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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mike Fornes Interview: Part One

Mike Fornes on his hockey broadcasting career:

"I think that during the time when I worked and the time when a lot of those people were there, we were there for the hockey.   

We were broadcasting hockey.   Everything revolves around your knowledge of the game. You didn’t create false excitement. You just called the game.   

Your preparation for the game involved hockey.  It was always about hockey for me.  Any place that I worked, all those years in the minor leagues that was part of it.  

That was part of climbing the ladder and getting to a better place. My career very closely resembled that of a player’s in the sense that I worked in the low minors.

I was in the International League, the American League, the Central League, and I was in the World Hockey Association before getting to the National Hockey League.

And it was similar to a player’s career in the length of time I spent in the game and the fact that I wasn’t able to stay with one franchise as much as I would have liked to.  

I wound up being with three different [NHL] organizations.  And most of my time working in the minor leagues was spent working for Islander affiliates.   

So really, if I was a player, it would be like I was an Islanders draft choice, and when the Islanders were winning all the Stanley Cups, there wasn’t room for me so I went to Hartford, and from Hartford to Washington and from Washington to Dallas.  

So it’s almost like a career like a player would have so I can identify with what they had to go through with the changes that were made in their lives because of what I went through with mine.

But the way the broadcasters approached the game back then was concentrated on the game and I couldn’t get enough hockey. 

I really wanted to learn all I could about it.  I tried to learn everything I could learn about it as a player as a coach even as a referee.  I tried every avenue and learned everything about the game that I could.

Today it just seems that most of what is happening is all about marketing. It’s all about selling. All about selling tickets.  I think the game sells itself."

Mike Fornes on making the NHL:

"I was in the Central Hockey League with the Islanders' top farm club in Indianapolis.  I went to Islanders training camp with the Indianapolis Checkers

While I was there I found out there was an issue with the Islanders announcer having to be away at some other event he was working.   

I got called up to do a preseason game.  That was also very much like a player in the sense that I was the kid from the Central League and I was getting a shot and my first NHL game a game between the Islanders and the Rangers and that was very special for me.   

Then I worked another season in the Central Hockey League before I actually got to go to Hartford in the NHL.   Television was really starting to expand and a lot of the teams were building TV networks.  

The Whalers had just begun theirs and it was because of the Islanders that I got the chance.   

Bill Torrey, the GM for the Islanders, made a phone call on my behalf to Hartford and assured them that I was the guy they wanted for the job."

Mike Fornes' on some of his favorite buildings:

"I really enjoyed working in the old Chicago Stadium.  I also really enjoyed working in Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum.  

I was fortunate enough to be able to broadcast the last game ever played in the Montreal Forum while I was with the Dallas Stars so that has a special place in my memory bank."

Mike Fornes on the Spectrum:

"You know the Spectrum isn’t around anymore and that was a house of horrors to visit as a player and it wasn’t the best spot to work as a broadcaster.

But you got to the point where you knew going in what it was going to be like and you did your job and you worked within the confines of that.

There was no elevator.  It was quite a workout just to get to the top of the building.  You had to climb up several flights of stairs and you had to go through the stands.  

You were always at risk a little bit in the Spectrum because Flyers fans knew who you were and they didn’t mind sharing their opinion about the team or about the broadcast.  

Some of them could see the broadcast at the time as well.  And so you’d have the odd confrontation with those people.  

That said, it was a very small area to work in but it was part of an era where the broadcasters had the best seats in the house."  

Mike Fornes on broadcasters of his era:

"The thing that I miss most would be the people that I got to work with.  I’m fortunate that I got to work in an era where there were some great voices in the game.   

Dan Kelly was the voice of the St. Louis Blues. Gene Hart was the broadcaster for the Philadelphia Flyers. Marv Albert was the voice of the Rangers.  

Getting a chance to meet those people and to be in the press room talking about the game working on your notes as to what the storylines were for the game with people like that that was incredible.

To go into a place like Minnesota and sit down and talk hockey with Al Shaver, who was the broadcaster for the North Stars at the time, those were great memories.  

Bob Wilson of the Boston Bruins was another favorite of mine. 

And it was my privilege to be able to work with people like that.  They don’t make them like that anymore.  I’m just proud I was part of the era."

Mike Fornes on how his view helped him announce better:

"In the Boston Garden I sat in the first row of the first balcony which was the first level of seats above the floor level.  They were mid-way up the building, but you hung out over the ice.  And it was a stunning view of the Boston Garden.  

I remember being with Hartford in that building.  And you could hear the players talking on the ice you were so close.  

I remember Mark Howe and Marty Howe – this would have been when I was with the Whalers – they both referred to their dad as “Gordie”.  They always called their father Gordie.   

And that’s because they were always around other players on the team.  So it was Gordie this and Gordie that.  

But I remember one night watching Mark Howe come out of the corner and start a rush and he fired a pass [to Gordie] over to the right-wing boards right below where I was sitting.  

Gordie got the puck and took about two strides and Mark [skated] ahead into an open area and [Mark] wanted the puck back and had his stick down and [Mark] just looked for the opening and he said “Dad!” 

Of course Gordie put the puck right on Mark's stick and Mark went in and scored and I thought that was a special thing --

-- that I had actually heard Mark react to his father and when he reacted he called him “Dad”, but whenever he spoke to him purposefully it was always “Gordie”.   

