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Radio duo connects Oilers fans everywhere for Game 7

Dave Sandford / NHL / Getty Images

Jack Michaels knows what sets his play-by-play apart from other qualified broadcasters in sports radio.

"I feel like I have a certain understanding of when a big moment is coming," the Edmonton Oilers play-by-play announcer said. It's a feel he picked up from watching horse racing as a kid.

Like horse racing, Michaels believes a good hockey game is all about a slow build that grows to a crescendo. That crescendo has been swelling throughout the Stanley Cup Final this year, as the Oilers have mounted a historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 on Monday night.

After the Oilers' Game 6 victory Friday, Michaels called Game 7 the biggest game in Stanley Cup history. Only once in major North American sports history has a team recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win the championship (the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs).

Michaels and color commentator Bob Stauffer will be doing their call on 630 CHED - boosted by SiriusXM and various internet apps - for fans connecting via the broadcast medium that's been linking communities for almost as long as the NHL itself. And they'll be ready to meet the moment.

When Michaels calls a game, he thinks about all the people who are relying on him to be their eyes. "What you're trying to do is bring the person who can't afford tickets, can't afford to travel, they have a night shift or couldn't make the game or whatever reason - you're basically trying to take everyone who can't make the game and put them in the game, and put them beside you as if you're watching it together. You want to give the idea that this is somewhere I'd love to be, and if I can't be there, at least I'm with someone who can, who I can chat with," he said.

Jack Michaels salutes the crowd after being recognized for calling his 1,000th Edmonton Oilers game in 2023 Andy Devlin / NHL / Getty Images

When Michaels thinks about hockey in his childhood growing up north of Pittsburgh, his memories are punctuated by the voice of Penguins play-by-play announcer Mike Lange.

"He was considered one of the absolute greats of the game," said Michaels, who'd listen to the Hall of Fame announcer detail the exploits of Penguin greats like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in their prime.

"He set a standard in terms of being among the greatest voices ever to call it. I had a sense for how exciting and fast-paced and thrilling hockey could be."

Michaels eventually followed Lange into broadcasting, first in Colorado Springs as an announcer for the WCHL's Gold Kings. After an eight-year stint in Anchorage doing play-by-play for the Alaska Aces in the ECHL, he graduated to the NHL in 2010, becoming the play-by-play announcer for the Oilers. He calls games for both television and radio, but it's the latter for which fans love him most.

"You almost get a more accurate picture of what's going on through his description than you do actually watching the game," said Krysty Kline, an Oilers fan who listens to the radio calls from Orange County, California.

Despite the bombardment of streaming services, broadcasts, podcasts and social media available today, a sizable number of fans will still tune in to the radio to hear Michaels. Because somehow, remarkably, radio still matters.

Especially to Oilers fans.

A 2-way conversation

If ever there were a man who knew the power of radio in Edmonton, it's Bob Stauffer, who hosts "Oilers Now" on 630 CHED in addition to doing color commentary on the broadcasts.

He believes talk radio continues to find engaged listeners in Edmonton because of the deep affection for the iconic Oilers brand. "People are passionate, and people know the game," he said. "They're looking for sources of information, and then you can engage in a longer form of conversation on talk radio."

Bob Stauffer, left, and Jack Michaels in 2010 Dylan Lynch / NHL / Getty Images

Unlike podcasts, radio shows are live, and listeners can call or text to communicate directly with the host. Many shows, like Stauffer's, also field calls from fans. Essentially a real-time version of online comment sections, with the hosts ready to respond. "There are people that are hardcore radio listeners, they do value opinion," Stauffer said. "They don't mind listening to others getting different perspectives as well."

That's one reason Kline listens to Stauffer's shows from 1,700 miles away, where she moved almost 17 years ago. Each afternoon, she puts her three girls - two toddlers and a newborn - down for a nap, tosses on her headphones, and tunes in to hear what Stauffer has to say about the Oilers. She uses the TuneIn app to find the station over the internet.

"They have an in-depth look at the players," said Kline. "And when listeners call in, it adds value."

Kline says the Oilers coverage on 630 CHED goes beyond the nuts and bolts of hockey to give her what she's really looking for – the story. "It's the drama," she said. "Who's out? What's going on? Who sucks? Who doesn't? Who's this beautiful rising-from-the-ashes story? You follow along more passionately that way, and that's what those local shows do well. They share those stories."

Tom Gazzola believes so much in the power of radio's connection that he was part of a group that started Edmonton Sports Talk as an internet station after the abrupt shutdown of Bell Media's TSN 1260 in 2023.

"Radio is there for you. People get to know the hosts, and they feel that they know them. It's not a quick two- or three-minute segment on the TV where you see somebody for a few minutes, and then they're gone for the rest of the broadcast. On radio shows, they're there for you and with you for a couple of hours. You can text in, you can call and actually interact with them. I think there's a certain level of comfort there and some accessibility. At the end of the day, we're just there to give people something to chew on while they grind through their days."

Part of their lives

The Michaels-Stauffer duo is set to become part of the lives of some Edmontonians in a big way Monday night when they call what could be the most historic Stanley Cup Final in living memory - one that could return the Cup to Canada for the first time in 30 years and end Edmonton's Cup drought that has persisted since 1990.

Jack Michaels calls the play-by-play in February 2024 Andy Devlin / NHL / Getty Images

Michaels hasn't quite adjusted to the idea that he's someone's Mike Lange in an era when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the star attractions. But when he does take time to think of his role, he just hopes the radio broadcast pierces through the distractions to make people feel something.

"I hope people listening to it will have an emotion one way or another rather than just immediately forget it," he said. "I would like to think of certain games that people listen to me call as ones to be remembered. And hopefully it's a memory of driving in the car with their son or daughter or driving back from a trip out to the lake or something that they've shared with somebody. I'd like to be a small piece of that."

For Michaels, it's the shared experience that's the coolest. "It's not about making the perfect call or anything like that. It's just being a little part of their lives," he added. "Hopefully a pleasant part."

Jolene Latimer is a features writer at theScore.

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