Minor League hockey legend back in the radio booth...in Battle Creek
This isn’t how Terry Ficorelli envisioned his broadcast career playing out.
But then again, maybe it is.
Ficorelli begins his 47th hockey season behind the microphone this Friday night as the voice of the Battle Creek (Mich.) Rumble Bees. The Bees become the 12th team from the eighth different league to employ Ficorelli.
Having grown up in Detroit in the 1960s, listening to Budd Lynch broadcast the feats of Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk and the Red Wings, Ficorelli envisioned himself one day sitting in an NHL press box calling play-by-play of the sport he loved. But his NHL dream never materialized. His career peaked with a five-year stint in the AHL in the 1980s.
But over the years the team and the league became immaterial to Ficorelli. The chance to broadcast hockey – the joy of broadcasting hockey – is what fed his passion. Instead of airplane travel there were the bus rides. Instead of five-star hotels there were budget motels. Instead of Boston, Montreal and Toronto, he was spending his overnights in Fort Wayne, Port Huron and Toledo.
But let’s go back to when it all started. In 1971, while a student at Michigan State University, Ficorelli lied about his age and landed the play-by-play gig for the Muskegon Mohawks of the International Hockey League. Over the next 42 years, counting playoffs, he would broadcast 3,552 consecutive games before financial cutbacks cost him work as the voice of the ECHL Evansville IceMen in 2013.
Ficorelli never missed a call. He was there every night -- first for the Mohawks, then the Flint Generals, Kalamazoo Wings, Adirondack Red Wings, Baltimore Skipjacks, Cincinnati Cyclones, Muskegon Fury, Muskegon Lumberjacks and finally the IceMen. Through sickness and health, through good voice and bad, through streaks and droughts, Ficorelli was always there to make the call.
“Hockey has always been part of my life,” Ficorelli said. “Hockey, hockey people and hockey business have always been my passion. Hockey is not just a job for me. It’s a way of life.”
Ficorelli sat out two seasons after his release from the IceMen. He resurfaced in 2015 in the booth of the Evansville Thunderbolts, a junior team competing in the its inaugural NA3HL season. He moved back to the ECHL the following season with the Indy Fuel but that stint lasted only two years. He sat out a third season in 2018 before returning to his Michigan roots to handle the play-by-play of the Rumble Bees for this their inaugural season.
Ficorelli has broadcast seven Cup teams. He owns an AHL championship ring from his one season at Adirondack, two IHL rings from his stay with Kalamazoo and four UHL rings from his days broadcasting the Muskegon Fury. He was named UHL Broadcaster of the Year in both 1996 and 2002 and three times was voted the best sports announcer in Cincinnati during his five-year stint broadcasting the ECHL Cyclones.
Ficorelli has called 1,737 games in the IHL, 879 in the UHL, 431 in the AHL, 357 in the ECHL, 156 in the Colonial League, 136 in the CHL and 48 in the NA3HL. Add in the 24 all-star games he has broadcast in various leagues and his game count stands at 3,768.
Ficorelli did get to broadcast an NHL game. But it didn’t count. Back when he was the voice of the Kalamazoo Wings, the Double-A affiliate then of the Detroit Red Wings, he called a preseason game played in Kalamazoo by the Red Wings. It turned out to be an historic game – the first of Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman’s career.
But whether Ficorelli was calling a shot by Yzerman, a pass by Todd Robinson or a save by Sylvain Daigle, he never cheated his audience. Just as Budd Lynch never cheated him. Offering up his quirky goal calls – “Shot and a goal…Rock and Roll” -- Ficorelli approached every game as if it was his Stanley Cup final. He has been an ambassador for his team, league and sport from a perch high above the ice in a one-man radio booth serving as his own engineer, spotter and statistician.
Maybe Ficorelli isn’t broadcasting the NHL. But he is broadcasting hockey. Still. And that was the goal when he began listening to the Detroit Red Wings on a transistor radio in the 1960s. This season it will be the Rumble Bees, his first turn in the Federal Prospects Hockey League. And Ficorelli is OK with that.
The Rumbles Bees have given Ficorelli, 70, another season to do what he’s always wanted to do in life – call hockey. He’ll broadcast game number 3,769 Friday night when the Rumble Bees open the season against the Danville Dashers.
Next stop, 4,000 games.