“He shoots…SCOR-R-R-R-R-RES”!!!!! “Ilya Kovalchuk goes upstairs where momma stashes the cash… ‘cuz it’s safer than a bank these days”!
The voice that comes booming from the speakers, treating residents of Thrasherville to those type of calls for the past eight seasons, is none other than that of Dan Kamal…delivering the games into our homes and vehicles from his WCNN AM-680 “The Fan” broadcast nest high atop Philips Arena.
There are many fine radio guys in the NHL these days, but I regard Kamal as one of the best. He brings the excitement and thrill of Atlanta Thrashers hockey to listeners in a way only he can and we are fortunate to have the Grand Kamalian giving voice to the team. His official title is Senior Director of Radio Operations and he oversees the programming, production and distribution of Thrashers broadcasts for the team’s network.
Kamal grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts where he learned the love of hockey by playing the sport outside on the frozen ponds. “Growing up in New England”, Dan told me, “It’s that old story of not having enough money to buy the equipment but wanting to play hockey…and we’d skate on the ponds and wrap whatever we could find around our legs to keep from killing ourselves [by being] hit by sticks and pucks”.
“You appreciated the game by playing the game”.
Kamal attended U-Mass/Amherst where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in communications studies and he holds a Masters degree in communications from Boston University. Although he had aspirations of becoming a writer, he soon found another interest.
“When I got to college I had a chance to work with the college radio station…WMUA…and I had this thick Boston accent and for whatever reason, even though the school was only 80-something miles from my hometown, they had a pretty neutral accent. So the program director said, ‘I’ll let you on the air when you lose your accent’”.
So at the tender young age of 18 he started trying to take the edge off of his New England style of pronunciation. As he became successful at it, they let him on the air and he began working hockey and baseball games for the school…and he also began to generate the love for radio.
Then it was off to the corporate world for Kamal. “When I look back on it, [corporate life] probably had more influence than I would readily admit”.
The company he went to work for as director of corporate communications was called Herco…a sister company of Hershey Foods… and they owned the Hershey Bears. “They knew my radio background in hockey”, he recalled, “And so I became the third guy in the broadcast booth… for home games only because I had, obviously, major corporate responsibilities”.
“Well, the very next year, our play-by-play guy graduated to the NHL…and this happened very close to the season and so my boss asked me if I’d fill in for a few games”.
With the help of a “wonderful” office assistant who helped him manage the office load, Kamal was able to handle both the work at the corporate level and in the broadcast booth. But that kind of schedule couldn’t go on forever.
“So the next season, (1983), much to the dismay of the company and to my wallet, I asked the general manager if he thought enough of the job I did for his team and I could do the job full time”.
He was indeed given the job…at a 70% pay cut…and started his career in hockey play-by-play.
After 12 years in Hershey…11 as the full-time broadcaster…he came to Atlanta in 1994 where he worked for two years in radio and television for the Atlanta Knights. He then went to work for Turner Sports, CNNSi. During that time he was also getting involved with some projects for the new NHL franchise that had been awarded to the city of Atlanta…building the radio department and consulting the organization rearding the sort of equipment that was needed to facilitate the broadcasting aspect of the franchise.
“Essentially I had a bit of a hand in helping structure and create the radio department and when we were ready to get up and rolling the team brought me over in August of ‘99″.
So he’s been with this team since it’s very beginning. He’s seen it being built…put together…start…improve…and un-improve. He’s witness it all first-hand.
And along the way he’s work with a couple of very fine booth partners, Jeff Odgers and Billy Jaffe. “Working with Odgie was like a party every time we turned on the mic. I mean, a guy like that that has so much knowledge of the game, passion for the game, sense of humor…just a charismatic guy to be around…and the same is true with Billy Jaffe. I mean, I was very, very blessed to have two guys I consider to be among the very best”.
“They were very different broadcaster. Odgie was there in the trenches for twelve years in the NHL playing one of the toughest roles the game has ever seen…and playing it very, very well. Jaffe made more of a cerebral breakdown of the game but could do it in a way that the average listener, the casual listener, could understand it”.
“Just being in the NHL booth is exciting enough in and of itself, but to have worked with guys who could bring that much to the table made it even that much more fun”.
As for specific Thrashers moments that stick out in his mind…”Certainly I remember opening night and how electric the atmosphere was…[also] the first victory”. He continued on, ”Then I remember that first overtime win in the franchises history…Ray Ferraro scored it. It was almost like a moment of passage, like we moved from expansion hockey to part of the NHL”.
He went on to discuss how the team grew while making their way through their initial seasons, “Then there was the way the team got really good really fast in that second season… and come November people are looking around saying, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here’. Ya know, they had that line of Audette, Brunette and Ferraro which was as good as any line there was”.
“But that team lacked depth and injuries caught up to it”.
The smile that beams from his face while remeniscing about such times reveals just how passionate he is about the team and how much pleasure he gets from being a part of it.
He also went on to cite certain eras and time frames…like when Heatley and Kovalchuk were drafted and started playing with each other as well as the three or four seasons in the middle of this decade as the team continued to show improvement.
“Then there was that run the team made when they went through all those goaltenders in ‘05-’06 but still managed to make a playoff run in the second half of the season. It was probably the best team we ever had, even better than the one that made the playoffs…it just needed goaltending. They went through, what, five goaltenders in the first ten games and even at that, what a second half run and still had a chance to make the playoffs up until that next to the last game of the year…then of course there was the next year with the run to a playoff spot”.
He described the playoff games as “electric”, like nothing he’s ever witnessed prior. “When Kovalchuk scored that goal in game two to tie it…between then and when they dropped the puck, the area was the loudest I’d ever heard”.
Like I said…he’s been here for it all.
In part two of my interview with Dan Kamal, we discuss his son Chris and his play at prospect camp as well as where this Thrashers team is right now and just where they might be heading.