, ticket salesman and public relations director of a minor-league hockey team in Glens Falls, N.Y.
Working in the minors, first at Ste. Catherines, Ontario, and then with the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League, meant long hours on the road. And then you go to work.
″On the road I was my own color man and engineer,″ Kelly said. ″But it’s something I think that I had to go through. It was an apprenticeship that every broadcaster should experience.″
Kelly knows his father did it the same way, starting his career in Smith’s Falls, Ontario, a small town about 50 miles from his home in Ottawa where he hosted a country music show for radio station CJET. High-profile jobs with CBS, the USA Network and ESPN, as well as Hockey Night in Canada, didn’t come until later for Dan Kelly.
″Often times you’d get to where you were going and it’d be 5-6-7-8-9 in the morning,″ Kelly said of his minor-league days. ″Now I can appreciate traveling first-class, flying all over and staying in nice hotels, because I went through the eight-hour bus rides and cold ham sandwiches after the game.″
Now, like his father, John Kelly has become a celebrity of sorts. After one recent Blues practice he obligingly signed the back of a youngster’s denim jacket.
″I can’t complain at all,″ he said with a laugh. ″I enjoy my work.″
Kelly loves it in St. Louis, where he was raised from the age of 8 until he left for college and where his mother still lives. Despite Dan Kelly’s position, he never thought he’d get to come back.
″I could never see my father retiring,″ he said. ″A couple of years ago he hinted that maybe he might want to cut down on his schedule and it’d be nice if I came here. But I never thought it would happen.″
Especially this way.
Things happened fast, though, and soon after his father’s death, Kelly had several on-air auditions with the Blues. Now he’s a fixture, doing second- period play-by-play and color commentary in the first and third periods.
He knows he’s lucky, for few jobs open up in the National Hockey League. He also knows the name didn’t hurt.
After all, Dan Kelly last year won the Lester Patrick Award, given annually by the NHL for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
″There are a lot of guys who are in the AHL or IHL for 15-20 years and never get a chance,″ Kelly said. ″There might be one job opening a year in the NHL. Some years there’s none.
″Absolutely, positively the name helped me,″ he said. ″I’d like to think it didn’t get me the job, but maybe it got me noticed a little more. Maybe they listened to my tape more intently than others because of my name.″
The jump to the big leagues hasn’t been entirely problem-free. Kelly’s television presence needs some work. He appears nervous and his eyes dart about.
″The biggest adjustment for me is television because I’ve never done a lot of it,″ Kelly said. ″Being on camera and trying to be relaxed and not looking dumb.″
Kelly also says he’s not yet entirely comfortable with color commentary. But he figures to have time to iron out tho rough edges.
″We’ve really been pleased with his work,″ Blues President Jack Quinn said. ″I certainly think we can look forward to having him here next year, and many to follow.″
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