This week the hockey world mourned the loss of Buffalo Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret, who spent more than 50 years behind the microphone belting out goal calls with his iconic voice and flair for perfectly capturing the moment. Pittsburgh Penguins fans had a similar relationship with Mike Lange, whose expressions became pop culture lexicon quoted on TV shows and Sportscenter.
Perhaps we can take the occasion for another small homage to Lange.
Lange was an extraordinary play-by-play announcer. When I was in the ECHL learning the craft more than 15 years ago, most of the announcers were Lange devotees.
It’s not an easy job, I assure you.
Lange had some funny one-liners like “She wants to sell my monkey” that brought humor to the broadcast, but he was also a sharp hockey mind. He knew when a player was on his toes and when his team was in trouble.
Little comments between the action, “watch for…” were always correct and prescient. The slight gravel in his voice only added to the excitement when the Penguins pressed for a goal, and Lange’s voice kept pace with the rising action, culminating in that ever-so-satisfying payoff, “Heeeeeee shoots and scores!”
Lange was the Penguins’ play-by-play voice on TV or radio from 1974 to 2021 (he left the team in 1975 for one season while bankruptcy and no guarantee of a job loomed).
We’ve paid tribute to Mike Lange in the past. Still, Jeanneret’s passing is another chance to tip our caps to a play-by-play broadcaster so good that he attracted people to watch terrible hockey teams, made those games exciting, and did more than everyone except Mario Lemieux to create a Pittsburgh hockey community.
For those of you who weren’t around for the terrible 1980s teams or even the 1990s Stanley Cups and achingly close runs, Lange was the voice and the warm campfire we all gathered around. Often his calls were what we talked about the next day, more so than the goals.
There was also something great about the Penguins’ simulcast on TV and radio. TV announcers are taught to talk less, but radio needs more. It was a treat to watch TV and get the radio call, and none — none — were better than Lange.
The broadcast world has forsaken personality in society’s lurch to bland and safe. Colorful and fun broadcasters are a dying breed, and that’s sad.
We wouldn’t want to offend some busybody who objects to giving dogs a drink, would we?
And a little hat tip to Paul Steigerwald, Lange’s long-time color commentator, and a fine play-by-play announcer, too. In the early days of Mario, as many Penguins fans were discovering the team and learning the game hidden in plain sight for more than a decade, Steigerwald did more to shape Penguins fans’ opinions on the game of hockey than anyone. As the analyst, he was both a tour guide and a conscience. He expressed opinions and insights that a former player would not.
It was quite the duo. Together and separately, they gave voice to the fans and iconic moments forever etched in the Pittsburgh collective.
Nothing lasts forever, but as Buffalo and hockey say goodbye to one of the greats, Pittsburgh should remember we, too, were blessed with enviable hockey broadcasts and joy from Mike Lange.
If you have a chance, buy Sam a drink and get his dog one, too.
Penguins Prospect Misses?
The NHL recently released its top 50 prospects list. Unsurprisingly, none of the Penguins’ prospects made the list.
However, several players selected after recent Penguins picks are in the top 50, including a pair of obviously bankable players who could haunt the organization. Neither 2021 first-rounder Owen Pickering (21st overall) nor 2022 first-rounder Brayden Yager (14th overall) appears on the list, but several players selected immediately behind them are in the top 35.
Jimmy Snuggerud of the U.S. National Development Team Program is ranked 32nd. He was selected two picks after Pickering by the St. Louis Blues. Snuggerud put up 10 goals and 50 points last season with the University of Minnesota.
Lane Hutson lasted until the early second round in 2022. The dynamic defenseman torched the competition in his freshman season at Boston U. The Montreal Canadiens happily scooped him up as the steal of the draft, and yes, many of us knew it was a steal at the time, not just in retrospect.
The formerly 5-foot-9, 148-pound defender is now listed at 5-foot-10, 161 pounds. Perhaps a few more weekends in Boston will round up his physique to over 170 pounds. He scored 15 goals and notched 33 assists in his freshman season.
Hutson is ranked 26th on the list.
In the 2023 NHL Draft, Oliver Moore, selected after Yager, is 35th on the list. Gabriel Perreault is ranked 36th.
That Yager didn’t make the list could be a bit of an indictment of the Penguins’ scouting. Of course, no one will care about the latest prospect rankings if Pickering or Yager splash in the NHL. Still, if the players selected behind them reach the NHL sooner and do more damage, even more criticism of the Penguins’ scouting will be warranted.
Since the drafts spanned two Penguins regimes, the Ron Hextall era and the beginning of the Kyle Dubas era, it might be unfair to castigate the entire scouting department, but it does put the one crossover, Nick Pryor, in the spotlight. Pryor was the director of amateur scouting under former GM Hextall and remained in the position under Dubas.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins hope to avoid the free-agent market or a recurring need to recruit professional tryout candidates before training camp, they’ll need to hit on a few draft picks sooner than later. Going back to the 2016 NHL Draft, the Penguins have received only 13 games of NHL service from their draft picks.
Kasper Bjorkqvist, the team’s 2016 second-round pick (61st overall), played in six games before returning to his native Finland in 2022. No draftee has played more.
And Elvis has just left the building …