That’s an insight you won’t get today at the TD North Bank Garden [sic] or whatever they call it.   Most of the time now you sit on the moon for these games.  

By the time the end of my career was coming it was very difficult to see the ice.  You’ve got a TV monitor in front of you but it’s nothing like the things that you used to hear and feel and see by being close.   

The Boston Garden was just one example, Chicago Stadium was just a terrific place to watch.  You were on a gondola just hanging out over the ice and you had a perfect seat.  Maple Leaf Gardens same way.  They don’t make them like that anymore.   

All of the buildings now the announcers seem to be an afterthought.   And they have to sit way up high.  On the high perimeter, high rim-edged seats.  

Because all the best seats are sold to people and so they aren’t going to accommodate the media in a place that is a real good spot to watch a game." 

Mike Fornes on announcers then vs. now:

"We all prepared for games based on what was happening on the ice at practice or in previous games. The scoring of the game was what you told the listeners or the viewers. 

Today, the guys get flooded with so much statistical information that is available, you end up hearing an overabundance of numbers, in my opinion. 

Not enough about what is happening on the power play or the penalty kill, why the breakout is working, etc.....

There are too many inconsequential stats and they miss goals and key plays because there is too much drivel going on. 

Of course, if the guys today sat nearer to  the ice like we did, they might feel more a part of the game."

More then vs. now insight:

"I think that the game has changed which I don’t have a problem with.  But the way things are administrated now is very different.  And I think I worked during the right years.  

I think there are a lot of people now that wouldn’t have been able to work back then and it just seems – hey look around – they even have the National Hockey League in Columbus, Ohio.  

I used to go to Columbus when I was in the International League and it was a very different atmosphere from what they are projecting now.   

Things evolve and things change and expansion is something that we’ve seen many times over the years.  The game wouldn’t be as big as it is now if we just had the Original 6 teams.  

But I was happy that I was part of it during the era when I was because of the people that were involved because of the broadcasting people I was associated with.  I thought they were the best that ever were."  

Mike Fornes on the phrase, "A shot!  And a goal!"

"I grew up listening to Lloyd Pettit call the play-by-play for the Chicago Blackhawks, and that is how he called the goals. 

It wasn't until later years that I heard others say "he shoots...he scores!" and eventually realized that Foster Hewitt was the first with that call and everyone was copying Foster Hewitt -- except Lloyd Pettit. 

I asked Lloyd about it when I was in the minor leagues and he said to go with whatever you feel to express yourself in the moment. 

My first minor league game at Muskegon, when the first goal was scored I said "there's a shot...and a goal!" and decided that was how I felt comfortable calling it. 

Over the years I varied in describing goals but that phrase was what I usually used on the really BIG goals. By the time I reached the WHA, Lloyd had retired so I was the only anouncer using that phrase. 

When I reached the NHL, I stayed with it and it became my trademark because I was the only one who said it. 

Everyone else copied Foster Hewitt. Lloyd had a real command of the game when he described it and I admired that a lot."

Mike Fornes on memorable goals:

"I called Gretzky’s first goal [with the WHA's Indianapolis Racers].  If the Hunter goal was the biggest goal I called for the Capitals --

--If Neal Broten’s goal – the first goal ever scored in the history of the Dallas Stars – was the biggest goal for the Dallas Stars -- 

-- then Gretzky’s goal was probably the biggest goal I’ve called in the big picture during my hockey career."

Mike Fornes on his time between Washington and Dallas:

"I got very involved in hockey.  I’m a student of the game.  I have many interests in hockey that don’t necessarily relate to the broadcasting part.   

I became a part of USA Hockey’s national staff, I became involved in educating coaches and officials, and I wound up teaching for USA Hockey and giving back to the game.  I also offered to do things for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.   

And basically my interest in the game has always stayed the same."


  1. Great stuff! Can't wait to read part 2.

  2. Excellent interview. Like G.O.D., I can't wait for Part 2.

  3. As someone who was too young to be watching Fornes on tv at the time, this is incredibly fascinating to read. Thanks for putting all the work into getting this onto your site.

  4. thank you very much for the kind words :)

  5. Incredible work!!! I loved Mike Fornes and Al Koken! To go from him to Jeff Rimmer/Kenny Albert...dark days! I think Koken may have taken over PBP for a bit too..not sure. Joe B is ok. Fornes was unique and you could feel he was a fan just like you..

  6. Nice job. I have fond memories of Fornes in the booth for the Stars. He used to do pieces between periods explaining basics of the game. Dallas needed it for sure and he did it well. I always wondered what happened to Mike and now I know. Thanks for doing this! Cheers from Dallas.

    1. Mike was an ass with a bad toupe.

  7. Cowboys suck. Just kidding. Thanks, I appreciate it. Cheers!

  8. Mike, I am so glad I was able to find this interview and get caught up a little. I've been following hockey since the 60's, and you are in the top 5 announcers I have ever heard. I loved watching the Caps games when you were doing the play-by-play. You made me feel like a part of the game, and it was a sad day when you left Washington, DC. I wish you the best in all of your pursuits and good health for the future. You are still missed here!

    Michael Kearns

  9. I remember Mike well in the early years in Dallas. As someone else said, he helped normalize the game at a key time when the Stars first relocated. He made a nice pairing with Ralph Strangis. And I'll never forget, "a shot and a goal!"

    Thanks for the interview.