by Don Laible
Brendan Burke’s voice has become familiar to Comets fans on 94.9FM K-Rock, since the start of Utica’s second chapter in the American Hockey League. Listening and learning during team broadcasts remains just another constant within the organization. But, being Brendan Burke ain’t easy.
It’s a Tuesday night game with the Lake Erie Monsters at The AUD; the start of a three-game homestand for the Comets. Although Burke, director of public relations and radio broadcaster, is in the press box at 5:15pm preparing for tonight’s game, the veteran of six AHL seasons behind-the-mic has been on the job since 9am.
Burke tells of still recovering from a two-game road trip to Abbotsford, British Columbia. The two-game sweep by Utica, both in overtime, shares Burke’s thoughts with the travel conditions the Comets had to endure. Aside from his on-air presence, and public relations duties, Burke acts as the team’s traveling secretary – booking hotels, busses, flights – all the “moving parts” of the team being on the road.
On this particular trip the Comets were to leave The AUD at 4am, the night after defeating the Chicago Wolves 2-1, en route to Abbotsford. Once arriving in Syracuse, Burke tells of 17 players being ‘locked out’ of the flight scheduled for departure at Hancock International Airport. 11 members of the club would be flying out as scheduled. A combination of dealing with passports, slow computers, running up against time, Burke had to use his travel connections, and hustle with a plan B.
Securing transportation with Birnie Bus, within an hour of his call for an assist, 17 members of the Comets board for a shuttle to Toronto – to fly out of there. Coordination and preparation is what Burke, who comes to Utica after the previous five AHL campaigns as director of communications/radio broadcaster with the Peoria Rivermen, is all about.
“Once we get on the road it is easy, if I’ve done my job well ahead of time.” Burke said. “What happened (in Syracuse) with United, I couldn’t control.”
In shadowing Burke, the Ithaca College grad appears to be in constant control of his environment. Call it experience, confidence, or both, he appears more than ready to tell the game’s story to his listening audience later in the night. Although Lake Erie has visited The AUD this season multiple times, for Burke, in his pre-game prep, it is more about updating than locating information on the visitors.
“I’ve been calling games involving Lake Erie for five years. I have a bank of stories built up to tell,” says Burke, who along with his wife Mary ( a Herkimer native) are expecting their first child in July.
Aside from marking down the game’s scratches, a well-organized Burke has done his homework. This is a pattern, doing his homework, that has elevated Burke to the AHL and in Utica, since first being paid to call games on radio and TV after graduation in the spring of 2006. “When I first started out, I wanted to do baseball,” Burke recalls. And that he did. Brendan was the voice of two Philadelphia Phillies Class A teams. Just a month after graduation, Burke called games for the Batavia Muckdogs of the NY-Penn League before moving on to the Lakewood BlueClaws in the South Atlantic League for two seasons.
However, hockey would be Brendan’s calling. It’s 6pm, an hour before the start of the Comets-Wolves clash, teams haven’t hit the ice yet for warm-ups, and Burke is comfortable in going down memory lane with us, calm as can be. His time spent in the East Coast Hockey League, as director of broadcasting and communication with the Wheeling (WV) Nailers for two seasons proved to be a successful welcome to pro hockey.
“At 22-years old, I was the youngest broadcaster in the ECHL. I was fortunate enough to go straight from college to AA-hockey,” Burke tells.
Just as the players working their way up minor hockey for a crack in the National Hockey League, Burke has tasted the big-time. He tells of his games behind an NHL mic, calling St. Louis Blues action, with great detail and enthusiasm. In total, Burke has three full NHL contests on his resume. “All three games were on the road – Nashville, Phoenix, and Denver,” Burke states, of when filling in for Blues’ longtime radio voice Chris Kerber.
From listening to Burke tell of his NHL call-ups, it’s clear that when, at 25-years old, and being at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis with the Columbus Blue Jackets in town, this is a moment Burke enjoys sharing. “It was a Wednesday in March, I made my way to the press box and spoke with Chris Kerber. He asked me then if I wanted to call the second period,” Burke remembers. “I grabbed some game notes and had less than an hour to prepare.”
For Comets games, Burke informs us that , for the pre-game show, his interview with Travis Green is conducted 90- minutes prior to puck drop. As for the players who Burke would like to speak with, these to-be-aired conversations are recorded at the morning skate.
Surprisingly, there is less equipment placed in front of Burke, to bring the night’ s broadcast to thousands of Comets fans. There’s a coffee table-size control board to Brendan’s left and to his right is a small computer . In sitting next to Burke for the pre-game and during period one of the Comets-Wolves match, most of the time the team’s radio voice has his eyes fixated on the ice. Only occasionally glancing down at his elaborate, home-made game notes folder, Burke is ready for business.
In-between his Comets assignments, Burke has made occasional breaks from the Mohawk Valley for TV work. FOX Sports and The Big-Ten Network have called upon Brendan’s hockey expertise. For Hockey Day In Minnesota, Burke broadcast high school action – outdoors. The Michigan State-Ohio State clash was Burke’s to deliver to the hockey masses, too.
There shouldn’t be any surprise of Burke’s rise up the hockey radio ladder. Growing up in New Jersey, Brendan points his finger to longtime hockey radio and TV storyteller Mike “Doc” Emrick as his favorite. Emrick spent many years, beginning in 1982-83 as the radio voice of the New Jersey Devils. ” I enjoy listening to Kenny Albert; how he prepares for the NFL on TV and NHL on radio.
The pillar of strength behind Burke’s march to broadcast excellence remains his wife Mary, an RN at Slocum-Dickson, and his parents. Brendan tells of his dad, Don Burke, a longtime sports writer who currently works the desk at the New York Post, listening all the time to Comets’ broadcasts.
A look at the scoreboard tells of 17-minutes before game time. Burke, on his head set, checks in with the K-Rock studio. Kevin Kloss is operating the controls from there. During our time together, Burke has checked his cell phone but a couple of times. At 12:08 before the start of the game, Burke welcomes the listening audience for the evening. His color-coded, four-sided folder is open for business.
Seated the furthest to the right in the press box looking out from center ice, Burke works alone. Benn Ferriero is promised as Brendan’s guest between period one and two. Three minutes before the Chicago and Utica are to get down to business, Burke informs his listeners of the evening’s scratches.
With the National Anthem completed, and the face-off readied, Burke stands, hands in pockets, and nonchalantly, almost George Clooney-like cool, goes about his hockey storytelling ways. With each Comets game Brendan Burke informs audiences in the thousands of what the team is up to, hockey fans in the Utica area continue to be spoiled, in having the best of the best.