February 24, 2011
The frustration was building in Mike Hickey's voice. Complaining about a dive by the visiting Topeka RoadRunners that he felt led to a needless penalty. Griping about rough play that targeted his Springfield Junior Blues. At one point, Hickey simply couldn't hold back any longer, screaming down to the ice:
"In the middle! With the long hair! Jerk! Greasy little punk!"
With Hickey's deep, bellowing voice, chances are many in the crowd at Saturday night's North American Hockey League (Jr. A) game at The Nelson Center in Springfield, Ill., heard him.
The problem? So did everyone watching a live stream of the Blues game online, which included a good number of RoadRunners fans.
That's because while Mike Hickey was acting like a passionate fan in the stands, he was actually the play-by-play announcer behind the microphone, broadcasting the action on the pay-per-view hockey site FastHockey.com, which carries NAHL games.
It was homerism in its rawest form. The viewers knew it, as RoadRunners fans emailed their team's front office to complain about the "greasy punk" comment -- which RoadRunners fans claimed was directed at their coach/GM Scott Langer -- and subsequent comments that called the franchise "disgusting" and the coach "a goon."
But Hickey knew it too, which led to a remarkable moment in his "coach's corner" video segment a day later: Hickey offered both a profuse apology and an announcement that he was stepping away from the broadcast booth for an undetermined period of time.
It's a video that's as emotional and memorable as any of his cheap seats taunts, but for completely different reasons.
Looking back at his behavior, it's easy to see why Hickey was professionally red-faced, even if nothing he said crossed lines of slander or bad taste.
Three minutes after the "greasy punk," Hickey let loose again on a non-call for holding:
"Oh, c'mon, you can't hold! [Silence] Oh, boy. That's one way to get around him: Hold your opponent until your teammate can get by. This game is deteriorating into a love-fest. Typical Topeka game. Let's go Blues."
The gripes continued through the end of the period, which featured a handful of brawls:
"We got another period of this. And with Topeka's history, it's only going to get worse. ...
"They're disgusting. You heard it here first. They're disgusting. But the Junior Blues will take care of business, I gar-run-tee."
With the teams in the dressing rooms and the microphone still on, Hickey could be heard saying the following to an unidentified woman:
"What a bunch of goons, starting with the head coach on down."
Chris Kolb, the business manager for the Junior Blues, said it was an emotional moment that got away from Hickey. "We all screw up sometimes. Say something you regret. Bite your tongue," he said.
On Monday, the indignation in Hickey's voice was replaced by that regret. His Coach's Corner program on UStream featured this statement (beginning at the 58-second mark; hit the smaller "play" button on the player below.):
His comments, for the video impaired:
"During the Fasthockey broadcast on Saturday night, I usually have a very high standard that I operate by. Unfortunately, I crossed the line into an area that should have never been crossed. I'm a very passionate person about hockey and the Springfield Junior Blues. However, there is absolutely no excuse for my actions of Saturday night.
"Since that game, I've reflected, and I'm very remorseful, not only on what I said during the broadcast but also the lack of professionalism on my part. In a moment of stupidity, I said some very nasty things about coach Langer and the Topeka RoadRunners and their fans that are totally untrue. It's not what I believe about their coach or their organization. It showed a total lack of respect toward Topeka, coach Langer, and the very fine fans of that city. Not only did I disrespect them but, in doing so, I disrespected the Springfield Junior Blues, and I feel very badly about that. I've always held myself to a high standard. This time I didn't reach it.
"I'm ashamed of my idiotic and crass behavior, and I extend an apology to coach Langer and all concerned."
He went on to praise Langer's coaching record, apologize again and then said he would "step outside of the broadcast booth" for a time to reflect and refocus.
Kolb said the Junior Blues organization didn't pressure Hickey into making the statement, and that it was done independently. An NAHL official couldn't say if the league stepped in on the issue or not.
Kolb said that Hickey, who is around 67 years old, is a valuable member of the Junior Blues family. "Hickey's a great guy. He houses six of our players. His wife volunteers. He just got caught up in the game a little bit and it's blown out of proportion," he said.
He said the apology may have made a difference. "I got an email from someone [from Topeka] who watched the apology and said they understood," said Kolb.
Every franchise, in every town, in every sport has probably had a homer announcer pass through its booth; whether it's Jack Edwards mocking Flyers fans on a Boston Bruins broadcast or this guy (see second video) screaming from the broadcast table that the opposing goaltender is a "wuss" for not fighting.
But there's a difference between complaining about a dive (where Hickey started) and running down a coach and organization (where he ended).
It was a classless moment for Hickey. But in a culture that sees classless behavior unapologetically accepted or given a perfunctory request for forgiveness by those who cross the line, Hickey not only expressed heartfelt regret but took personal responsibility for his actions; and that apology from an embarrassed announcer will linger longer in the minds of fans more than any crass statement made in the heat of the moment.
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