Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hockey firsts

April 12. 2014 10:22PM

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By the time a player, coach or broadcaster reaches the AHL or NHL, they have already achieved a lot in their careers and made plenty of memories along the way. Each week, we’ll sit down with one of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and talk about some of the memorable “firsts” they’ve had during their careers, ranging from their first time on skates to their first goal as a pro.

Mike O’Brien

Age: 36

Position: Penguins broadcaster and director of media relations

Birthplace: Gladwyne, Pa.

Years as a pro (broadcaster): 10

First time on skates: “I was 4 years old. My parents took me to the Skatium outside of Philadelphia. After we skated around and were checking out, I was climbing over a railing, fell and broke my nose. I wasn’t on ice skates for a bit after that. It was my first and last time on skates until junior high.”

First team: “My high school team in Haverford. I did a lot of sports and played roller hockey. But my first official team was high school. I played defense.”

First coach that influenced you: “My parents (Bob and Aurora). My dad was in finance and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. They let me find my way into broadcasting. Once I got into it, Tom Leyden, who is now the sports anchor for WXYZ in Detroit and a Boston College alumni, really mentored me and showed me the ropes. Tom Grace was one of the first guys I talked to in terms of getting into play-by-play. He’s helped me with a couple of opportunities in my career.”

First goal that you remember: “My most memorable was here at the Toyota Sportsplex during a D League game. I scored four goals in a game last summer. I took me 36 years, but that was my best game ever in hockey.”

First time you won anything in hockey: “As a broadcaster 2005 the Kelly Cup Championship with the Trenton Titans. That counts.”

First time hockey took you away from home: “My senior year at Boston College I was doing the broadcast and the team had a major tournament. We went out to Madison, Wis., for the regionals. If we won we were going straight to Anaheim for the Frozen Four. We won both games in Madison and went to Anaheim and we were on the road for over a week. During the Kelly Cup run with Trenton in the ECHL, Games 1 and 2 of the Conference Finals were in Alaska, Games 3, 4 and 5 back in Trenton and Game 6 and 7 back in Alaska. In the Finals, Games 1 and 2 in Florida two days later. Hockey has taken me pretty much everywhere in America.”

First pro contract: “With Trenton in the ECHL. I got hired right before the start of the season. I met with my boss and he gave me a contract. I was 24 years old and I was like ‘All right, looks good.’ I signed on the dotted line and I don’t think it took up an entire page. It was for the 2003-04 season. The was my first official contract and it listed my duties, my pay and that was it. I was just happy to get my first broadcasting job.”

First time you faced adversity in your hockey career: “The world of broadcasting is a very competitive industry. There’s 20-something jobs in ECHL, 30 in he AHL and 30 in the NHL. They’re not that many jobs. To get here was a great opportunity. But I didn’t know if I would be getting back into broadcasting. I had the job with the Devils in Lowell and then they moved to Albany. I went back home to take care of my mom who was in an accident and just getting back on her feet. I got to the point where I wasn’t sure if I would get back into it. I interviewed for the Hershey job and Scott Stuccio got it, but he was nice enough to give me a call and see if I had any interest in the Penguins communication job. I listened and I came up here and talked to Jeff Barrett and Brian Coe, and the more I got to experience what the Penguins were all about it seemed like a great fit. And now here I am.”

— Tom Venesky

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